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ISIS Threatening To Open A New Front In Lebanon

Lebanon Syria Iraq Map

The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dittmer passes along the news that, while it continues to press its offensive in Iraq and fight against the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, ISIS may be eyeing opening up a third front in the Middle East:

Irish bombers used to have a grim mantra they would throw in the face of British authorities when one of their attacks didn’t go according to plan. “You have to be lucky all the time; we only have to be lucky once.” At the weekend the jihadist planners of a weekend bombing in Lebanon may have been muttering darkly to themselves something similar as they seek to open up fully a third front in their war in the Levant.

Lebanon escaped a big hit on Sunday night because a suicide bomber had a mechanical problem with his car and instead of arriving at his intended target in the Shia-dominated southern suburbs triggered his device prematurely near a Lebanese army checkpoint at one of the area’s main entrances. A Lebanese soldier was killed and more than 20 civilians were injured. Most of them were at café watching World Cup soccer when the explosion erupted.

It could have been much worse. Lebanese security forces say the bomber’s target was a bigger one right in the heart of the southern suburbs, the Beirut homeland of Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shia movement.

The signs are that in the coming weeks al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) will be following through in Lebanon in a bid to sow not only more mayhem and confusion in the Levant but in an effort to put pressure on the Lebanese militant Shia movement Hezbollah to start withdrawing some forces from neighboring Syria, where they have been a key factor in helping President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide of battle against rebels seeking to oust him.

“Spillover” is the description most reporters use for the episodic violence in Lebanon – from cross-border rocket jousting between Hezbollah and Syrian rebels to more than a dozen car bombings that have rocked Lebanon in the past two years. But the three countries are not separate saucepans – they are one boiling cauldron.

ISIS began as a group in Mosul in Iraq within al Qaeda in Mesopotamia only to regroup along the Syria-Iraq border into a bigger organization with more grandiose ambitions that stretch all the way to Lebanon.  And the jihadists are turning the heat up not only in Iraq, where they are leading a Sunni insurgency that has taken a huge swath of territory in the north and west of the country, but in Lebanon, too.

The ISIS insurgency in Iraq is already affecting the war in Syria—and may start reshaping the more clandestine struggle in Lebanon.

(…)

[F]or ISIS and Sunni militants there is now every reason to increase the pressure in Lebanon on Iran-backed Hezbollah. And the signs are that they are.

A bombing spate in Lebanon last year started to tail off in the winter. Lebanese security officials put that down to their increased vigilance and better policing. But it may have had more to do with the strategic priorities of ISIS and the official al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as well as a successful offensive by Hezbollah and Syrian government forces in the mountainous Al-Qalamoun—a rugged region that runs from the rural outskirts of the Syrian capital to the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah officials and Lebanese security sources say the cars in some of the bomb attacks were rigged with explosives in the Al-Qalamoun town of Yabrud and driven into Lebanon through the Lebanese border town of Arsal. That route was interdicted with the retaking of Yabrud by the Syrian army this winter – to the relief of Hezbollah, which was suffering acute political embarrassment as a result of a string of suicide blasts in its own backyard of Beirut’s southern suburbs.

ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombings.

But now there is an uptick in jihadist activity and the Lebanese are alarmed. The speaker of the country’s dysfunctional parliament, Nabih Berri, sees a connection with the Iraq crisis. “The security situation is dangerous in light of what is happening in Iraq,” he said Tuesday.

To some degree, of course, the idea of the Syrian Civil War spilling over in the Lebanon is nothing new. Ever since that war began three years ago and Iran and its client Hezbollah went all-in in support of the Assad regime, there have been reports of retaliatory violence against Hezbollah and Shia Muslims in Lebanon. The difference is that, for the most part, it has taken the form of one-off attack in the nature of terrorism rather than any kind of sustained campaign against a terrorist army that has effectively become a state within a state in Lebanon. I noted some of those reports in a post last year.  For the most part, though the fighting stayed within Syria and the attacks that occurred in Lebanon were what best can be described as pinpricks. An Iraq-style offensive by ISIS in Lebanon, even if it mainly took the form of increased terror bombings of Hezbollah population centers, would be something entirely different. Lebanon spent a quarter century in war before some kind of political truce was finally imposed, but those 25 years showed starkly how brutal and pervasive war in that nation can become and, more importantly, how likely it is that such a conflict can bring in outside forces. Twice within a 25 year period, Israel launched a war in Lebanon that ended up being brutal and deadly on both sides, and which didn’t really seem to accomplish anything other than inflame resentments in the nation already filled with flaming resentment. And, of course, attacks on Hezbollah would no doubt raise the interest of Iran.  If ISIS were to attempt in Lebanon what they are doing in Iraq, it would be the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a pile of dry wood and then throwing a lit match on it.

