August 23, 2013

Smoke rises above a mosque at the site of one of two explosions in Tripoli, Lebanon, on Aug. 23, 2013.

Residents try to extinguish a fire from burning cars at the site of a car bomb in a Beirut southern predominantly Shia Muslim suburb, on Aug. 15, 2013.

An incredibly worrying new phase in the conflict has started in the last week.

The main question stemming from these two disgusting acts of terrorism via car bomb that were intended to kill large amounts of civilians in heavily populated urban centers is if this is merely the Syrian conflict continuing to spill over the border into Lebanon? Or, alternatively, if this is actually the Lebanese conflict spilling back over a long-divided country tenuously held together since 1990 when the 15-year civil war ‘ended’? 

This is going to get much worse; the gates have been opened. 

June 20, 2013
Haytham, 7, and his brother Wassim, 5, inside their tent in a settlement in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. (Moises Saman/Magnum for Save the Children - Courtesy)
On World Refugee Day, Syria’s displaced children languish in camps

Haytham, 7, and his brother Wassim, 5, inside their tent in a settlement in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. (Moises Saman/Magnum for Save the Children - Courtesy)

On World Refugee Day, Syria’s displaced children languish in camps

June 20, 2013

ZAHLÉ, Lebanon — MY eyes kept being drawn to the shoes. The tiny pink running shoes with Velcro straps, on the feet of the 2-year-old girl sitting quietly on her mother’s lap. She fidgeted only a bit — jostling occasionally with her 7-year-old twin sisters while her father told a United Nations worker what had driven his young family 20 miles from Syria to this small town in Lebanon. They did not merely leave; they fled. And not once, but three times.

NYT Op-Ed: Lebanon, Overrun by Syrian Refugees

May 17, 2013
Borders, Identity, and Spillover as a Construct in Lebanon/Syria
The two imperial powers were bound by the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which staked each country’s claim to Ottoman spoils after the war ended. There were too many promises, too few specific, considered intentions. 
… France soon created a country where none existed. Lands once joined by history, tradition, clan, and commerce, were divided by imperial borders put forth by the loudest voices. In Lebanon, these were the Maronite Catholics, a Christian sect long united with the Roman Catholic Church. Ties between France and the Maronites stretched far back, and in more modern times France had played guardian to the Maronites, who had enjoyed a certain autonomy under the Ottomans. The Maronites’ leadership— religious and political— had long pushed for enlarging their homeland, and after the Ottomans’ fall they saw the opportunity to create a greater state. The French, albeit with reservations, complied. To the Maronites’ rather small sanjak, or district, the French added the coastal towns of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre, all of which had belonged to the Ottoman province of Beirut. From the Ottoman province of Damascus they added the fertile Bekaa Valley, which included territory that encompassed Marjayoun. 
- Anthony Shadid, House of Stone
The colonial lines that redrew the post-war Middle East continue to deeply affect issues of identity, space, and solidarity in Lebanon and Syria today. 
They also make us question the narrative of “spillover” more largely and could potentially influence further partitions of both countries— a Sykes-Picot redux— should the Syrian conflict continue to deepen both in its intensity and involvement. 
Similar to their patronage of the Maronites in a newly-created Lebanon partitioned off from greater Syria, France also supported the Alawites in the new Syria and gave them special rights and privileges.
These new borders and seemingly arbitrary lines drawn on a map by European diplomats cut and realigned traditional communities, severed their contagiousness, and blurred understandings of national identity.
Indeed, for many understood-to-be-Lebanese migrants, the juncture of greatest migration— during the Ottoman period and chiefly among the Orthodox and Catholic communities— to areas such as Detroit, Latin America, and West Africa, actually coincided with their identities being officially understood as Syrian. 
In New York City, a Little Syria neighborhood flourished on Washington street in what is now the financial district for decades around the turn of the century. This community came from Saida, Beirut, Aleppo, and Damascus. They were predominately Christian, and mostly considered themselves Syrian. This fascinating migratory history was on view at the Arab American National Museum in Detroit and re-opens in New York City this week. 
Following independence, many originating from cities in what are now Lebanon viewed their identity through the partially French colonial-induced sectarian demographic prism and later came to identify as Lebanese. 
Khalil Gibran’s writing from this period is fascinating in this regard. His essays show blurring lines of identity and nationalism, characterizing himself as both Lebanese and Syrian at various times depending on the piece, the topic, and the audience.
Similarly, and on a more personal note, my famous second cousin, Ed Farhat, better known as “The Sheikh or “The Original Sheikh,” and one of the most influential ’heel’ professional wrestlers of all time, was a Michigan-born Syrian who later considered himself Lebanese (like the rest of my family who migrated from what is now south Lebanon to Detroit, Senegal, and Mexico during the Ottoman period) and assumed the character of “a rich wild man from Syria” who “used hidden pencils to cut open his opponent’s faces” and deployed a "fireball that he threw into his opponents’ faces, sometimes burning their face severely." 
Today, these blurred notions of national identity and the complex, interwoven history of the two countries faces new challenges as the traditional authority of the states lack the prerequisite monopoly of violence on their Sykes-Picot national boundaries. 
As communities, instead, identify with their sects first, perhaps their outside backers like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and France second, and sometimes their actual countries third, further divisions in a time of deadly conflict seem more possible. 
One can view Dahiyeh, the once predominately Christian, but now Shi’a strong hold in south Beirut along these lines as it, in many ways, constitutes a “”mini-state” that is stronger than the state; one with its own economy, security, weapons, and culture. A ‘Hezbollah state’ par excellence.”
The Alawite area in the hills of northwest Syria that some are now calling Alawistan could also be viewed within this context, as could the Sunni area in Tripoli, the Lebanese Forces-dominated Christian area in Bishari, or the al Nusra controlled areas outside of Homs.   
As Druze leader (and infamous political flip-flopper) Walid Jumblatt warned last year,

"This is the unravelling of the Sykes-Picot agreement," said Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze sect, in reference to the secret agreement between the British and French in 1916, which carved up the Levant into spheres of influence in the wake of the Ottoman empire’s demise. "We are seeing the end of what was created 90 years ago. The consequences will be very, very, grave unless they are managed properly.”

The recent and hugely significant battles between Hizbollah and various Syrian opposition forces in Qusayr also fit within this paradigm. 
 
The Sykes-Picot agreement divided Qusayr and its inhabitants, with a considerable number of Lebanese Shi’a, holding Lebanese citizenship, actually residing on the Syrian side of the border. 
 
This community “belongs to large clans, which have a social system that values ​the “support of relatives,” and, “In the current situation, they are Lebanese Shiite villagers living on Syrian territory, who complain that they are being subjected to attempts of forceful displacement by their Sunni Syrian neighbors.” 
The inextricable conflict, refugee flows, sectarianism, identity, and small arms proliferation affecting both sides of the Lebanon-Syria border— some of these longstanding French colonial legacies— might actually continue to accelerate as the fighting deepens and, nearly a 100 years later, lead to the breakdown, and further fragmentation, of the Sykes-Picot agreement. 
The ongoing, and accelerating flow of refugees and its future repercussions on Lebanon’s tenuous demographic balance further complicates this notion of borders and what, exactly, spillover even is. 

