Operation Arsal: Prelude to Lebanese Civil War
location: Northeast Lebanon; 6 miles from the Syrian border
population: In flux (before Syrian war, 40,000; currently, 110,000)
religion: Sunni Islam
known affiliations: Supports Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime.
likelihood of attack: Imminent
potential effects: Catastrophic
Nestled in the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains on the eastern side of the Bekaa Valley, sits the lone Sunni town of Arsal. To the west lie Shiite villages loyal to Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Across the border, just 10 miles to the east, some of the fiercest fighting of the Syrian civil war rages on.
On the Syrian side of the border, Hezbollah fighters are conducting a massive military offensive in support of the Assad government. Their aim is to regain control of Syria’s main north-south highway, which connects the city of Homs to the capital, Damascus.
With air support from the Syrian Army, Hezbollah fighters are routing rebel fighters from this corridor, simultaneously pushing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees over the mountains into Lebanon. About 10,000 of them recently joined the 60,000 who are already taking refuge in and around the town of Arsal.
For the past three years, the large-scale violence of Syria’s civil war has stayed on its side of the border. However, starting with the little town of Arsal, civil war looks to spill into Lebanon. Here’s why.
First, Lebanon has sustained a dramatic increase of suicide car bombers attacking Hezbollah targets. These bombings have been linked to Arsal. Many of the vehicles that have been used as car bombs originated in Syria; they were driven across the porous border, stopping in Arsal before driving on to their targets and detonating. The latest, a 1994 black Jeep Cherokee, exploded on February 22 at a military checkpoint at the entrance of the town of Hermel, a Hezbollah stronghold. It was the third attack in Hermel since January 16 this year. This infographic depicts the others. It’s obvious to Hezbollah that Arsal is a conduit for attacks against it.
Second, for two years Arsal has supported the Syrian rebels. This has put the Sunni town in opposition against Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese-based Hezbollah (both Shiite).
“We are being punished, because from day one we were the first to support the revolution, and to treat the Syrian wounded, and receive refugees,” Arsal’s deputy mayor, Ahmad Fleeti, told Lebanese media outlet now.
“Arsal residents have taken a side,” said Umm Mohammad, another Arsal local. “We chose to support the opposition, and we are bearing the consequences of it. I don’t know if was wise, but I know that there is no going back, and we just have to submit our situation to God” (Al Jazeera, February 25).
Finally, the most ominous and imminent reason Syria’s violence is threatening to spill over the border is because that is exactly what Hezbollah’s military strategy is. Hezbollah fighters are trying to push Syrian rebels from town to town until they are cornered in Arsal, Lebanon.
“Our strategy focuses on encircling the rebels in each sector while leaving them with one exit road toward another specific village, until we can corner them in one area,” stated a Hezbollah brigade commander fighting in Syria. “This is now the case of Yabrud [Syria], from which most of the fighters are escaping to Fleeta, and from there to Arsal.”
Asked whether Hezbollah is willing to target a town inhabited by 40,000 Lebanese residents, the commander said, “I think that the people of Arsal are aware of the danger awaiting them, and they are fleeing to the Bekaa Valley.”
But for anyone with ties to the Syrian resistance, fleeing west is dangerous because Hezbollah has checkpoints on all roads and intersections east of Arsal.
Spark of Civil War?
Confrontation in Arsal is imminent. The big question is, who will lead the campaign against it? Depending on the answer, the results for Lebanon could be catastrophic.
The town’s deputy mayor says he doesn’t think Hezbollah will be crazy enough to enter Arsal itself. “We are not afraid of Hezbollah, because we think they’re smarter than to invade Arsal,” he said. “If Hezbollah invades Arsal, it will be a civil war for sure ….”
Hezbollah commanders say that once they corner Syrian rebels—not to mention Lebanese Sunni terrorists—in Arsal, the Lebanese Army will take over, with Hezbollah’s backing if need be. However, the army has given no indication it will make an incursion into Sunni Arsal. If the army does conduct a large-scale military campaign against one of its own towns—even if only against terrorist targets—it would jeopardize its status as a neutral party.
The Lebanese Army will be extremely cautious to enter such a loaded situation.
Realistically though, it is perfectly reasonable to assume Hezbollah will not be able to resist attacking Arsal, especially as it succeeds in pushing more Sunni fighters from Syria into the town. Unfortunately, if this happens, there will be a large-scale Shiite-on-Sunni battle, not only in Syria, but now in Lebanon.
For Lebanon, a country whose Islamic population is half Sunni and half Shiite, that means civil war! Given how spread out the Islamic factions are in Lebanon, fighting would engulf the whole country.
Based on biblical prophecy, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry announced on his February 9 Key of David program, “There’s going to be now a civil war, a bloody civil war in Lebanon for control of Lebanon.” You can find the full video here.
The dire future of the little town of Arsal only adds to the extremely tense situation millions of Lebanese are already facing throughout the country.
To understand where a civil war in Lebanon will lead—as well as the hope-filled outcome for the residents of Arsal and the Syrian refugees—be sure to read “The Bloody Cedar Revolution Approaches in Lebanon.”