Lebanon, obviously, is neither Iraq not Syria, of course, and there’s no guarantee that ISIS will be able to exploit the situation there in the same way that they have been able to do in those other two countries. Moreover, most estimates put ISIS’s actual fighting forces at somewhere in the range of 11,000 people in Iraq and Syria, with perhaps 15,000 performing tasks not directly related to combat. (Source) Even taking into account the military equipment and money that they have captured in Iraq and Syria, it seems unlikely that they would be able to mount anything serious in Lebanon without recruiting additional support and, of course, they would not be able to divert resources from either Iraq or Syria without facing potential setbacks in those countries. Running a two front guerrilla war is, no doubt, a monumental logistical task. Running a three front guerrilla war would seem to be next to impossible. That being said, it would seem unwise to dismiss a threat like this if only because of the threat that ISIS would be able to do enough in Lebanon to destabilize that nation as it has done in Iraq. At that point, I’m not sure that the United States or anyone else would be able to afford to ignore what’s happening in the Levant. What we would realistically be able to do in such as situation is, of course, another question.

H/T: Vodkapundit

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    They want to take on Hezbollah? Good luck. One thing history has taught is is to not take on too many enemies at the same time.

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  2. michael reynolds says:

    We are now in effect on the same side as Assad and Iran and Hezbollah and. . . wait for it. . . Israel and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and yes, Turkey and an independent Kurdistan. And Al-Maliki.

    Because: Middle Freaking East, that’s why.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    @canine health: James, this comment certainly looks like spam to me.
    I suspect ISIS will overextend itself. The Iranians are already involved in Iraq. Assad is bombing them in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia Prince Bandar was fired because of his support for ISIS. And then there is Israel – who knows what they will do? The Shia clergy has turned against Malaki probably on instructions from Iran which probably means his future is not very bright.
    The US should keep out of the dispute and let the local powers deal with it. Pull our people out if they are in danger. Obama’s request for 500 million in military aid for the “moderate” opponents of Assad is a joke – there are none of those left and congress should reject it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. DC Loser says:

    Agree the idea that we train the Free Syrian Army is ridiculous. FSA is the weakest of the groups fighting in Syria, far behind ISIS and the Al Nusra (Al Qaeda affiliated) Front. And then there’s Hezbollah that’s on the Assad side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. stonetools says:

    Looks like what’s happening in the Middle East is the ultimate battle for the Muslim soul-between Sunni and Shia, with no quarter taken or given. The best analogue I can think of is the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. From Wikipedia:

    Initially, religion was a motivation for war as Protestant and Catholic states fought even though many of them were or had been members of the Holy Roman Empire—a situation which was not atypical of the Empire, which had become decentralized and fragmented following the death of Charlemagne (814 AD). Changing the relative balance of power within the Empire was at issue. Gradually, it developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers of Europe.[11] In this general phase, the war became less specifically religious and more a continuation of the Bourbon–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence, leading in turn to further warfare between France and the Habsburg powers.[12]

    Eventually, that war ended when all the parties exhausted themselves and grudgingly agreed to the Peace of Westphalia, which established the basis of the modern European state system.
    It is apt that we are now talking about WW1, because what seems to be happening is the collapse of the Sykes-Picot system put in place at the end of that war and its replacement by an order yet to be determined. It may or may not be good, but it at least will be an order of the inhabitants’ own choosing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @stonetools: One thing I’ve seen little of in the press on is the impact of the totally artificial Sykes-Picot line. Thanks Britain and France.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @stonetools: If we and the other powers that be allow them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: nothing like the good ol’ “enemy of my enemy” thing in action. it kinda sucks to not get involved as there’s so many people who want nothing to do with this already in the mix. but we’ll make it worse if we do anything, as we usually do.

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  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Twice within a 25 year period, Israel launched a war in Lebanon that ended up being brutal and deadly on both sides, and which didn’t really seem to accomplish anything other than inflame resentments in the nation already filled with flaming resentment.

    And just what triggered those wars? An unending series of attacks into Israel from Lebanon. BTW, after the second one, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1701 (easy for any Trekkie to remember), which demanded that Hezbollah be disarmed, and the southernmost part of Lebanon be demilitarized. That lasted almost no time at all.

    I’m wondering if this is a ploy to open up a front with Israel, and use the “Jews as common enemies” ploy to unite Muslim support.

    But if this does to turn out to be ISIS vs. Hezbollah, I say seal off the borders and start up the popcorn. The extent of our involvement should be limited to offering weapons to the losing side so we can keep the fighting going as long as possible. (And that’s only partly sarcastic; militant Muslim extremists killing other militant Muslim extremists is a GOOD thing, generally.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    I say seal off the borders and start up the popcorn.

