Once the site of ancient Phoenician civilization, Lebanon of the late 1960’s was known as the Switzerland of the Mediterranean, a cosmopolitan center of banking, commerce and society. The country borders on Israel to the South and Syria to the East and north, with the Mediterranean Sea to its west. Few countries have plunged so far, so quickly and suffered such total destruction as ravaged Lebanon during the civil wars between 1975 and 1990. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people died, 200,000 were wounded and as many as 1 million were refugees in the civil war, which brought occupation forces from Israel and Syria, as well as UN peacekeepers.
Although Lebanon has begun the long road to recovery, its prospects are tied to resolution of the Israeli situation, its ability to maintain a government that serves the interests of diverse religious and ethnic groups and its ability to manage relations with Syria. Lebanon remains home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees housed in camps and a base for armed resistance groups opposed to Israel.
After occupying portions of southern Lebanon since1982, Israeli withdrew its forces from most of southern Lebanon in May 2000. In 2001, Syria reduced the number of troops stationed in Lebanon and redeployed most of its forces to northern Lebanon. Hizbollah guerrillas remain a significant factor in southern Lebanon and have begun the evolution from armed resistance to recognized political party.
Until 1926 when Lebanon became independent of French rule, there had been little distinction between the area of Lebanon and Syria. In ancient times the Levant was home to the Phoenicians who established the foundations for western civilization, inventing the alphabet, building sea-going ships and creating the first large-scale manufacturing of textiles and ceramics as early as 1250 B.C. In 332 B.C. the region was conquered by Alexander the Great and in 63 A.D. fell to Rome’s Byzantine conquest and remained under at least marginal Roman control for nearly 600 years. Christianity took firm root in the region until 636 when the Ummaia Caliphs rose to power and Damascus became home of the Caliphate, the ruling base of the fast-growing Islamic world prior to its move to Bahgdad. In the 11th century the Levant came under control of the Seljuk Turks, European Crusaders, Saladin’s Kurds, the Egyptian Mamluks and finally the Ottoman Turks in 1516. Syria remained part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years, except for a brief period of occupation by Napoleon.
Centuries of competing Christian and Muslim influence created powerful communal differences between Maronite Christians and Druze Muslims, as well as Sunni, Shia Muslims. Disagreements over land ownership led to a Maronite rebellion and the Druze massacred thousands of Maronites, prompting intervention by French forces to protect the Christians in 1860. France forced the Turks to establish a separate province of “Little Lebanon,” over which European states would have substantial influence. With European backing the Maronites assumed superiority over their Muslim neighbors.
Seeking to exploit Europe’s distraction with World War I and rid themselves of European influence, Arab nationalists revolted and established a short-lived government. After World War I, the League of Nations awarded France control over the Levant (Syria and Lebanon), a measure to protect French interests in the Iraq Petroleum pipeline from Iraq to Tripoli, while England took control over Iraq, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt. France divided the region into territories, roughly based on communal differences. In 1926 Lebanon became independent. Even today some Syrians and Lebanese continue to argue for reunification of Syria and Lebanon.
In an effort to satisfy competing ethnic and religious groups, a 1943 agreement stipulated that the government be comprised of a Maronite Christian President, a Sunni Muslim Prime Minister and a Shai Speaker of the National Assembly, while Assembly seats and government jobs would be distributed on a 6 to 5 ratio between Christians and Muslims. As a result, Shia’s held relatively little political power and Maronite Christians dominated trade, commerce and wealth.
In the late 1950’s, as Christians sought stronger western ties, Muslims demanded greater association with Egypt and Syria and riots flared into full-scale insurrection. At the request of Lebanon’s president, the U.S. sent 14,000 Marines to restore order and they were withdrawn the same year.
In the 1973 Arab-Israeli War Lebanon remained neutral but granted refuge to more than 300,000 Palestinians fleeing the war and subsequent Israel occupation. Having fled from Jordan in 1971, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) established operating bases in southern Lebanon. As Palestinian insurgents struck at Israel, the Israelis launched incursions and air attacks into southern Lebanon, galvanizing difference between Christians and Muslims. In 1975, the Lebanese Christian Phalange (the Maronite militia) launched attacks against Palestinian refuge camps and civil war erupted.
To help protect Christians from retaliatory attacks, the Lebanese government requested intervention by Syrian troops in 1976. These forces became part of the Arab Deterrent Force including troops from Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Although internal fighting diminished, Israel continued operations against Palestinians.
In 1978 Israel invaded and occupied parts of southern Lebanon, but withdrew when UN Resolution 425 introduced troops (UNIFIL) to enforce a buffer zone. In 1981, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) joined with rogue elements of the Lebanese Armed Forces to bombard the cities of Tyre and Sidon and later launching air raids targeting Beirut. In response, Syrian forces began installing Soviet missile batteries in the Bekaa valley.