The influx of displaced Syrians to Lebanon is unprecedented in Lebanese history. They come from all social classes and they number more than a million, which is comparable to the Palestinian displacement in 1948. The EU ambassador in Beirut recently said, “I know of no other country where a quarter of the people are refugees.” More and more Lebanese Christians are realizing that their fate is tied to that of the Christians of the region.

The current borders, as we know them, might not be sustainable for another 100 years. 

Borders, Identity, and Spillover as a Construct in Lebanon/Syria

The two imperial powers were bound by the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which staked each country’s claim to Ottoman spoils after the war ended. There were too many promises, too few specific, considered intentions. 

… France soon created a country where none existed. Lands once joined by history, tradition, clan, and commerce, were divided by imperial borders put forth by the loudest voices. In Lebanon, these were the Maronite Catholics, a Christian sect long united with the Roman Catholic Church. Ties between France and the Maronites stretched far back, and in more modern times France had played guardian to the Maronites, who had enjoyed a certain autonomy under the Ottomans. The Maronites’ leadership— religious and political— had long pushed for enlarging their homeland, and after the Ottomans’ fall they saw the opportunity to create a greater state. The French, albeit with reservations, complied. To the Maronites’ rather small sanjak, or district, the French added the coastal towns of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre, all of which had belonged to the Ottoman province of Beirut. From the Ottoman province of Damascus they added the fertile Bekaa Valley, which included territory that encompassed Marjayoun. 

- Anthony Shadid, House of Stone

The colonial lines that redrew the post-war Middle East continue to deeply affect issues of identity, space, and solidarity in Lebanon and Syria today. 

They also make us question the narrative of “spillover” more largely and could potentially influence further partitions of both countries— a Sykes-Picot redux— should the Syrian conflict continue to deepen both in its intensity and involvement. 

Similar to their patronage of the Maronites in a newly-created Lebanon partitioned off from greater Syria, France also supported the Alawites in the new Syria and gave them special rights and privileges.

These new borders and seemingly arbitrary lines drawn on a map by European diplomats cut and realigned traditional communities, severed their contagiousness, and blurred understandings of national identity.

Indeed, for many understood-to-be-Lebanese migrants, the juncture of greatest migration— during the Ottoman period and chiefly among the Orthodox and Catholic communities— to areas such as Detroit, Latin America, and West Africa, actually coincided with their identities being officially understood as Syrian. 

In New York City, a Little Syria neighborhood flourished on Washington street in what is now the financial district for decades around the turn of the century. This community came from Saida, Beirut, Aleppo, and Damascus. They were predominately Christian, and mostly considered themselves Syrian. This fascinating migratory history was on view at the Arab American National Museum in Detroit and re-opens in New York City this week. 

Following independence, many originating from cities in what are now Lebanon viewed their identity through the partially French colonial-induced sectarian demographic prism and later came to identify as Lebanese. 

Khalil Gibran’s writing from this period is fascinating in this regard. His essays show blurring lines of identity and nationalism, characterizing himself as both Lebanese and Syrian at various times depending on the piece, the topic, and the audience.

Similarly, and on a more personal note, my famous second cousin, Ed Farhat, better known as “The Sheikh or “The Original Sheikh,” and one of the most influential ’heel’ professional wrestlers of all time, was a Michigan-born Syrian who later considered himself Lebanese (like the rest of my family who migrated from what is now south Lebanon to Detroit, Senegal, and Mexico during the Ottoman period) and assumed the character of “a rich wild man from Syria” who “used hidden pencils to cut open his opponent’s faces” and deployed a "fireball that he threw into his opponents’ faces, sometimes burning their face severely." 

Today, these blurred notions of national identity and the complex, interwoven history of the two countries faces new challenges as the traditional authority of the states lack the prerequisite monopoly of violence on their Sykes-Picot national boundaries

As communities, instead, identify with their sects first, perhaps their outside backers like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and France second, and sometimes their actual countries third, further divisions in a time of deadly conflict seem more possible. 

One can view Dahiyeh, the once predominately Christian, but now Shi’a strong hold in south Beirut along these lines as it, in many ways, constitutes a “”mini-state” that is stronger than the state; one with its own economy, security, weapons, and culture. A ‘Hezbollah state’ par excellence.”

The Alawite area in the hills of northwest Syria that some are now calling Alawistan could also be viewed within this context, as could the Sunni area in Tripoli, the Lebanese Forces-dominated Christian area in Bishari, or the al Nusra controlled areas outside of Homs.   

As Druze leader (and infamous political flip-flopper) Walid Jumblatt warned last year,

"This is the unravelling of the Sykes-Picot agreement," said Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze sect, in reference to the secret agreement between the British and French in 1916, which carved up the Levant into spheres of influence in the wake of the Ottoman empire’s demise. "We are seeing the end of what was created 90 years ago. The consequences will be very, very, grave unless they are managed properly.”
 
The Sykes-Picot agreement divided Qusayr and its inhabitants, with a considerable number of Lebanese Shi’a, holding Lebanese citizenship, actually residing on the Syrian side of the border.
 
This community “belongs to large clans, which have a social system that values ​the “support of relatives,” and, “In the current situation, they are Lebanese Shiite villagers living on Syrian territory, who complain that they are being subjected to attempts of forceful displacement by their Sunni Syrian neighbors.” 

The inextricable conflict, refugee flows, sectarianism, identity, and small arms proliferation affecting both sides of the Lebanon-Syria border— some of these longstanding French colonial legacies— might actually continue to accelerate as the fighting deepens and, nearly a 100 years later, lead to the breakdown, and further fragmentation, of the Sykes-Picot agreement. 

The ongoing, and accelerating flow of refugees and its future repercussions on Lebanon’s tenuous demographic balance further complicates this notion of borders and what, exactly, spillover even is. 

The influx of displaced Syrians to Lebanon is unprecedented in Lebanese history. They come from all social classes and they number more than a million, which is comparable to the Palestinian displacement in 1948. The EU ambassador in Beirut recently said, “I know of no other country where a quarter of the people are refugees.” More and more Lebanese Christians are realizing that their fate is tied to that of the Christians of the region.

The current borders, as we know them, might not be sustainable for another 100 years. 

May 17, 2013

Al Nour, Syria’s refugee football team in Lebanon

"We train so we can forget all that we have been though in Syria"

May 17, 2013

We did not understand Lebanon. We never understood Lebanon. We will not understand Lebanon. We will never understand Lebanon.

