Lebanon’s contribution to the global coalition against ISIS will likely center on closing the porous border with Syria and cracking down on cells within the country, analysts said.
The country’s role is likely to primarily be defensive ahead of more, expected assaults on the northeastern town of Arsal near the Syrian border, they said.
Still, Hezbollah’s involvement in the fight within Syria alongside the regime of President Bashar Assad is likely to complicate efforts to combat ISIS.
“ ISIS is a regional theater and any country in the region has a role to play, especially in terms of building a consensus to fight the jihadist group in Syria,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst with the Delma Institute who has written extensively about the rebellion in his home country. “Lebanon is relevant for two reasons, because it is a neighboring country and because dealing with sectarian tensions in the two countries is essential in the fight against ISIS and jihadist groups in general.”
“You can’t fight ISIS without addressing what makes it popular in some circles,” he added.
The U.S. announced this month the launch of a global coalition to combat ISIS, an Al-Qaeda splinter group that now controls vast swaths of land in Iraq and Syria and has declared a caliphate in those areas.
Militants loyal to ISIS as well as the Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, briefly overran Arsal last month, sweeping through Lebanese Army positions and taking soldiers hostage.
The Lebanese campaign prompted a raft of pledges of military assistance to help the Army combat ISIS, but the country’s role in the global war against the group is likely to remain internal and defensive.
Elias Farhat, a retired general and military strategist, said Lebanon’s role would likely be focused on securing its interior – Lebanon and Hezbollah have already been fighting Syrian rebels for over a year.
In addition, he said, it is premature to ask what role Lebanon could play in such a coalition if the mission of the campaign against ISIS and the mechanism with which it will be conducted remains “very vague” and regional powers have already shown reluctance to be a part of the effort.