Israel - Lebanon Conflict
The Israel-Lebanon Conflict—(1978-Present): As with many of the conflicts in the Middle East, the ongoing war along the Israeli-Lebanese border is a part of the longer and larger Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1948, five Arab nations, including Lebanon, invaded Israel in a vain attempt to prevent the birth of the Jewish nation on land that the Arabs felt belonged to them. The Arabs called the land occupied by the Israelis "Palestine" and those Arabs living there as "Palestinians." As a result of this and subsequent outbreaks of war, thousands of Palestinians fled to neighboring Arab countries. Several Palestinian guerrilla armies formed to fight a guerrilla/terrorist war against Israel. Their attacks on Israeli targets prompted retaliation on the host nations of Jordan and Lebanon. Palestinian power became so great in Jordan, that a civil war was fought in 1970, resulting in the expulsion of Palestinian forces from that nation. At this point, the Palestinian resistance moved to Lebanon, a small nation located on Israel's northern border.
The newly resettled Palestinian forces, led by Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), had two important effects on Lebanon. First, their ongoing cross-border raiding brought violent responses from Israel. These retaliatory raids caused death and destruction for the local inhabitants of South Lebanon. Secondly, the large influx of mostly Muslim Palestinians upset the population balance between Lebanon's Christians and Muslims. These two religious groups fought a civil war in the 1950's, and an uneasy peace had existed since. By 1975, tensions between the Lebanese Christians on one side and the Lebanese Muslims and the PLO on the other side, erupted into a bloody civil war. The Lebanese Army and government dissolved as rival Christian and Muslim militias battled for control of their nation. This conflict caused Lebanon's only two neighbors to intervene in its affairs. Soon after the war's beginning, Syria sent a 40,000 man-strong "peace-keeping" force into Eastern Lebanon. Though officially a force for peace, the Syrians soon took the side of the Muslims and PLO and actively battled the Lebanese Christian forces. Israel began aiding the anti-Muslim forces with weapons and other assistance.
As the Lebanese Civil War raged on, the PLO continued attacks on northern Israel. By 1978, Israel decided to invade Southern Lebanon, which was now almost fully controlled by the PLO.
Israeli Invasions and Incursions into Lebanon
--Israeli Invasion of Lebanon (1978)--25,000 Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon on March 14, 1978 in a campaign to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) out. This attack was in response to PLO raids into northern Israel from their bases in southern Lebanon.
After the 1970 Jordanian Civil War, in which the PLO was driven out of Jordan, southern Lebanon came under Palestinian control, with Yasser Arafat's forces creating a virtual 'state-within-a-state." Their control became so dominint, that southern Lebanon was nicknamed "Fatahland," after al-Fatah, the name of Arafat's main PLO faction.
This Israeli military offensive forced an estimated 285,000 people to become refugees, with over 6,000 homes destroyed or badly damaged. Between 1,100 and 2,000 Lebanese civilians were killed. Twenty Israeli soldiers died, and an unknown number of Palestinian fighters. The PLO forces retreated ahead of the Israelis and continued their attacks on Israel.
Tactically, the Israeli invasion was unsuccessful. Their target, PLO military units, left the area. Israel had failed to prevent the PLO retreat.
As the Israelis withdrew in June, 1978, they turned control of the occupied territory over to the South Lebanon Army (SLA), led by Major Saad Haddad, a renegade Lebanese Army officer who set up his own militia. The SLA served as Israel's proxy in south Lebanon, often engaging the PLO in combat.
An estimated 285,000 Lebanese and Palestininian civilians became refugees due to Operation Litani. Estimates of civilian deaths in Lebanan range from 1,100 to 2,000. 20 Israelis soldiers were were killed. The PLO suffered an unknown number of casualties.
1981--In response to PLO rocket attacks, Israeli forces began heavy bombing of PLO targets in Lebanon. The United States negotiated a cease-fire.
1982-- Operation Peace in Galilee (June 6, Israel began its 1982 offensive into Lebanon in response to two specific terrorist acts; the bombing of a bus in northern Israel, and the assassination attempt on the life of Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov. Calling this invasion "Operation Peace in Galilee," (Galillee is the biblical name for northern Israel), Israel invaded Lebanon up to the outskirts of the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
While eventually allowing the PLO to leave Lebanon, Israeli forces remained in control of south Lebanon near the border until 2000, when the troops were withdrawn in order to end the ongoing guerilla war with the Shiite Lebanese militia called Hezbollah.
1993--Israeli Forces launched Operation Accountability (July 25-July 31, 1993), a week-long military campaign directed at Hezbollah ( this conflict is called The Seven-Day War by the Lebanese).
