Islamic State's First Foothold in Lebanon
Iran today strongly condemned Islamic State’s reach into Lebanon. The IS fighters this weekend seized the Lebanese border town of Arsal, on the Syrian border. Iranian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman said the Islamic State poses a danger to peace and stability of the region. (IRNA/Press TV, 5 August)
Ironically, Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah has been fighting inside Syria to defeat the Syrian opposition, but the Islamic State has been able to establish its control over eastern one-third of Syria and half of Iraq in the meantime, and is now establishing its first foothold in Hezbollah’s home turf of Lebanon.
Islamic State fighters, leading other Sunni militants from inside Syria, captured border town of Arsal after the Lebanese authorities on Friday detained a prominent member of the Syrian opposition there. The town is situated 124 kilometers (77 miles) northeast of Beirut. The militants took prisoner some 22 Lebanese army soldiers and an unknown number of police officers. Some 90,000 Syrian refugees live in Arsal.
It is not clear if the Islamic State wanted to use its foothold in Arsal to expand its reach into Lebanon, or if the attack came as retaliation for the detention of the rebel leader, Abu Ahmed al-Jumaa, who had recently declared his allegiance to the Islamic State.
Late on Tuesday, a 24-hour ceasefire was agreed between the Lebanese Army and the Islamic State. Lebanese security officials said the ceasefire started at 7 pm (1600 GMT) to allow time for a mediation team of Sunni clerics to investigate the fate of missing and detained soldiers.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman did not say if Iran’s Quds Force or the Lebanese Hezbollah would get involved in a fight to dislodge the Islamic State’s fighters from Arsal.