With all eyes on the Islamic State group’s onslaught in Iraq and Syria, a less conspicuous but potentially just as explosive front line with the extremists is emerging in Lebanon, where Lebanese soldiers and Shiite Hizbullah terrorists are increasingly pulled into deadly fighting with the Sunni group along the country’s border with Syria.
The U.S. has been speeding up delivery of small ammunition to shore up Lebanon’s army, but recent cross-border attacks and beheading of Lebanese soldiers by Islamic State fighters — and the defection of four others to the extremists — has sent shockwaves across this Mediterranean country, eliciting fear of a potential slide into the kind of sectarian violence afflicting both Syria and Iraq, and increasingly prompting minorities to take up arms.
Unlike in Syria or Iraq, the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group does not hold territory in Lebanon. But along with Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front, it has established footholds in remote mountains along Lebanon’s remote eastern border, from where it launches almost daily incursions further afield.
The Lebanese are bitterly divided over Syria’s civil war. Hizbullah fighters have gone to join Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in their battle against Sunni rebels, drawing anger at home from Lebanon’s Sunnis and stoking Sunni-Shiite tensions. This in turn led to tit-for-tat suicide bombings and several rounds of street clashes in Lebanon in the past year.