In June, 1993, Hezbollah launched rockets against a settlement in northern Israel, and then in July, 1993, both Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) launched attacks which killed five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon. Israel decided to respond to these attacks by making southern Lebanon an inhospitable environment for Hezbollah.
During Operation Accountability, Israeli forces destroyed or damaged thousands of houses and buildings, causing some 300,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians from southern Lebanon to migrate towards Beirut and other areas outside of the combat zone. Israeli forces also targeted Lebanese infrastructure, (power stations, bridges, and roadways. This is a tactic that would be repeated in future Israeli attacks on Hezbollah and Lebanon. Hezbollah responded with more rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets.
At least 118 Lebanese civilians and two Israeli civilians died during this operation.
1996--Operation Grapes of Wrath (April 11-April 27, 1996) --Israel's massive air and artillery attack on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon which attempted to end shelling of northern Israel by the Iranian and Syrian-backed Lebanese Islamic militia. Israel forces launched 1,100 air raids and fired nearly 25,132 shells at Hezbollah targets during the sixteen-day offensive. A United Nations camp at Qana, Lebanon, was hit by Israeli shelling, killing 118 Lebanese civilians who sought shelter there. Nearly 640 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel in this time period, particularly the often-hit settlement of Kiryat Shemona. Israel's ally and proxy force, the South Lebanon Army (a mixed Christian and Shiite Muslim militia under the command of renegade Lebanese Major Saad Haddad), also engaged in ground fighting with Hezbollah.
At least 350 civilians were wounded in Lebanon , and 62 Israeli civilians were wounded in Israel.
The latest chapter in the ongoing Arab-Israeli Conflict began on July 12, 2006, when guerillas from the Islamic Lebanese group, Hezbollah (Arabic for "Party of God), crossed into Israel and attacked an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) patrol, killing three and capturing two others. They then returned to southern Lebanon with their prisoners. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said the men were taken in order to set up a prisoner exchange with Israel. Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, declared the attack an "act of war" on Lebanon's part, and promised a strong response.
In Lebanon, this war is known as the "July War," while many Israelis call it the "Second Lebanon War." Hezbollah launched "Operation True Promise" at 9:05 AM, on July 12, 2006. The operation began with a diversionary attack of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli settlements and military posts near the Israel-Lebanon border. Hezbollah troops then entered Israel, attacked two armored Israeli Humvees, patrolling the border village of Zar'it, with rocket propelled grenades, killing three soldiers and capturing two others. The Hezbollah force then retreated back into Lebanon with their captives, later identified as Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
An Israeli Merkava Mark II tank that was stationed nearby attempted to pursue the captors into Lebanon in a rescue attempt, but was hit by an improvise explosive device (IED), killing all four crew members. Another Israeli soldier died during an attempt to recover the bodies from the destroyed tank
After Hezbollah's cross-border raid, the Israeli military launched air, naval, and ground attacks at Hezbollah targets across Lebanon, and Hezbollah responded by launching hundreds of rockets into northern Israel, many reaching as far south as the port city of Haifa.
Hezbollah also damaged an Israeli warship ten miles off the Lebanese coast with an Iranian-made unmanned drone, which rammed the ship and exploded.
Both sides continued to trade rocket, missile, and, artillery attacks, with most of the damage done to civilian targets on either side of the border. Israel's strategy seems to be to cut off Lebanon and Hezbollah from any aid they may receive from Syria or Iran, who are Hezbollah's main suppliers of weapons, money, and military training.
For a trans-border Arab-Israeli war, this conflict was different than most. Israel at first responded lightly in the ground war, apparently relying on the air and artillery campaign to inflict most of the damage. Hezbollah responded with wave after wave of rockets and missiles supplied largely by Syria and Iran over the past several years. Some of the larger Hezbollah rockets were able to strike the Israeli port city of Haifa, inflicting damage and causing civilian casualties. The Israeli strategy seemed two-fold: cut off Hezbollah from its suppliers and allies in Syria and Iran, while also striking Lebanese infrastructure targets with no apparent connection to Hezbollah. Israel hoped to show the Lebanese government and people that Hezbollah brought death and destruction to their county, hoping that this lesson would turn popular opinion against the Shiite militia. The opposite effect seems to have taken hold, however, with most Lebanese Muslims increasing their approval or outright support for Hezbollah, while even Lebanese Christians, normally not friendly to Islamic parties or militias, blamed Israel for attacking civilian targets as an act of punishment. While this political and psychological goal failed, Israel also failed to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns. The air campaign did not work in terms of increasing Israeli civilian safety during the war.
The ground campaign also seemed lacking. Unlike past wars, such as the 1956 war against Egypt or the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, or the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli military did not immediately launch powerful assaults on the ground to root out and destroy their foes. Ground attacks did occur, largely from the second week on, but these were individual assaults to take or neutralize specific targets fairly close to the border. One significant commando assault did take place in the northeastern Lebanese city of Baalbeck, but that was designed as a specific attack to seize individual Hezbollah leaders. Only in the days leading up the United Nations-brokered cease-fire in the middle of August did the Israeli military launch a powerful drive which took it to the Litani River in southern Lebanon.
