The Danger of Civil Strife in Lebanon

Dr. Beshara N. Sharbel: The Danger of Civil Strife in Lebanon

  • 5 November 2012

Assassination of General Wissam Al-Hassan, former head of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces’ information branch, proved to be a major loss for Lebanon. He was the Chief Security Guard of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and had expressed deep sorrow following his assassination because he did not escort him on that fateful day (14 Feb 2005).

Wissam raised his department’s intelligence capabilities to very high levels. Commenting on his demise the Lebanese President, and others involved in the investigation, said that he paid the price for ‘crossing the red line’ as he had unearthed the details of transfer of explosives for terrorist operations and assassinations in North Lebanon designed to ignite Sunni-Christian sectarian strife.

The media refers to the plot as ‘explosives of Semaha-Mamlouk’, which led to the former Lebanese Minister Michael Semaha being put in a military prison. He is charged with transferring explosives in coordination with Syrian security officer Ali Mamlouk. Since the Syrian regime under President Bashar Al-Assad would not tolerate divulging of the details of the operation, they eliminated Wissam Al-Hassan. There is broad agreement that Wissam was a first class security man and he served Lebanon as a whole despite his close ties to the Hariri family. Some people consider him the second biggest loss for the Sunnis after Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah’s activities – especially keeping a huge arsenal of weapons to increase their influence in Lebanon – have caused major political and sectarian strife. The organization was seen as the main suspect in the Hariri assassination and yet it refused to hand over its members who were suspected in the case. Wissam’s killing has the potential to make an already volatile situation in Lebanon even more explosive. The Sunni-Shiite rift, the opposing positions with regard to Syria, a sympathetic Sunni stance in North Lebanon supporting Syrian rebels, and Hezbollah members fighting to save the Assad regime are all conflagrating factors.

With the assassination of Wissam, Sunni anger has grown and is refusing to tolerate Hezbollah’s hegemony and weapons. Sunnis in Lebanon consider Syrian rebels’ battle against Al-Assad regime a prelude to undermining Hezbollah and forcing it to respect the legitimacy and sovereignty of Lebanon. They consider Hezbollah an ‘ally of the Persians’ and reject the ‘Persian’ hegemony over Lebanon. The assassination of Wissam Al-Hassan has triggered another crisis which could erupt into a civil strife.