Still, Hezbollah is the most powerful political and military force in the country, stronger even than the Lebanese Army, and it has demonstrated a will in the past to resort to the use of arms domestically when it feels threatened. In May 2008, Hezbollah and its allies briefly took over Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut when the then Western-backed government attempted to shut down the party’s private communications network. The move sparked a week of fighting that brought Lebanon to the brink of civil war.
Some analysts worry that the combination of a weak moderate Sunni leadership in Lebanon, the rise of new radical leaders such as Sheikh Assir, and a sense of Sunni triumphalism as the Assad regime teeters will inflame Sunni-Shiite tensions even further. The analysts worry this could lead to clashes or even suicide bomb attacks in Hezbollah-supporting strongholds, invoking a harsh response from the Shiite organization.
Most Sunnis in Lebanon support the Syrian opposition against Assad’s rule and some have even joined armed rebel groups to fight Syrian government forces. On Sunday, Syrian state television broadcast footage showing several bodies that it said were part of a group of 21 Lebanese Salafist fighters who fell into an ambush near the town of Tel Kalakh having slipped into Syria from Lebanon. The men were reportedly from Tripoli and other areas of north Lebanon.