On Hezbollah's side, the war showed that their guerillas, though technically only a militia, possessed the training and fighting ability of a well-trained army division. Technologically, they surprised Israel with the depth and range of its missiles. One missile crippled an Israeli naval ship and sank a commercial freighter off the Lebanese coast in the early days of the war. Iranian-made missiles landed as far south as Haifa. For the first time since before the 1967 war, major Israeli civilian population centers came under attack.
The war also showed once again that the Lebanese government is helpless to defend its own territory or to keep other countries from fighting proxy wars and conflicts on its land. Just as when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) moved in and took over southern Lebanon in the 1970s to fight its war with Israel, the government shows that it cannot stop Lebanon from being a battleground for others.
By August 12, Israel, Lebanon, and Hezbollah all agreed to a United Nations cease-fire to begin on Monday the 14th.
This war is a part of the wider Israel- Lebanon conflict which dates from the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978.
On March 19, 2007, Israel formally declared the 2006 conflict with Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas a war, but Israel is searching for a name for the 34-day conflict.
On Wednesday July 16 2008, Israel and Hezbollah initiated deal whereby Hezbollah turned over the bodies of the two captured Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in exchange for Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, four Hezbollah militants captured during the war, and the bodies of approximately 200 other Lebanese and Palestinian militants held by Israel. This prisoner swap prompted some criticism in Israel, especially after it was learned that Samir Kuntar was one of the released prisoners. Kumar and the other released militants, were greeted by a hero's welcome in Beirut.
Continuing Turmoil and War
Amid one-candidate elections and disputed political appointments, internal and factional political and street fighting continued. Eventually Hizbullah (Shia) defeated Amal (Shia) and these leftist Muslim groups and merged. Likewise infighting between various Christian militias also led to consolidation and eventual focus on potential political accommodation. General Awn, a pro-Israeli Maronie Christian became president in 1988 and opposed by Muslim Prime Minister al-Huss, the government became stalemated.
In September 1989, the Arab league negotiated a cease fire agreement and convened a meeting of Lebanon’s National Assembly in Taif, Saudi Arabia. The assembly ratified a peace plan known as the Taif Accord. This agreement maintained a Maronite Christian president indirectly elected by the parliament, but it transferred many executive powers to the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, by agreement. Parliament is evenly split between Muslim-Druze and Christians. In 1989, President Muawwad was assassinated. Former president General Awn holed-up in the Presidential palace, refused to recognize the election of al-Harawi as new president and his ratification of the Taif Accords.
In late 1990, Syrian troops drove Awn from the Presidential palace and into exile. Despite Syria’s continuing military presence and intervention, the Assad regime has generally supported political moderates and acted to limit the influence of foreign interests supporting Chrisitian minorities. Syria is often criticized for tolerating Hizbullah extremists (a US designated terrorist group) and its support from Iran, but is, perhaps unfairly, given little credit for moderating Hizbullah’s influence and operations.
In May 2000, Israel began the long-awaited withdrawal of IDF forces from the 10-mile wide buffer zone in southern Lebanon, with the SLA expected to remain. However, when the SAL abandoned their positions and sought asylum in Israel, Hizbullah assumed control, captured over 1500 SLA troops who have been tried as traitors by the Lebanese government. In June 2001, Syria surprised observers by withdrawing 6,000 troops from Beirut, but retains about 20,000 in northern and eastern Lebanon.
With political reforms in place, Lebanon is continuing its economic recovery and reconstruction against a backdrop of insecurity and potential renewed conflict. Areas of concern are focused on the Lebanon-Israel border from which Hizbullah operates, the Golan Heights and Shi’ba farms, territories in dispute between Syria and Israel, and the large Palestinian refugee camps, awaiting resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Israel continues to occupy the Shi’ba Farms area, currently a part of Syria, but also claimed by Lebanon. This remains the only active target of Hizbullah operations. In September 2000, Hizbullah guerrillas captured 3 Israeli soldiers and abducted a retired IDF colonel. They have also launched occasional rocket attacks toward IDF forces.
America’s invasion of Iraq and subsequent saber rattling at Syria and Iran has added new uncertainty and risk to an always-volatile region. In February 2005, Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed by a massive car bomb, sparking protests against Syria, whose government is believed to have had a hand in the assassination. On Fberuary 28th, pro-Syrian prime minister, Omar Karami resigned and dissolved Lebabnon's government.
Karami's resignation has been greeted as a step toward democracy and possible withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, but the country's turbulent history and factional politics could as easily descend into a new era of conflict.