The Beirut car bomb that killed a top Lebanese security official will probably prove to be the most destabilising attack in Lebanon since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
What is less clear - and this is something that instils fear in a society still scarred by its 1975-90 civil war - is whether the attack was a reprisal or the start of a campaign of violence by Damascus and its allies, suspected by many Lebanese of trying to spread Syria’s conflict across its borders.
Lebanon, which has yet to fully overcome its own wartime sectarian divisions, is too fragile to withstand being enveloped by a Syrian conflict that is beginning to mirror Lebanon’s own slide into fratricidal bloodletting.
Wissam al-Hassan, the security official who died with seven others on Friday, was buried with full honours in an emotional state funeral on Sunday at the Rafik al-Hariri mosque, the heart of the former premier’s reconstruction legacy in central Beirut.
The funeral turned into a political rally against Syria and its local allies in Lebanon.
Hassan is thought to have been targeted because in August, after a carefully planned sting operation, his Internal Security Forces intelligence unit arrested a former Lebanese cabinet minister close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The minister, Michel Samaha, is charged with transporting Syrian-assembled bombs to launch attacks on sectarian targets in Lebanon. Two Syrian officers, including General Ali Mamlouk, were indicted with Samaha in a humiliating blow to Assad and an unprecedented move against Lebanon’s dominant neighbour.
Hassan also led the investigation into Hariri’s murder and uncovered evidence that implicated Syria and Hezbollah, although both deny the charge. An international tribunal accused several Hezbollah members of involvement in the murder.
“There is a probability that this will be the start of a new period in which we will see more assassinations, bombings and other problems,” said Sarkis Naoum, a columnist and Syria expert.