We saw in Lebanon only our image in the polished stone— an imagination that re-creates the world in its shape, not because it is deluded, but because it needs a foothold for the vision. Something like making a video: we write the script and the dialogue; we design the scenario; we pick the actors, the cameraman, the director, and the producer; and we distribute the roles without realizing we are the ones being cast in them. When we see our faces and our blood on the screen, we applaud the image, forgetting it’s of our own making. And by the time production goes into postproduction, we are only too ready to believe it is the Other who is pointing at us.

- Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness

August, Beirut, 1982     

May 15, 2013
A Palestinian boy holds up a symbolic key during a march to mark the 65th anniversary of Nakba near the United Nations Interim Force in the Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters in the town of Naqoura May 13, 2013. Palestinians will mark “Nakba” (Catastrophe) on May 15 to commemorate the expulsion or fleeing of hundreds of thousands of their brethren from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. (Ali Hashisho/Reuters)
There are over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, making up more than 10 percent of the country’s total population. Perpetually living as second class citizens and denied of their basic rights by successive Lebanese governments, their yearly protests to commemorate Nakba and evoke UN resolution 242 and its promises of a still-waiting-to-be-realized right of return exemplify the complexity and tragedy of the modern middle east. 
Now, even more Palestinian refugees are arriving in Lebanon from Syria after the ongoing fighting has displaced them from refugee camps there, compounding their longstanding statelessness and laying bare the failures of the international community to address the one issue that continues to reverberate through nearly every other country, conflict, and flash-point in the Middle East: the dispossession of the Palestinian people. 
"In Lebanon, the situation is worse still. Almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees have had to endure not only the massacres of Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Zaatar, Dbeyeh and elsewhere, but have remained confined in hideous quarantine for almost two generations. They have no legal right to work in at least 60 occupations. They are not adequately covered by medical insurance. They cannot travel and return. They are objects of suspicion and dislike. In part, they have inherited the mantle of opprobrium, draped around them by the PLO’s presence there, and thus they remain in the eyes of many ordinary Lebanese a sort of house enemy to be warded off and/or punished from time to time."
- Edward Said

A Palestinian boy holds up a symbolic key during a march to mark the 65th anniversary of Nakba near the United Nations Interim Force in the Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters in the town of Naqoura May 13, 2013. Palestinians will mark “Nakba” (Catastrophe) on May 15 to commemorate the expulsion or fleeing of hundreds of thousands of their brethren from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. (Ali Hashisho/Reuters)

There are over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, making up more than 10 percent of the country’s total population. Perpetually living as second class citizens and denied of their basic rights by successive Lebanese governments, their yearly protests to commemorate Nakba and evoke UN resolution 242 and its promises of a still-waiting-to-be-realized right of return exemplify the complexity and tragedy of the modern middle east. 

Now, even more Palestinian refugees are arriving in Lebanon from Syria after the ongoing fighting has displaced them from refugee camps there, compounding their longstanding statelessness and laying bare the failures of the international community to address the one issue that continues to reverberate through nearly every other country, conflict, and flash-point in the Middle East: the dispossession of the Palestinian people. 

"In Lebanon, the situation is worse still. Almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees have had to endure not only the massacres of Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Zaatar, Dbeyeh and elsewhere, but have remained confined in hideous quarantine for almost two generations. They have no legal right to work in at least 60 occupations. They are not adequately covered by medical insurance. They cannot travel and return. They are objects of suspicion and dislike. In part, they have inherited the mantle of opprobrium, draped around them by the PLO’s presence there, and thus they remain in the eyes of many ordinary Lebanese a sort of house enemy to be warded off and/or punished from time to time."

- Edward Said

May 14, 2013

Political Street Art and Graffiti in Beirut…

May 14, 2013
Nasrallah Touts “Game-Changing” Weapons From Syria, Threatens to Open Golan Front
In his second major address in less than a week, Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah doubled down on his support for besieged Syrian President Bashar Assad, and directly addressed last Sunday’s Israeli strike on a weapons facility in Damascus.
Flouting new “game-changing” weapons that Hizbollah was set to receive from Syria, he offered a fiery rhetorical, and potentially dangerous challenge to Israel and its red lines while simultaneously threatening to open the Golan to attacks on Israel. 

Following the Israeli attacks in Damascus, Nasrallah said, Syria would provide Hezbollah with advanced weapons which it has not had before.“Syria’s first response to Israel’s airstrikes was to tell Israel that if your goal was to prevent the capabilities of the resistance [Hezbollah] from growing, then take note … [Syria] will provide the resistance with sophisticated weapons that the resistance has never had before,” Nasrallah said, speaking through a giant screen via a video link. “We mean game-changing.”
“Syria’s second strategic response is to open the Golan front and to open the door to popular resistance in the Golan,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
“The third response is to prepare rocket launch pads and give orders for firing missiles without returning to the command. This has frightened the Israelis who sent messages to calm the situation,” he added.

Nasrallah’s calculations here are volatile and suggest some sort of response from the Hizbollah/Iran/Syria axis in relation to last week’s Israeli attacks. As opposed to previous periods where Nasrallah has taunted and engaged the Israelis militarily, however, Nasrallah’s popularity in the wider Arab world has waned drastically as a result of his support for the Assad regime and sectarian military engagement on the ground in Syria.  
Questions remain as to what type of weapons the group is set to receive, with some theorizing that they could be chemical: testing Israel’s (and the United States’) ultimate red line. More likely, however, they are long-range missiles and air defense weapons. 
On the heels of the recently-agreed US-Russia framework for a Syria peace conference that stemmed from last week’s meeting between John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, there is the possibility that Assad will be pushed closer towards Iran and Hizbollah. 
The transfer, and flouting of these new “game-changing weapons” should be viewed within this context. 
Those living in South Lebanon appear to be anticipating and bracing for another costly confrontation with Israel, but, unlike 2006, the scale of this next war will be regional and inherently tied to the ongoing conflict in Syria, perhaps with an additional front. 

On Lebanon’s southern borders, life seems normal. Israeli warplanes flying at low latitudes have a minimal effect on people’s lives. Therefore, it’s common to see children playing a couple of meters from the border. People here agree a destructive war is imminent, an unprecedented confrontation, maybe a regional one that might kill thousands if not tens of thousands. That’s why they decided they want to live their lives fully until the last minute.… According to a source close to Hezbollah, borders dividing Lebanon and Syria in any new war will disappear and “the resistance will be fighting and launching rockets from anywhere. The Golan will be part of any new war. To be clearer, the next confrontation with Israel will be over 195,000 square kilometers rather than only 10,000.” 

While Nasrallah’s words could be taken as mere rhetoric to shore up his base and redirect some of the flack he has taken for Hizbollah’s increasing role in changing the balance of power in Syria back towards the regime, the risk of miscalculation is extremely high at this juncture.
He also seems to be dangerously playing with fire— possibly leading the region towards a destructive, multi-front conflict involving a variety of actors this summer. 

