While the current international focus in the Middle East has centered around Syria and the recent violence in Iraq, the impact of increased civil strife across the region will have serious implications for Lebanon.
The Syrian civil war has been going on for four years now, bleeding out into other areas as millions have been displaced from their homes. A huge influx of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon over the past several years, contributing to rising tension within Lebanon’s borders.
In order to escape the violence in their country, nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled. There are currently over one million refugees in Lebanon alone; nearly half of the total number.
Lebanon’s current political system will not have a high tolerance for conflict as the country has just recently come out of a 15-year civil war.
The problem with Syrian refugees in Lebanon will come with challenges beyond the normal problems associated with displaced people. Refugees from Syria have the potential to increase sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite communities. The Shiite militant organization Hezbollah supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This provokes violence in Lebanon from an outraged Sunni community. The Sunni faction ISIS has been taking advantage of a weak government in both Syria and Iraq in order to take control of areas in hopes of creating their own Islamic state.
When leaders of Lebanon’s religious factions lose control over their territories, historically, chaos breaks out. Attacks occur in the form of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings.
Apart from violence, the refugee overflow overwhelms Lebanon’s already fragile infrastructure. Water, electricity and waste management systems have the potential to break down. This could lead to a disastrous shortage of water and electricity which in turn would allow for the spread of disease and contamination.
The United States knows that preventing escalating conflict in Lebanon is necessary to avoid further violence across the region, and to decrease the likelihood of extremists groups expanding. Renewed conflict in Lebanon could also threaten Israel, a U.S. ally, if religious extremists groups continue to grow.
There is no easy solution to growing tension in Lebanon due to the increasing number of refugees. In order to avoid a renewed conflict in Lebanon, state institutions must be effective in calming the growing violence and tension between religious groups. Additionally, public healthcare and sanitation services must be enhanced.
According to Council of Foreign Relations Senior Advisor Monica Yaccoubiana, avoiding a conflict in Lebanon will take a huge effort to mitigate spillover effects of the Syrian conflict. These efforts must include ensuring humanitarian access to civilians inside Syria, working with the United Nations to improve access for aid groups, increase funding for assistance and initiating high level meetings between global political leaders and Lebanese officials in order to encourage consensus building and implement solutions.
– Caroline Logan