In Tripoli – a Sunni city with an Alawite minority – Jabhat al-Nusra is headed by Yassir al-Badidi, a Syrian inspired by the heads of al-Qaeda in Lebanon, Husam al-Saba’a, and Sheikh Salaam al-Ra’af’i. He commands six hundred Lebanese and Palestinian fighters, who are active participants in the war being waged on the back burner between the Sunni neighborhood of Baab al-Tabbana and the Alawite Jabal Mohsen. In the region of Akar, in north Lebanon, there are Jabhat al-Nusra organizations under formation in the cities of Halba, Quwayta and al-Kurum. They include about 300 Lebanese and Syrian fighters, headed by Khader Khuwiled, “Abu Thaer” (“The Avenger”).
There is a force of 250 fighters in the Ayn al-Hilwa refugee camp, in south Lebanon, near the city of Sidon, who are under the command of a Palestinian named Usama al-Shihabi. This force also includes fighters from the Yarmuk refugee camp, near Damascus, who have fled to Lebanon. In addition to these, there are a few more squads of Jabhat al-Nusra in the Burj al-Brajna, Mar Alias and Badawi refugee camps.
There are two important details regarding Jabhat al-Nusra in Lebanon. One is the fact that it is still in the process of becoming organized, and its affiliates have commenced operations against Hezbollah and the Lebanese army on a local basis. The other important detail is that it is based on a combination of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian forces, and it may be that in the future, additional jihadists from many other countries will join them, as happens in every other internal Islamic battleground – in Iraq, in Syria and in Libya.
However in this case as well, we already hear Sunni voices that are opposed to Jabhat al-Nusra in Lebanon, for instance Sheikh Umar Bakri Fustuq, head of al-Multaka al-Islami le-ahl al-Suna waljama’a fi Lubnan” (“The Islamic Forum of the Sunni Sect in Lebanon”), claiming that the formation of Jabhat al-Nusra organizations in Lebanon gives the Syrian regime and its supporters in Hezbollah an excuse to say that they are not fighting for Asad, but against al-Qaeda.
The conclusion to be drawn from all of the above is that in the past two years, while Hezbollah was engaged in Syria busily cutting short the lives of its citizens, in its back yard – Lebanon – a new and very complex problem has cropped up, in the form of the development of violent Sunni organizations with virulent anti-Shi’ite ideology, which aspires to free itself from Hezbollah’s noose and avenge the Sunni blood that has been spilled like water in Syria. The Lebanese army is supposed to deal with these developing Sunni organizations, but it seems that this army will not be capable of controlling them for long, so the Sunni groups are biding their time, waiting for the right opportunity to attack Hezbollah and the Lebanese army. The time will come when the Shi’ite organization will be so exhausted by its battle in Syria, its front yard, that it will be difficult for it to cope with the fresh forces that are building up and organizing against it in Lebanon, its back yard.
Lebanon has been a boxing ring where sects and militias have been battling it out ever since it became independent in 1943. But the moment of truth, the great battle that will determine the country’s fate once and for all, is approaching: will it end by becoming a Shi’ite regime under Hezbollah’s rule, a Sunni regime under the rule of jihadi militias or will it be divided up according to sect, after all of the peaceful citizens, who have no interest in war, have fled in all directions.
The West, especially Israel, must carefully monitor the developments in Lebanon, because there is a rare opportunity to cut off a significant part of one of the most important arms of the Iranian octopus, which comprises Syria and Hezbollah. I am no fan of the Sunni, Salafi jihadi movements, and if Jabhat al-Nusra takes over Syria and/or Lebanon, there is no doubt that this would create a security problem for Israel. Nevertheless, the main problem and the greatest problem for Israel and the West is Iran, and the closer Iran progresses toward the nuclear bomb, the more of an existential threat it becomes to Israel.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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