Nasrallah Touts “Game-Changing” Weapons From Syria, Threatens to Open Golan Front

In his second major address in less than a week, Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah doubled down on his support for besieged Syrian President Bashar Assad, and directly addressed last Sunday’s Israeli strike on a weapons facility in Damascus.

Flouting new “game-changing” weapons that Hizbollah was set to receive from Syria, he offered a fiery rhetorical, and potentially dangerous challenge to Israel and its red lines while simultaneously threatening to open the Golan to attacks on Israel. 

Following the Israeli attacks in Damascus, Nasrallah said, Syria would provide Hezbollah with advanced weapons which it has not had before.“Syria’s first response to Israel’s airstrikes was to tell Israel that if your goal was to prevent the capabilities of the resistance [Hezbollah] from growing, then take note … [Syria] will provide the resistance with sophisticated weapons that the resistance has never had before,” Nasrallah said, speaking through a giant screen via a video link. “We mean game-changing.”

“Syria’s second strategic response is to open the Golan front and to open the door to popular resistance in the Golan,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

“The third response is to prepare rocket launch pads and give orders for firing missiles without returning to the command. This has frightened the Israelis who sent messages to calm the situation,” he added.

Nasrallah’s calculations here are volatile and suggest some sort of response from the Hizbollah/Iran/Syria axis in relation to last week’s Israeli attacks. As opposed to previous periods where Nasrallah has taunted and engaged the Israelis militarily, however, Nasrallah’s popularity in the wider Arab world has waned drastically as a result of his support for the Assad regime and sectarian military engagement on the ground in Syria.  

Questions remain as to what type of weapons the group is set to receive, with some theorizing that they could be chemical: testing Israel’s (and the United States’) ultimate red line. More likely, however, they are long-range missiles and air defense weapons. 

On the heels of the recently-agreed US-Russia framework for a Syria peace conference that stemmed from last week’s meeting between John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, there is the possibility that Assad will be pushed closer towards Iran and Hizbollah

The transfer, and flouting of these new “game-changing weapons” should be viewed within this context. 

Those living in South Lebanon appear to be anticipating and bracing for another costly confrontation with Israel, but, unlike 2006, the scale of this next war will be regional and inherently tied to the ongoing conflict in Syria, perhaps with an additional front. 

On Lebanon’s southern borders, life seems normal. Israeli warplanes flying at low latitudes have a minimal effect on people’s lives. Therefore, it’s common to see children playing a couple of meters from the border. People here agree a destructive war is imminent, an unprecedented confrontation, maybe a regional one that might kill thousands if not tens of thousands. That’s why they decided they want to live their lives fully until the last minute.

… 
According to a source close to Hezbollah, borders dividing Lebanon and Syria in any new war will disappear and “the resistance will be fighting and launching rockets from anywhere. The Golan will be part of any new war. To be clearer, the next confrontation with Israel will be over 195,000 square kilometers rather than only 10,000.” 

While Nasrallah’s words could be taken as mere rhetoric to shore up his base and redirect some of the flack he has taken for Hizbollah’s increasing role in changing the balance of power in Syria back towards the regime, the risk of miscalculation is extremely high at this juncture.

He also seems to be dangerously playing with fire— possibly leading the region towards a destructive, multi-front conflict involving a variety of actors this summer. 

May 10, 2013

According to your thought, the greatness of nations lies in their politics, their parties, their conferences, their alliances and treaties. But mine proclaims that the importance of nations lies in work – work in the field, work in the vineyards, work with the loom, work in the tannery, work in the quarry, work in the timberyard, work in the office and in the press. Your thought holds that the glory of the nations is in their heroes. It sings the praises of Rameses, Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, and Napoleon. But mine claims that the real heroes are Confucius, Lao-Tse, Socrates, Plato, Abi Taleb, El Gazali, Jalal Ed-din-el Roumy, Copernicus, and Pasteur. Your thought sees power in armies, cannons, battleships, submarines, aeroplanes, and poison gas. But mine asserts that power lies in reason, resolution, and truth. No matter how long the tyrant endures, he will be the loser at the end. Your thought differentiates between pragmatist and idealist, between the part and the whole, between the mystic and materialist. Mine realizes that life is one and its weights, measures and tables do not coincide with your weights, measures and tables. He whom you suppose an idealist may be a practical man.

You have your thought and I have mine.

- Khalil Gibran, Your Thought and Mine

May 8, 2013
Vice Magazine Does Lebanon…
Vice Magazine, low-brow purveyors of exploitative gonzo fratty-hipster ruin-porn journalism, turned their reductionist lens towards child soldiers in Tripoli, Lebanon last week. 
Considering that their general editorial line on foreign affairs issues falls somewhere between a Dennis Rodman reading of Heart of Darkness and a PBR-soaked, resin-stained print out of a Wikipedia country article edited and sourced by an 8-year old, we probably shouldn’t expect nuanced coverage of Lebanon’s complex political, sectarian, and class dynamics.  
Still, the generalizations are just too offensive to let slide. 

He says that every sect in Lebanon is encouraging the arming of children to some extent.

Letting this quote go unchallenged paints a rather skewed NY Post/Fox News binary-worldview picture of Lebanese society.
Child soldiers are indeed a factor among some extremist militias among some sects in certain parts of the country.
Additionally, the proliferation, trade, and easy-access of small arms continues to be dangerous in a combustible, impoverished post-conflict/conflict blurred society.
However, to claim that “every sect in Lebanon”— each of the 18 constitutionally-recognized ones in the country— is brain-washing their children into taking up arms and becoming child soldiers is just plain wrong. 

Vice Magazine Does Lebanon…

Vice Magazine, low-brow purveyors of exploitative gonzo fratty-hipster ruin-porn journalism, turned their reductionist lens towards child soldiers in Tripoli, Lebanon last week

Considering that their general editorial line on foreign affairs issues falls somewhere between a Dennis Rodman reading of Heart of Darkness and a PBR-soaked, resin-stained print out of a Wikipedia country article edited and sourced by an 8-year old, we probably shouldn’t expect nuanced coverage of Lebanon’s complex political, sectarian, and class dynamics.  

Still, the generalizations are just too offensive to let slide. 

He says that every sect in Lebanon is encouraging the arming of children to some extent.

Letting this quote go unchallenged paints a rather skewed NY Post/Fox News binary-worldview picture of Lebanese society.

Child soldiers are indeed a factor among some extremist militias among some sects in certain parts of the country.

Additionally, the proliferation, trade, and easy-access of small arms continues to be dangerous in a combustible, impoverished post-conflict/conflict blurred society.

However, to claim that “every sect in Lebanon”— each of the 18 constitutionally-recognized ones in the country— is brain-washing their children into taking up arms and becoming child soldiers is just plain wrong. 

