In a security escalation that is the first of its kind since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, on Sunday [May 26] two rockets fell on a neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs. Initial reports indicate that four people were injured.
However, the political and security consequences of this event could far surpass [the human casualties], given the following background factors:
First, the area in which the rockets fell is populated by Lebanese Shiites. This area lies within the geographic scope of Hezbollah's traditional stronghold.
Second, this serious incident came a few hours after the televised speech of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in which he openly declared that Hezbollah was involved in the armed conflict in Syria, against what he called "takfiris." This came a few days after Hezbollah admitted that a large number of their fighters were killed or injured in Qusair, a Syrian city close to the Lebanese region of Hermel, which is also occupied by Shiites.
Third, the preliminary investigations carried out by the Lebanese authorities showed that the two rockets are Grad short-range rockets. Moreover, less than two hours after the rockets were fired, the Lebanese authorities confirmed that a third rocket had been fired but did not explode. Most importantly, the same authorities returned and announced that they had found a rocket launcher used to fire the three rockets in a wooded area between the villages of Bsaba and Aytat. These two villages are located in Aley, a majority Druze region adjacent to the southern suburbs. This is one of the regions that witnessed violent armed clashes between Shiite Hezbollah gunmen and Druze militants affiliated with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt five years ago, in the framework of what was then referred to as the events of May 7, 2008.
Fourth, this dangerous security incident that occurred at the gates of the Lebanese capital cannot be separated from the context of the tense situation in various parts of the country. In the northern city of Tripoli, clashes continue between Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods. In the southern city of Sidon, an atmosphere of sectarian tension prevails between Sunnis and Shiites following clashes that occurred two days ago during the funeral of one of the victims of the Qusair battle.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese government is preparing to hold an exceptional meeting on May 27 to take the necessary legal and administrative measures to hold the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for June 16. During his recent speech on Saturday [May 25], Nasrallah confirmed his readiness to enter the elections alongside his allies. In the meantime, Jumblatt warned against holding elections now and described them as theatrical. He insisted that they be delayed for a long period and that the mandate of the current Lebanese parliament be extended.
Has the Syrian fire begun to reach the heart of Lebanon, in particular the capital, after many months of scorching the country's eastern and northern borders? Or is it just a heated act intended to delay the elections, in light of what the Sunni-Druze alliance sees as an unfavorable balance of popularity? Or, has the "infectious takfiri cancer" — as some describe it — actually moved for the first time to the Lebanese interior? It is expected that the coming days will bring some possible answers to these questions.
Jean Aziz is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Lebanon Pulse. He is a columnist at the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar and the host of a weekly political talk show on OTV, a Lebanese TV station. He also teaches communications at the American University of Technology and the Université Saint-Esprit De Kaslik in Lebanon.
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