By Phil Greaves
This weeks conflagration near Sidon, a majority Sunni city in the South of Lebanon has been on the cards for some time. Sheikh Al Assir, the instigator of the street battles with the Lebanese Armed Forces, (LAF) has been on a concerted campaign to incite sectarian strife and division between the Sunni and Shi’a sects in Lebanon, with one major goal; to draw Hezbollah into a sectarian-based conflict.
The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”
The worst fighting in Lebanon in years, which wracked this coastal city one hour south of Beirut this week, was touched off by an influx of foreign fighters from Syria, Palestinian camps and other Arab countries into the compound of a radical Sunni cleric, according to knowledgeable people on both sides of the conflict. The foreign fighters included members of Jabhat al Nusra, a Syrian rebel group also known as the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al Qaida, according to the accounts, including that of a Lebanese military official. Nusra is considered the most effective rebel group fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, and its presence inside Lebanon, if confirmed, would provide evidence not just that the Syrian conflict has spread, but that Nusra fighters have extended their influence outside Syria and Iraq.
“The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.”
Escalating fighting in Lebanon along with growing efforts by the US and the European powers to arm the Syrian rebels are raising the risk of a region-wide war. Lebanon, having served as a corridor for arms shipments to US-backed Sunni…