May 6, 2013
Israel Bombs Bound-for-Hizbollah Iranian Arms Caches in Damascus, Deepening the Syrian Conflict’s Regional Dimension and Possibly Setting the Stage for New Israel-Lebanon War
The Syrian conflict escalated sharply this weekend and threatened to further regionalize in volatile and unpredictable ways after Israel reportedly carried out two massive bombings on a military complex in Damascus in as many days. 
Diplomatic sources said the attacks, which reportedly killed 42 Syrian soldiers, hit the facilities with a view towards thwarting the transfer of “game-changing” Iranian-made Fateh-110 guided missiles to Hizbollah.

Rebels, opposition activists and residents said the strikes hit bases of the elite Republican Guard and storehouses of long-range missiles, in addition to a military research center that American officials have called the country’s main chemical weapons facility.An American official said a more limited strike early Friday at Damascus International Airport was also meant to destroy weapons being sent from Iran to Hezbollah.Concerns flared about whether Hezbollah might attack Israel in retaliation, possibly drawing Lebanon into the conflict. Israel deployed two of its Iron Dome missile-defense batteries in its northern cities. Iran’s IRNA news agency said Israel could expect a “crushing” retaliation from Syria or “the resistance,” meaning Hezbollah.

The attack led some on the side of the Syrian opposition to quietly, and not so quietly, cheer an Israeli strike on Syrian soil and further exposed the motley crew of strange bedfellows on one side of the current conflict: the FSA, al-Nusra, Qatar, Israel, Saudi Arabia, March 14, the EU, and Turkey. 
The Damascus bombing also forced the ever-incompetent, anti-Assad Arab League to scramble out a hilarious face-saving statement that characterized the Israeli attack as a "grave violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state." 
Yes, the same Arab League that has been vocal about arming opposition groups in Syria for the last year is now concerned about sovereignty issues. 
What happens, at this point, could determine the extent to how far Lebanon does or does not get pulled into the conflict. 
Hizbollah now has a strategic choice to make regarding if, or how, to respond. 
With Syria’s over-hyped air defense systems apparently offering no challenge to Israeli bombing runs, and the regime busy engaging the opposition on a variety of fronts, it seems likely that pressure will be put on Hizbollah to retaliate. 
Recalling some of the words in Hassan Nasrallah’s recent speech could offer some clues regarding the group’s hesitance thus far to wholeheartedly enter the Syrian conflict, as well as point to the possibility that more countries and non-state actors may yet enter the fray on both sides of the conflict. 
During Nasrallah’s address on April 30th, he spoke directly to the Syrian opposition and its backers by warning that “Syria has real friends in the region, and the world will not let Syria fall into the hands of America, Israel or takfiri [radical islamist] groups.”
Emphasizing this contradictory coalition of opposition interests, he continued by stating that Hizbollah’s involvement up until this point, including its offensive in Qusayr, is solely meant to protect Lebanese Shi’a inside the Syrian border. He warned, however, that the group has the capacity to change the equation should the Syrian regime need further assistance or if the balance of power shifts further towards the opposition.

"The battle is long, although we have never called for combat," he said, and warned, "you cannot topple the regime militarily, and the facts on the ground prove that, although you have only fighting the Syrian army and the pro-regime popular forces until now." Nasrallah added, "No Iranian forces have entered Syria at the moment. If this is the situation so far, how things would be in the future should resistance forces and other nations intervene?”

By showing a card in his hand but not putting on the table yet, Nasrallah sent a warning to the armed opposition groups, their patrons in the Gulf and Turkey, as well as Israel and the United States. 
He concluded by cautioning that “If there is anyone who thinks that the resistance in Lebanon, as a result of regional events, is in a weak, fragile or confused position, they are deeply mistaken. We will confront any aggression against Lebanon, and we will emerge victorious.”
Israel, on the other hand, is hedging its bets that Syria won’t respond, despite Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad saying that the Israeli strikes were “an act of war.”
Hizbollah’s interests are not identical to those of Syria, and with the domestic situation in Lebanon heating up on the sectarian front, Hizbollah seems unlikely to drag south Lebanon into another destructive war with Israel by responding on behalf of a distracted Syria. 
The group is also further politically integrated domestically, and its governing responsibilities in Lebanon are much more pronounced and important than they were during the days when Hizbollah was solely an armed militia or even before the 2006 War. 
Their core Shi’a constituents make up the majority of a divided Lebanese society, and are first and foremost concerned with representation, social services, and job creation rather than “resistance.” 
The group also essentially ran the last Lebanese government in a pragmatic manner alongside its March 8th coalition members and will surely have a large role in the yet-to-be-formed new government moving forward. 
These reasons point to Hizbollah being cautious and could explain their delicate calculation of not fully entering the Syrian conflict thus far.    
If there are any Israeli attacks on Lebanon in the coming days, however, Hizbollah might be forced to make a limited response that could set the stage for a new phase of the conflict and renewed hostilities across the Lebanese-Israeli border. 
Indeed, as a Hizbollah source told Al-Monitor this weekend, ”Syria has the right to do whatever it sees appropriate; Hezbollah will not push them to respond, though there are circles in the group that believe an equation should be set ASAP,” revealed our source, who hinted, "on the contrary any attack on Lebanese soil won’t go without a reply."
Some also see Israel’s attacks on the bound-for-Hizbollah arms supplies distinct from the Syrian conflict entirely and more in line with Tel Aviv exploiting the chaos in Syria in an attempt to draw their longtime Hizbollah foes into a conflict while their supply routes are compromised, simultaneously sending a message to Iran. 
Just days before the attacks on Damascus, Israel carried out a major drill in the north, simulating a massive military confrontation with Hezbollah after sustained airspace violations and sound-breaking flyovers across Lebanon.  
This is also an extremely dangerous gamble, and one that Hizbollah expert Nicholas Noe chillingly forewarned of nearly two years ago.

Since the Assad regime’s threshold for doing the same is probably lower (and far more incendiary with its WMD capability), the actors now consolidating themselves to boil Assad (and secondarily Hezbollah) to the breaking point, including many influential voices in Washington and European capitals, need to very carefully consider the wisdom of the road that they are going down—a road that will, in all probability, bring great destruction to the region, including to Israel whose home front will undoubtedly be a main frontline.

It has now been 7 years since the 2006 July War, and 17 years since the April War (“Grapes of Wrath”), could this summer see another Israeli war on Lebanon? 

Israel Bombs Bound-for-Hizbollah Iranian Arms Caches in Damascus, Deepening the Syrian Conflict’s Regional Dimension and Possibly Setting the Stage for New Israel-Lebanon War

The Syrian conflict escalated sharply this weekend and threatened to further regionalize in volatile and unpredictable ways after Israel reportedly carried out two massive bombings on a military complex in Damascus in as many days. 

Diplomatic sources said the attacks, which reportedly killed 42 Syrian soldiers, hit the facilities with a view towards thwarting the transfer of “game-changing” Iranian-made Fateh-110 guided missiles to Hizbollah.

