ROCKET ATTACKS IN SOUTH BEIRUT: IS THIS THE TIPPING POINT?

Two men inspect their damage house after two rockets hit their area in a Beirut suburbs

The political and military brinksmanship of the last fortnight may have just reached critical mass with Sunday’s rocket attack on the Dahya, a day after Hizbullah frontman Sayyid Hassan Nasrullah committed his party to a direct and public role in the Syrian War.

Beirut

May 26, 2013

We can’t say we didn’t see it coming. It’s been a  hardcore waiting game now for weeks. Between the growing border crisis in the Hermel region, and sectarian mudslinging and provocation between the countries numerous splinter factions; it was clear that some kind of war would be delivered to our doorstep.  It was a ‘when’ , not an ‘if’ question.

While Tripoli has seen escalations in fighting between pro-Asad and pro-Syrian Free Army supporters, it burst onto world headlines in the past week as the city burned in reaction to the crucial battle being fought across the border in Qusayr.  A battle that saw Hizbullah fully acknowledge their role in backing Syrian President Bashar al Asad and his troops.

World attention, and policy makers meanwhile, have been growing increasingly uneasy about the nature of the ‘rebel’ factions fighting for Syria.  The influx of foreign military aid and jihadis as well as the swiftly changing face of the rebellion in places like Aleppo, made for nervous second thoughts about ousting Asad.  The most organized and zealous of the rebel forces were clearly the  Salafi-Islamist splinter groups. Sharia law was being implemented where the jihadi presences were strongest. When one of the leading Islamic militias openly claimed allegiance to Qaeda?  International politicos begin mouthing the word ‘ blowback’ and calling their stockbrokers. An image of  jihadi elements dominating  any new system of rule in Syria tended to piss on the cornflakes of a lot of people.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in the wake of the rocket attacks this morning in the Dahya district of Beirut.  The Lebanese Armed Forces quickly discovered the rocket launches outside the city near the Mount Lebanon governate.  The rockets, identified as GRAD rockets point up the role many nations have chosen to play in the spreading conflict.  Whether or not they were recent  Russian made or the more widely dispersed Cold War models was not stated.  Since Russia has firmly committed to Asad in the conflict, and Hizbullah is also an ally of the embattled regime; it seems likely the weapons were of an older make.  International players have turned the Syrian conflagration into an international one as the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others have aligned with rebel forces in varying degrees, while Iran, the Lebanese Hizbullah and Russia favor Asad and his troops.

It was only a matter of time before the isolated pockets of street battles, political backstabbing and the occasional car bomb would begin its escalation to what may very well break Lebanon in pieces -yet again-  according to sectarian divides.  The engine of war is primed, this time to pit the often Western backed Sunnis against Iranian backed Shia.  Lebanese politicians were quick to advise caution and circumspection in the wake of the attacks, pointing out that to give into knee jerk retaliatory reprisals would only play into the hands of those vested in weakening Lebanon.  President Suleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged caution in the coming hours and days; fully aware that the latest escalation could quickly degenerate into fighting reminiscent of the country’s  fifteen year civil war.

While Louay Meqdad, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, denied FSA involvement,  a less cautious member of the FSA , Ammar Awawi claimed responsibility citing it as a warning to Lebanon to reign in  Hizbullah for its involvement in the Syrian conflict. His comments were dismissed by FSA Brigadier Selim Idriss.  The fact that the FSA may have a sufficient presence in Lebanon to pull off such an attack doesn’t bode well.  Nor does the possibility that it is a homegrown jihadi assault. This, as the saying goes, cannot end well.

Whether or not this latest volley in fast spreading conflict is really the final straw or just another in a series of acts that ratchet up local tensions till the inevitable descent of the region into all out war remains to be seen.  It might be safe to borrow another less poetic metaphor than straw and camel’s backs, though.  No matter how you slice it, it’s “Mr. Shit? May I introduce you to Mr. Fan?” time.

JH