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Lebanon

 

 Antagonists

Every religious and ethnic group hostile to every other.

Iran

Israel

Syria

United States

Palestinians

Status

Finished?
(Until July 2006) Now beginning again?

Connections

MiddleEastWars

Lebanon

Israel

War Pollution

Explanation

Lebanon is a state which was until 1917 part of the Syrian province (Vilayet)of the Ottoman Empire. Following the defeat and collapse of that empire Lebanon and Syria were administered by France as a League of Nations Mandate. France separated the two states in order to favor the Christian population of the Mount Lebanon area.

Lebanon has a very diverse population.

Two wars

There are two wars going on in Lebanon, but related.

Following independence in 1946 the President was supposed to be a Maronite Christian (Eastern ritual but allegiance to the Pope) and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim. Other communities are: Palestinians, Druses - followers of a religion which has branched off from Islam - Shia Muslims, Armenians, Greek Orthodox. All these groups speak Arabic, though French is widely used also.

The civil war which broke out in 1976 had many causes. Among these were:

  • a desire of the Muslims to increase their representation in the state commensurate with their population;
  • the desire of the Shiahs for recognition and to rise above their low status;
  • the desire of Syria to incorporate the whole country in Greater Syria, perhaps to include Palestine;
  • the resentment of Christians and Muslims of the Palestinians whose refugee camps were becoming a state within a state;
  • the desire of Israel, which supported the Christians, to weaken Lebanon and expel the Palestinians.
  • The Christians wished to hold on to the power they had inherited from the French. But overall there was a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each side supported its clients in Lebanon.

The necessary acceptance of a common need for a state dissolved. A large part of the country became occupied by a Syrian "Peacekeeping" force. Another part was under the control of Israel. The Lebanese Government had little power. Local power was exercised by local war lords of the different communities each with their own armies. External powers such as Israel, Syria and Iran supplied different groups with arms, and sometimes different groups at different times. Thus Israel supported Maronites, Shi'ites, and Druses, while Iran supported the Shi'ites with an organisation called Hezbullah (=party of Allah).

Different groups murdered each other, directed artillery fire at neighboring areas and took hostages. The economy collapsed. From being one of the most prosperous non-oil Arab states it became one of the poorest.

It is hard to see how the general anarchy could have been brought to an end unless by occupation by a ruthless external power which would confiscate all weapons or a trusteeship by a UN agency (which does not exist).

By late 1990 the Syrians appeared to be succeeding in getting the armed gangs out of Beirut and imposing a sort of peace. But they did not control the south and this increased the risk of war with the Israelis who controlled part of the south as a buffer zone.

The second cause of war is Israel
Despite signing an agreement with the Palestinians Israel continued to attack southern Lebanon even into June 1994.

Israel withdrew all its forces in 2000. However the outbreak of general war in Israel/Palestine makes Lebanon more insecure and liable to be drawn in.
Following the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister, perhaps by Syrian forces, in 2005 there was a danger that the war might break out again. The Syrian forces have left (April 2005) following demonstrations in the street - the "Cedar Revolution". A government of National Unity was then formed with representatives from most sections of the population (but not the Maronites).

In July 2006 Israel attacked targets in Lebanon, including destruction of the runways of the Airport, bridges on main roads, the radio and tv stations of Hezbullah, following Hezbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers, and rocket attacks into Israel. The war seems to have resumed.

Israel claimed to be trying to destroy Hezbullah's ability to attack Israel, but destroyed civilian infrastructure and killed many people who were not members of Hezbullah. Possibly Israel's real aims are to destroy Lebanon itself or prevent its prosperity by destroying roads, bridges, airport and electric power stations.

There seems to be at least a tacit agreement with the US to damage Iran's proxy Hezbullah, so that the war in Lebanon, as other wars, is a proxy for larger wars in the Middle East. The US supplied large quantities of the bombs Israel was using, while the war was going on. The big one may be of the US against Iran, which may be building up.

In practice Hezbollah seems to have become more popular and did not regard itself as having been defeated but on the contrary had successfully resisted a ferocious attack.

Israel used Cluster bombs in August 2006, and they are still killing people (November 2006).

Latest reports (November 2006) are that the various parties of the civil war are arming themselves again, and the war may resume - an indirect result of the Israeli attack, but perhaps the result the Israelis intended. A number of pro-Syrian Ministers have resigned and a minister from the Christian Phalange party, the son of the Maronite former President Gemayal, was assassinated, the latest of several political assassinations of anti-Syrian politicians.

Last revised 29/03/09


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