Lebanon has been roiled by mounting political tensions in the wake of another assassination of a Lebanese leader that is widely blamed on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Last Friday, a car bomb killed the intelligence chief of Lebanon’s internal security forces, Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, who was a strong opponent of Syrian domination over Lebanon.
After al-Hassan’s funeral, mourners tried to storm the offices of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is seen by many Lebanese as a puppet of Syria. There were reports of gun battles between Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites. Many Lebanese blame the Assad regime, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shia Islamist movement of conducting a systematic campaign of intimidation against Lebanon’s Sunni, Druze, and Christian minorities, who have lost many leaders to assassinations in recent years.
General al-Hassan, a Sunni, had arrested one of Syria’s Lebanese allies, Michel Samaha, in August for plotting sectarian bombings. Al-Hassan had also angered Syria and Hezbollah by cooperating closely with a U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Lebanon’s Sunni minority has long resented the domination of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is supported by Iran and Syria. They were further alienated by Hezbollah’s support for the Alawite-dominated Assad regime in Syria, which has long oppressed Syria’s Sunni majority. Lebanese Sunnis have increasingly thrown their support behind Syria’s Sunni-dominated opposition.
Al-Hassan’s assassination appears to be an extension of Assad’s survival strategy of unleashing terrorism to retain power. But the political backlash against the assassination has further destabilized Lebanon and could ultimately undermine the power of Hezbollah, one of the Assad regime’s few remaining allies.