Rebels, opposition activists and residents said the strikes hit bases of the elite Republican Guard and storehouses of long-range missiles, in addition to a military research center that American officials have called the country’s main chemical weapons facility.

An American official said a more limited strike early Friday at Damascus International Airport was also meant to destroy weapons being sent from Iran to Hezbollah.

Concerns flared about whether Hezbollah might attack Israel in retaliation, possibly drawing Lebanon into the conflict. Israel deployed two of its Iron Dome missile-defense batteries in its northern cities. Iran’s IRNA news agency said Israel could expect a “crushing” retaliation from Syria or “the resistance,” meaning Hezbollah.

The attack led some on the side of the Syrian opposition to quietly, and not so quietly, cheer an Israeli strike on Syrian soil and further exposed the motley crew of strange bedfellows on one side of the current conflict: the FSA, al-Nusra, Qatar, Israel, Saudi Arabia, March 14, the EU, and Turkey. 

The Damascus bombing also forced the ever-incompetent, anti-Assad Arab League to scramble out a hilarious face-saving statement that characterized the Israeli attack as a "grave violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state." 

Yes, the same Arab League that has been vocal about arming opposition groups in Syria for the last year is now concerned about sovereignty issues. 

What happens, at this point, could determine the extent to how far Lebanon does or does not get pulled into the conflict. 

Hizbollah now has a strategic choice to make regarding if, or how, to respond.

With Syria’s over-hyped air defense systems apparently offering no challenge to Israeli bombing runs, and the regime busy engaging the opposition on a variety of fronts, it seems likely that pressure will be put on Hizbollah to retaliate. 

Recalling some of the words in Hassan Nasrallah’s recent speech could offer some clues regarding the group’s hesitance thus far to wholeheartedly enter the Syrian conflict, as well as point to the possibility that more countries and non-state actors may yet enter the fray on both sides of the conflict. 

During Nasrallah’s address on April 30th, he spoke directly to the Syrian opposition and its backers by warning that “Syria has real friends in the region, and the world will not let Syria fall into the hands of America, Israel or takfiri [radical islamist] groups.”

Emphasizing this contradictory coalition of opposition interests, he continued by stating that Hizbollah’s involvement up until this point, including its offensive in Qusayr, is solely meant to protect Lebanese Shi’a inside the Syrian border. He warned, however, that the group has the capacity to change the equation should the Syrian regime need further assistance or if the balance of power shifts further towards the opposition.

"The battle is long, although we have never called for combat," he said, and warned, "you cannot topple the regime militarily, and the facts on the ground prove that, although you have only fighting the Syrian army and the pro-regime popular forces until now." Nasrallah added, "No Iranian forces have entered Syria at the moment. If this is the situation so far, how things would be in the future should resistance forces and other nations intervene?”

By showing a card in his hand but not putting on the table yet, Nasrallah sent a warning to the armed opposition groups, their patrons in the Gulf and Turkey, as well as Israel and the United States.

He concluded by cautioning that “If there is anyone who thinks that the resistance in Lebanon, as a result of regional events, is in a weak, fragile or confused position, they are deeply mistaken. We will confront any aggression against Lebanon, and we will emerge victorious.”

Israel, on the other hand, is hedging its bets that Syria won’t respond, despite Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad saying that the Israeli strikes were “an act of war.”

Hizbollah’s interests are not identical to those of Syria, and with the domestic situation in Lebanon heating up on the sectarian front, Hizbollah seems unlikely to drag south Lebanon into another destructive war with Israel by responding on behalf of a distracted Syria. 

The group is also further politically integrated domestically, and its governing responsibilities in Lebanon are much more pronounced and important than they were during the days when Hizbollah was solely an armed militia or even before the 2006 War. 

Their core Shi’a constituents make up the majority of a divided Lebanese society, and are first and foremost concerned with representation, social services, and job creation rather than “resistance.”

The group also essentially ran the last Lebanese government in a pragmatic manner alongside its March 8th coalition members and will surely have a large role in the yet-to-be-formed new government moving forward. 

These reasons point to Hizbollah being cautious and could explain their delicate calculation of not fully entering the Syrian conflict thus far.    

If there are any Israeli attacks on Lebanon in the coming days, however, Hizbollah might be forced to make a limited response that could set the stage for a new phase of the conflict and renewed hostilities across the Lebanese-Israeli border. 

Indeed, as a Hizbollah source told Al-Monitor this weekend, ”Syria has the right to do whatever it sees appropriate; Hezbollah will not push them to respond, though there are circles in the group that believe an equation should be set ASAP,” revealed our source, who hinted, "on the contrary any attack on Lebanese soil won’t go without a reply."

Some also see Israel’s attacks on the bound-for-Hizbollah arms supplies distinct from the Syrian conflict entirely and more in line with Tel Aviv exploiting the chaos in Syria in an attempt to draw their longtime Hizbollah foes into a conflict while their supply routes are compromised, simultaneously sending a message to Iran. 

Just days before the attacks on Damascus, Israel carried out a major drill in the north, simulating a massive military confrontation with Hezbollah after sustained airspace violations and sound-breaking flyovers across Lebanon.  

This is also an extremely dangerous gamble, and one that Hizbollah expert Nicholas Noe chillingly forewarned of nearly two years ago.

Since the Assad regime’s threshold for doing the same is probably lower (and far more incendiary with its WMD capability), the actors now consolidating themselves to boil Assad (and secondarily Hezbollah) to the breaking point, including many influential voices in Washington and European capitals, need to very carefully consider the wisdom of the road that they are going down—a road that will, in all probability, bring great destruction to the region, including to Israel whose home front will undoubtedly be a main frontline.
It has now been 7 years since the 2006 July War, and 17 years since the April War (“Grapes of Wrath”), could this summer see another Israeli war on Lebanon? 

May 5, 2013
April 15, 2013. A Syrian boy holds a satellite antenna as he travels on the back of a truck in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. In all, some 1.3 million people have so far fled Syria to neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict, which has cost well over 70,000 lives. Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty Images

April 15, 2013. A Syrian boy holds a satellite antenna as he travels on the back of a truck in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. In all, some 1.3 million people have so far fled Syria to neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict, which has cost well over 70,000 lives. Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty Images

April 24, 2013
Qusayr and the Reverse Spillover 
In the past few days fierce battles have been waged in Qusayr, a western Syrian city close to the Lebanese border in Homs province. Scores have been killed and reports suggest massacres may have taken place. 
What makes this battle so strategically and regionally important, however, is the involvement of Lebanese sectarian fighters, essentially killing each other on Syrian territory. 
Indeed, after months of fears that the Syrian conflict was spilling over into Lebanon, in Qusayr the reverse seems to be true. The Lebanese conflict has spilled over the border into Syria with Hizbollah forces supporting Assad regime troops in battles against FSA and al-Nusra battalions heavily comprised of Lebanese Sunni fighters. 
With these dangerous developments, many inside Lebanon are now wondering how long until such forces begin targeting each other inside Lebanon itself. 