    Sure. Because war is kinda like entertainment. At least it is to a certain type of person, when they are observing in complete safety from thousands of miles away.

    What’s that expression for people who get off on violence and death? Oh, yea. “Sick F**K”

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  13. Ron Beasley says:

    In what may be good news there is word that Sunni tribal leaders are joining with Iraqi troops to fight ISIS,

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  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Go ahead and put forth an argument how bad it is when bad people are killing other bad people. Or, alternately, outline how we should try to stop it and why.

    I know how important it is to you to be seen as just dripping compassion, so feel free to wring your hands. Go ahead and avert your eyes. I’ll be watching the whole spectacle, just so I can remind myself just how bad these people are, and of the fact that they’re kililng each other means they aren’t killing innocents. Or, at least, as many innocents as they would otherwise.

    And funny how you had a… decidedly contrary opinion on dark humor just a week ago. Were you this prissy around your father?

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  15. grumpy realist says:

    Sometimes one does get the feeling of “kill them all, God will sort it out.”

    It’s also because these people are, well, insane. What does ISIS expect to run its economy on? The only reason the Saudis can be as fundamentalist as they are is because they’re sitting on top of a large lake of oil and and squander their patrimony by selling it off to the West. A sizable chunk of their workforce is non-Saudi. As I’ve said before, once the oil runs out, Saudi Arabia will have to go back to date-gathering and camel-herding because they don’t have the intellectual capital to do anything else.

    Ditto for ISIS. Assume they get a large chunk of Iraq. what are they going to do with it? OK, assume that they grab the oil pipelines and some of the refineries. How is that going to do them any good if all the workers have disappeared or get killed because they’re “non-Moslem.”? Who’s going to fix the machinery if things go wrong? Who’s going to BUILD the machinery they need?

    The problem with behaving like a horde of reactionary locusts is that unless you continue to find stable populations to raid, at some point you’re nothing more than a thug with a gun galloping on a camel in the desert. And when the bullets run out and you don’t know how to make any more, things get very nasty for you very quickly.

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  16. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    Were you this prissy around your father?

    My father taught me to shoot & play football, two activities I doubt you ever participated in. But thanks for your concern. He also taught me to be a gourmet cook and to appreciate music, art, and literature. It was a pretty cool house to grow up in.

    BTW, when we were discussing “dark humor” recently, we were talking about how people with stress from work that puts them in uncommonly stressful situations . I think we all know your candy ass has never been anywhere near a battlefield, which probably help explains why you always seem to be titalated by violence. Guys who have actually seen combat look at it a little differently.

    I’m a Buddhist, I view all killing and violence with regret and sadness. My hope is that one day this view will be held by the majority, and then we can have less killing and violence in the world.

    Is understanding that there are times in our world when violence is necessary, and that some people really do need killing, while at the same time looking for a road that leads us away from madness, war and hatred really “prissy” in your book?

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  17. anjin-san says:

    I know how important it is to you to be seen as just dripping compassion

    Well, compassion is sort of at the core of my belief system, which I try to actually practice in my life.

    I guess I could become a modern conservative, hate 3/4 of the people in the world, and spend my time talking about how poor people suck and they deserve to suffer. Then I could go slap an “I Love Jesus” bumper sticker on my car and call it a day.

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  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: You missed a couple of stereotypes there, annie. But can you give me a few verses of “we just need to make your choices for you in life, because we don’t want you to make mistakes?” I feel the crushing burden of making my own decisions down on me, and if you don’t take that away for me (for my own good, of course), I might drink a 20-oz. soda or go biking without a helmet and sunscreen.

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  19. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    That’s the best response you can manage? Yes, I suppose it is.

    And, since you brought my father into the discussion, I will pass one of his little life lessons on to you. It’s one your dad appeared to have skipped.

    Ready? Here you go:

    “If you act like a dick, people won’t like you, and they will wish you would go away and not return”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Hey, you were the one who brought up your father and his black humor. Sorry if using him to demonstrate your hypocrisy offends you, but if you don’t like that, you shouldn’t open the door for others to walk through.

    But back to the topic at hand: I don’t see a single thing we can do to improve a situation that features Muslim Extremist Group A and Muslim Extremist Group B trying to slaughter each other.

    I’ve lived through enough of my fellow citizens and other innocents being slaughtered by Muslim Extremist Groups A, B, C, and so on ad nauseum that I’m going to feel some relief and some schadenfreude at the current situation. You wanna piss and moan about how bad it is, be my guest.

