Syrian Civil War: Why the Assassination of Al Hassan Will Not Spill Over into Lebanon

In Lebanon, memories of mass violence are never really a memory. Details related to the explosion in Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon, on October 19, are slowly surfacing. The media is flooded with headlines blaming Syria for the attack, speculating that Syria’s civil war will likely spill over into Lebanon. 

Politicization of the assassination of Major General Wissam Al-Hassan is something that all Lebanese are aware of and expect as an outcome of the situation. Lebanon has yet to confirm who the executor was, but regardless if the responsibility for the explosion falls on Lebanon, Israel, or Syria, the blast is not necessarily a direct result of the current Syrian civil war. Moreover, civil war in Lebanon is unlikely. 

The effects of Friday’s explosion are a part of an enduring conflict between Syria and Lebanon for more than 30 years. The violence isn’t a recent affair. There have been many attempted and successful assassinations inside Lebanon for almost a decade, including late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s death in 2005. Hariri’s death sparked the Cedar Revolution in 2005, ousting Syrian troops out of the country that had power over Lebanon for over 30 years. This incident, and many other examples over the last decade, explain why the aftermath of Al-Hassan’s death is not directly related to the war in Syria, but it is part of a long-term struggle between pro- and anti-Syria supporters in Lebanon.

More notably, although Syria still has power in Lebanon, Lebanon’s instability is primarily a result of broader sectarian and strategic rivalries in the country. When a top intelligence official can be assassinated in the middle of Beirut, Al-Hassan’s assassination shows just how weak Lebanon’s security is.  If anything, the Lebanese government has suffered public opinion surrounding its credibility. 

Current Prime Minister Najib Mikati is calling for national unity in order to avoid a political vacuum and further deterioration in the country. Despite the political divisions and bickering, the Lebanese government is committed to exercising all options to preserve Lebanon’s stability in order to avoid another civil war that would have overwhelming devastating effects. It is in no political party’s interest to promote otherwise.

Furthermore, the country has had many easy opportunities to fall into mass fighting and chaos in recent years, but has refrained based on the somewhat fresh memories of the devastations of the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990. 

As it has previously, Lebanon’s weak state will somehow manage to absorb the shock. Al-Hassan was killed by a party that does not want Lebanon to achieve the capability of being able to manage their own political crimes, but there will not be a civil war in Lebanon as a result. The protests and tire-burning frenzies in Lebanon remain a seasonal event that will eventually pass; normal life can be resumed. Calm has returned to Beirut in most places. It seems that Lebanon’s main concern will be trying to salvage its already fragile central government. 

For now, civil war over Assad’s regime will continue in Syria and not Lebanon.