On Monday, a Hizbullah official described the group’s actions as “a national and moral duty in the defense of the Lebanese in border villages”.Hizbullah’s involvement in Syria’s spiraling conflict has been condemned by the Syrian opposition, which views it as a “declaration of war,” and by Lebanese opponents of the Shiite movement, who fear Lebanon may be dragged into Syria’s conflict.

Hizbollah has also been taking heavy loses, with some regional analysts even comparing the battle for Qusayr as Hizbollah’s Vietnam moment. It remains to be seen if that is true, but all indications do point to Hizbollah suffering many more casualties in Qusayr than they have had in other battles within Syria, as well as the first time since the Syrian civil war began that the Shi’a militia/political party has openly admitted and defended its deepening involvement in the conflict. 

At least forty Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers have been killed in recent clashes with opposition fighters in the strategic town of al-Qusayr in Homs province, activists said on Saturday.In clashes with Syrian troops in Qusayr, the opposition fighters described on Friday what they called the “biggest intervention” by Lebanese militant movement, Hezbollah, in the two-year conflict that started as protests against President Bashar al-Assad but morphed into a civil war.

Hizbollah’s rationale for this escalation thus far is that it is protecting Lebanese Shi’as  living along the border from targeted killings, forced displacement, and rocket attacks from Syrian rebel groups. Reports of rockets being fired by pro-Syrian rebel groups into Shi’a villages in the past week that have resulted in at least two deaths seem to have played a part in Hizbollah’s calculated offensive. 
Assad’s long-term strategic concerns also seem to be a key factor for the Qusayr offensive. 
As Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general and a senior lecturer at the American University of Beirut, told the Daily Star, “The Al-Qusair area is highly important. It is critical for Assad because this area is the backyard of Damascus. It is the link between Damascus, Homs and the coastal area, so he can ill afford to lose it.”
Jean Aziz echoed the significance and future implications of the current battle for Qusayr in an illuminating and excellent piece of analytic reporting in Al Monitor this week. 

Qusayr has 50,000 inhabitants and is located 35 kilometers [about 22 miles] southwest of Homs. It holds the strategic routes between Homs and the Syrian coast to the west and Lebanon to the south. Controlling Qusayr would allow access to several strategic areas in upcoming battles. If regime loyalists control Qusayr, they can guarantee secure lines of communication between Damascus, the Syrian coast and Lebanon. If the oppositionists control it, they would cut off these roads and threaten the capital by cutting it off from the coast, which is pro-regime. They would also separate Damascus and the coast from the Shiite areas in Lebanon, which are pro-regime.

Hizbollah’s deepening involvement within Syria brought a sharp rebuke from George Sabra, the new interim president of the perpetually off-message and relevancy questionable Syrian National Council. 
Sabra asserted that “what is happening in Homs is a declaration of war against the Syrian people and the Arab League should deal with it on this basis,” and that "the Lebanese government should realize the danger that it poses to the lives of Syrians and the future relations between the two peoples and countries.”
Hizbollah’s involvement in Qusayr also immediately deepened already high sectarian tensions on both sides of the border, and, potentially, regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia/Qatar as well. 
Shortly after reports of Hizbollah’s casualties in the battle were reported, an increasingly popular firebrand Salafi cleric from the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, Sheik Ahmad al-Assir, called for “jihad” to help Sunni rebels in Syria counter the “murder and slaughter by the hands of the Iranian party.”

"A year and a half ago, we said that members of the Iranian party are taking part in suppressing the uprising in Syria and in the killing of [Sunnis] in Syria,” Assir said. “We asked the Lebanese state to intervene [and stop them], however, the dominance of [Hezbollah’s] arms over the country kept it silent.”“There is a religious duty on every Muslim who is able to do so… to enter into Syria in order to defend its people, its mosques and religious shrines, especially in Qusayr and Homs, especially for the Lebanese because Lebanon provides the only gateway” into central Syria.”

Such calls seem likely to increase the already fluid movement of weapons and fighters across Lebanon’s porous borders into Syria and represent a tangible new phase in the conflict, one of reverse spillover. 
Meanwhile, back in southern Lebanon, Assir also called for the establishment of “free resistance battalions” in Sidon with a view towards targeting Hizbollah on Lebanese soil. 
“Those who fear attack by Iran’s party [Hezbollah] to organize secret groups, and to buy weapons in order to be ready, should Nasrallah decide to attack.”
Even more ominously, al-Nusra issued a statement yesterday to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman that "Beirut will be burned" as a result of Hizbollah’s fighting in Qusayr.  
The conflict in Syria, and in Lebanon, has entered a dangerous new phase where the circuitous spillover effects are paving the way for a larger sectarian identity conflict on both sides of the volatile border, one that seems destined to be further fueled by regional patrons in ways that seem all-too-familiar for those that lived through the 15-year nightmare of the Lebanese civil war.
However, contextualizing this new slide to increased conflict simply within a religious/sectarian framework misses other important reasons for the tension. 
Indeed, as Beirut journalist Habib Battah asked this morning, “does focusing on religion ignore political, familial or personal motives of fighters?”
It most certainly does.  

Qusayr and the Reverse Spillover 

In the past few days fierce battles have been waged in Qusayr, a western Syrian city close to the Lebanese border in Homs province. Scores have been killed and reports suggest massacres may have taken place. 

What makes this battle so strategically and regionally important, however, is the involvement of Lebanese sectarian fighters, essentially killing each other on Syrian territory. 

Indeed, after months of fears that the Syrian conflict was spilling over into Lebanon, in Qusayr the reverse seems to be true. The Lebanese conflict has spilled over the border into Syria with Hizbollah forces supporting Assad regime troops in battles against FSA and al-Nusra battalions heavily comprised of Lebanese Sunni fighters. 

With these dangerous developments, many inside Lebanon are now wondering how long until such forces begin targeting each other inside Lebanon itself. 

On Monday, a Hizbullah official described the group’s actions as “a national and moral duty in the defense of the Lebanese in border villages”.

Hizbullah’s involvement in Syria’s spiraling conflict has been condemned by the Syrian opposition, which views it as a “declaration of war,” and by Lebanese opponents of the Shiite movement, who fear Lebanon may be dragged into Syria’s conflict.

Hizbollah has also been taking heavy loses, with some regional analysts even comparing the battle for Qusayr as Hizbollah’s Vietnam moment. It remains to be seen if that is true, but all indications do point to Hizbollah suffering many more casualties in Qusayr than they have had in other battles within Syria, as well as the first time since the Syrian civil war began that the Shi’a militia/political party has openly admitted and defended its deepening involvement in the conflict. 

At least forty Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers have been killed in recent clashes with opposition fighters in the strategic town of al-Qusayr in Homs province, activists said on Saturday.