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  21. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    You do realize that more than Muslim extremists are being killed and it will not just be Muslim extremists dying going forward, right? As much as you may be happy that those people are killing each other (a point I really can’t sympathize with), rooting for the continued violence amounts to rooting for more dead innocents caught in the crossfire.

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  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Grewgills: Oh, if only I had said something like ” I’ll be watching the whole spectacle, just so I can remind myself just how bad these people are, and of the fact that they’re kililng each other means they aren’t killing innocents. Or, at least, as many innocents as they would otherwise.”

    Oh, wait, I did…

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  23. anjin-san says:

    Hey, you were the one who brought up your father and his black humor.

    Yes, and I was talking about the gallows humor that people who have “been there and done that” engage in. So unless you think reading Clancy books and watching Platoon gives you the same experience as a combat vet or someone who has lived in a war zone, now might be a good time to shut up.

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  24. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    The original comment you were defending was

    I say seal off the borders and start up the popcorn.

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  25. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Grewgills: You want a little clarification? Seal off the borders, resettle any refugees who aren’t just losing combatants, and let them kill each other all they like.

    There really isn’t a goddamned thing else we can do, realistically.

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  26. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    On matters of policy in this instance it appears we mostly agree. We can’t seal the borders, but we can and are giving aid to refugees. Other than that we shouldn’t be doing much else in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon etc. as we have no real national interest in doing so, at least not one worth the trouble further intervention in civil wars would buy us.

    What I found distasteful was the facile dismissal of the pain, suffering, and death demonstrated by

    I say seal off the borders and start up the popcorn.

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  27. anjin-san says:

    I’ve lived through enough of my fellow citizens and other innocents being slaughtered by Muslim Extremist Groups A, B, C

    Yet you seem to be utterly unmoved by say, the deaths innocents that were slaughtered in the “shock & awe” bombings, and you are mystified that Muslims might become extremists.

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  28. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Yet you seem to be utterly unmoved by say, the deaths innocents that were slaughtered in the “shock & awe” bombings, and you are mystified that Muslims might become extremists.

    The “shock and awe” bombings were conducted in 2003. In your little fantasy world, what the dickens drove Muslims to extremism before that?

    It seems that you always have an excuse for Muslims acting like savages… and it’s usually our fault.

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  29. anjin-san says:

    In your little fantasy world, what the dickens drove Muslims to extremism before that?

    Oh, I don’t know. The west overthrowing a democracy in Iran in 1953 and installing a murdering, torturing, looting bastard in pursuit of oil profits? Supporting a torturing, murdering, looting basted like Mubarak in Egypt for decades? Maybe supporting and arming a murdering, torturing, looting bastard like Saddam Hussien, including helping him obtain WMD and supporting him in a war of aggression that killed a million people.

    I know that “bad men like to kill” works better with your somewhat limited intellect, but some of us live in a more complex world.

    Muslims acting like savages

    So when we blew up innocents in Iraq in a war of aggression, that was not savagery? What was it, high tea with your grandmother?

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  30. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: You really do have an endless list of excuses for Muslims choosing to act like savages, don’t you? I meant it as hyperbole, but it’s accurate.

    And did you notice that all of your examples involve Muslims brutalizing other Muslims — the Shah, Saddam, Mubarak?

    And those three you cited are only aberrations in that they were at one point backed by the West. In their actual conduct, they were entirely typical of Middle East rulers. Lots of their peers were right bastards without Western support — like the Assads (father and son) and Mohamed Morsi come to mind.

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  31. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It seems that you always have an excuse for Muslims acting like savages… and it’s usually our fault.

    No, it’s that you tend to ignore all the recent history in which other Religious/Social groups, including those in the west, acted like savages as well.

    Or do the Catholics and Protestants involved in bloody attacks, bombing, etc during the period from 1913 to the late 1990′s not count as “savage”? Is taht term only reserved for brown people in your world view?

    And did you notice that all of your examples involve Muslims brutalizing other Muslims — the Shah, Saddam, Mubarak?

    Because Christians have *never* brutalized other Christians. And *never* in the 20th century. Because… um… they’re white, right?

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  32. anjin-san says:

    excuses

    Denying at least some degree of cause and effect in these cases simply shows that you do not care about the actual study of history, political science, and sociology, but prefer to stick with straight party dogma. Well, it does save you from having to think, and thinking can be hard work.

    “Excuses” implies excusing, which is not what I am doing. What I am doing is saying events do not take place in a vacuum.

    At any rate, if you want to give us a pass for overthrowing democracies (at the behest of oil companies), supplying madmen with arms and WMD, and supporting torture, have at it. Keep pointing the finger at others. Looking in the mirror and doing a little soul-searching can be painful, and you are obviously not up to it.

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