Lebanon swamped by Syrian civil war

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regional influence is collapsing into chaos even as American plans for attacking his country stall out.

In an interview earlier this week with the Daily Caller, Fayez Ghosn, defense minister for Syria’s long-suffering client state Lebanon, urged the United States to hold off on President Barack Obama’s plan to attack Assad’s regime. But he acknowledged that Syria’s brutal civil war has already created tough burdens for his military.

“Right now only the Lebanese army is working on the land,” Ghosn said in an interview at his palatial home in Kousba, a town in the North Lebanon governate.  “It’s in the South, it’s in the North, it’s in Tripoli, it’s in Beirut, in the Bekaa, everywhere.”

Ghosn noted that in the midst of a flood of Syrian refugees — most of them Sunnis at odds with Lebanon’s much larger Shiite population — other institutions in Lebanon’s hobbled pro-Syrian government are facing similar hardships.

“In Lebanon we have a very big division between the Eight and the Fourteen,” he said, referring to both the “March Eight” coalition, which supports Syria and includes Shiite powerhouse Hezbollah, and the rival “March Fourteenth” coalition that formed after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri and includes a mix of Sunni, Maronite Christian and other political interests.

Ghosn, a longtime member of parliament from the county of Koura, took over as defense minister in 2011, after a government led by Hariri’s son Saad Hariri collapsed. But the March Eighth government that appointed Ghosn has since begun to fray.

Lebanon technically has no prime minister now, and prominent members of the March Eight coalition, including Amal, Hezbollah’s main rival for Shiite voters, have begun to put some distance between themselves and the coalition. The tensions have been underscored by bombings this summer in a Shiite district of Beirut and more recently amid a cluster of Sunni mosques in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city.

Lebanon’s military is structurally not capable of fending off attacks by either Syria or Israel, and the country’s most effective power, Hezbollah’s extensive irregular army, is presently engaged in assisting Assad put down the Sunni rebellion in Syria. Ghosn declined to say what Lebanon’s response would be if a U.S. attack involved incursions into Lebanese airspace or territory.