In Lebanon, has the civil war already started?

On October 13, 1990, Lebanon turned the page on fifteen years of civil war. At least officially. Because the conflict has left an indelible mark on everyone’s mind. With each episode of tension between the different political and religious communities, the word is out again. Lebanon has been living for three decades on a fragile balance that the tragic events of this Thursday, October 14 have once again broken. The demonstration organized in the morning by the Islamist tandem Hezbollah-Amal against the judge Tarek Bitar in charge of the investigation into the explosion of the port of Beirut (August 4, 2020), degenerated into armed clashes between these Shiite groups and the militia of the Christian quarters of Ain el Remmaneh.

The exchange of fire left seven people dead, and echoed two episodes from the past. The districts where the fighting took place are the same where, 46 years earlier, on April 13, 1975, the Christian militiamen of the Kataëb attacked a Palestinian bus, a dramatic episode which had triggered 15 years of civil war. On that day, street battles had left more than 30 dead and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shouted “a blatant plot undertaken under the impetus of imperialism and Zionism”. On Thursday, the slogans against the United States or against Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces (FL, a former Christian activist who became a political party), accused by the Shiite forces of being at the boot of Israel, did not ceased to fuse.

The show of force by Hezbollah militants responding to the call of their leader Hassan Nasrallah also recalls the invasion of Beirut by these same armed elements on May 7, 2008 following the government’s decision to dismantle the security network of the Shiite militia. Until that date, Hezbollah, which pretended that it kept its weapons to continue its fight against Israel, had never used its arsenal so heavily on the local scene.

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The events provided a “glimpse of a bad scenario that could take shape in the near future in Lebanon if the current economic and political dynamics are not resolved,” said Randa Slim, program director at the Middle East Institute, a center reflection. Since the end of 2019, the country has been experiencing the most serious political and economic crisis in its history.

Hezbollah’s goal: permanently dismiss Judge Bitar

What can result from this last episode? No one can predict it. In the neighborhoods around the Tayyouné roundabout, where the clashes took place, tension remained high this afternoon. With several “martyred” members, two on the Hezbollah side and three on the Amal side, the Shiite duo could call for revenge, but have no interest in escalating. Neither actor wants it. “The memory of the recent war, which is still present in Lebanon among the ruling elites and the general public, serves as a powerful deterrent against another civil war,” recalls Randa Slim. The chairman of the Hezbollah Executive Council, Hashem Safieddine, let it be known in the afternoon, during the funeral of its members that the FL had tried to provoke a “new civil war” in Lebanon by committing a “massacre” against supporters of Hezbollah, asserting however that his party “would not allow itself to be drawn into sedition”.

Hezbollah wants to maintain a status quo and will likely seek to pursue its goal of permanently removing Judge Bitar from the investigation into the port explosion, in which several of the Shiite party’s relatives are directly involved. With the approach of the legislative elections scheduled for March 27, 2022, Thursday’s fighting has in any case allowed him to unite his electorate around a common enemy, Samir Geagea, whom the Islamist formation associates with the United States and Israel. . The LF leader does not want open conflict, but hopes to have scored points with the Christian community through a clear message. He seeks to present himself as their life insurance by showing them that he will always block Hezbollah in his neighborhoods.

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The fact remains that, “if economic conditions were to worsen and regional tensions, particularly on the Iran-Israel axis, were to intensify, the cost-benefit calculations of some local and regional actors could change in favor of a confrontation. large-scale military in Lebanon, “says researcher Randa Slim. The future is more uncertain than ever.


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