The U.S.-backed Lebanese army launched a long-awaited offensive on Saturday against Islamic State militants holed up in a remote stretch of northeastern Lebanon, just as a separate offensive by the Hezbollah militia and the Syrian army got underway right across the border in Syria.
The offensive is the biggest military operation launched by the Lebanese army since the Syrian rebels and extremists began infiltrating parts of northeastern Lebanon after the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011, and, if successful, will enable Lebanon to reassert control over all of its borders.
The battle is fraught with sensitivities, however, because of the dueling roles played by the U.S.-backed Lebanese force and Iran-backed Hezbollah, which operate alongside one another as both allies and rivals in Lebanon’s complicated political landscape. Hezbollah is a partner in Lebanon’s coalition government, from which the Lebanese army takes its orders.
But their sponsors put them at opposite ends of a wider spectrum of geopolitical rivalries playing out in Lebanon and across the Middle East — between the United States and Iran.