Lebanon’s Gathering Storm

With all eyes focused on sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria, little attention has been paid to rapidly deteriorating Sunni-Shia relations in Lebanon. If the international community is to counter the Islamic State and prevent the further erosion of order in the Middle East, its leaders will have to think about the region as a whole.

BEIRUT – With all eyes focused on sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria, little attention has been paid to Sunni-Shia relations in Lebanon. Yet the potential for a perfect storm is brewing.

In the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal, a Sunni enclave in a Shia-majority region, jihadists recently attacked Lebanese army units and abducted soldiers, whom they accused of working with Hezbollah. Arsal borders Syria’s Qalamoun region, where the Syrian army and Hezbollah are fighting Syrian rebels and jihadists.

When the Islamic State reportedly beheaded a Sunni army member in Arsal, few of the town’s inhabitants interviewed on Lebanese television publicly condemned the group. Instead, they focused their anger on Lebanese politicians. Many people blame worsening sectarian relations on Lebanon’s deteriorating social and economic situation, itself a consequence of the conflict in Syria.

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