In clashes with Syrian troops in Qusayr, the opposition fighters described on Friday what they called the “biggest intervention” by Lebanese militant movement, Hezbollah, in the two-year conflict that started as protests against President Bashar al-Assad but morphed into a civil war.

Hizbollah’s rationale for this escalation thus far is that it is protecting Lebanese Shi’as  living along the border from targeted killings, forced displacement, and rocket attacks from Syrian rebel groups. Reports of rockets being fired by pro-Syrian rebel groups into Shi’a villages in the past week that have resulted in at least two deaths seem to have played a part in Hizbollah’s calculated offensive. 

Assad’s long-term strategic concerns also seem to be a key factor for the Qusayr offensive.

As Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general and a senior lecturer at the American University of Beirut, told the Daily Star, “The Al-Qusair area is highly important. It is critical for Assad because this area is the backyard of Damascus. It is the link between Damascus, Homs and the coastal area, so he can ill afford to lose it.”

Jean Aziz echoed the significance and future implications of the current battle for Qusayr in an illuminating and excellent piece of analytic reporting in Al Monitor this week. 

Qusayr has 50,000 inhabitants and is located 35 kilometers [about 22 miles] southwest of Homs. It holds the strategic routes between Homs and the Syrian coast to the west and Lebanon to the south. Controlling Qusayr would allow access to several strategic areas in upcoming battles. If regime loyalists control Qusayr, they can guarantee secure lines of communication between Damascus, the Syrian coast and Lebanon. If the oppositionists control it, they would cut off these roads and threaten the capital by cutting it off from the coast, which is pro-regime. They would also separate Damascus and the coast from the Shiite areas in Lebanon, which are pro-regime.

Hizbollah’s deepening involvement within Syria brought a sharp rebuke from George Sabra, the new interim president of the perpetually off-message and relevancy questionable Syrian National Council. 

Sabra asserted that “what is happening in Homs is a declaration of war against the Syrian people and the Arab League should deal with it on this basis,” and that "the Lebanese government should realize the danger that it poses to the lives of Syrians and the future relations between the two peoples and countries.”

Hizbollah’s involvement in Qusayr also immediately deepened already high sectarian tensions on both sides of the border, and, potentially, regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia/Qatar as well.

Shortly after reports of Hizbollah’s casualties in the battle were reported, an increasingly popular firebrand Salafi cleric from the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, Sheik Ahmad al-Assir, called for “jihad” to help Sunni rebels in Syria counter the “murder and slaughter by the hands of the Iranian party.”

"A year and a half ago, we said that members of the Iranian party are taking part in suppressing the uprising in Syria and in the killing of [Sunnis] in Syria,” Assir said. “We asked the Lebanese state to intervene [and stop them], however, the dominance of [Hezbollah’s] arms over the country kept it silent.”

“There is a religious duty on every Muslim who is able to do so… to enter into Syria in order to defend its people, its mosques and religious shrines, especially in Qusayr and Homs, especially for the Lebanese because Lebanon provides the only gateway” into central Syria.”

Such calls seem likely to increase the already fluid movement of weapons and fighters across Lebanon’s porous borders into Syria and represent a tangible new phase in the conflict, one of reverse spillover. 

Meanwhile, back in southern Lebanon, Assir also called for the establishment of “free resistance battalions” in Sidon with a view towards targeting Hizbollah on Lebanese soil. 

“Those who fear attack by Iran’s party [Hezbollah] to organize secret groups, and to buy weapons in order to be ready, should Nasrallah decide to attack.”

Even more ominously, al-Nusra issued a statement yesterday to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman that "Beirut will be burned" as a result of Hizbollah’s fighting in Qusayr.  

The conflict in Syria, and in Lebanon, has entered a dangerous new phase where the circuitous spillover effects are paving the way for a larger sectarian identity conflict on both sides of the volatile border, one that seems destined to be further fueled by regional patrons in ways that seem all-too-familiar for those that lived through the 15-year nightmare of the Lebanese civil war.

However, contextualizing this new slide to increased conflict simply within a religious/sectarian framework misses other important reasons for the tension. 

Indeed, as Beirut journalist Habib Battah asked this morning, “does focusing on religion ignore political, familial or personal motives of fighters?

It most certainly does.  

April 18, 2013
Syrian Refugee Children’s Drawings Decorate the UNHCR Registration Office in Tyre, Lebanon
At the United Nations today during a sobering Security Council session on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Council that Syria is a “humanitarian catastrophe.” There are now 6.8 million people in need, 4.25 million IDPs, and 1.3 million refugees.Even more staggering, António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, then informed the Council that "as much as 25% of Lebanon’s population could now be Syrian." This number includes refugees, unregistered refugees, and migrant workers.This will surely have dire consequences for Lebanese society and its delicate post-Civil War demographic balance. Later in the meeting, Lebanon’s UN Ambassador Nawaf Salam briefed the Council on the rapidly deteriorating security situation in his country, reemphasized Lebanon’s policy of political “disassociation,” and addressed the humanitarian and refugee situation and its implications on Lebanese society and on the Lebanese economy. He also explicitly called for international assistance. "We pledge that Lebanon will never close its borders to those fleeing the horrors of violence and destruction in Syria. We will not send anyone back, we remain committed to sheltering Syrian refugees and providing them with food, water, clothing, and education.""But, we ask neighboring states and the international community to help share this burden. The Syrian refugees will soon be almost a quarter of the Lebanese population. Lebanon will not be able to provide the necessary care to the refugees or cope economically without an increase in assistance from the international community.” "We need to act now to save the Syrian people and save the region from disaster." 

Syrian Refugee Children’s Drawings Decorate the UNHCR Registration Office in Tyre, Lebanon

At the United Nations today during a sobering Security Council session on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Council that Syria is a “humanitarian catastrophe.” There are now 6.8 million people in need, 4.25 million IDPs, and 1.3 million refugees.

Even more staggering, António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, then informed the Council that "as much as 25% of Lebanon’s population could now be Syrian." This number includes refugees, unregistered refugees, and migrant workers.

This will surely have dire consequences for Lebanese society and its delicate post-Civil War demographic balance. 

Later in the meeting, Lebanon’s UN Ambassador Nawaf Salam briefed the Council on the rapidly deteriorating security situation in his country, reemphasized Lebanon’s policy of political “disassociation,” and addressed the humanitarian and refugee situation and its implications on Lebanese society and on the Lebanese economy. He also explicitly called for international assistance. 

"We pledge that Lebanon will never close its borders to those fleeing the horrors of violence and destruction in Syria. We will not send anyone back, we remain committed to sheltering Syrian refugees and providing them with food, water, clothing, and education."

"But, we ask neighboring states and the international community to help share this burden. The Syrian refugees will soon be almost a quarter of the Lebanese population. Lebanon will not be able to provide the necessary care to the refugees or cope economically without an increase in assistance from the international community.” 

"We need to act now to save the Syrian people and save the region from disaster."