THE SYRIAN OCCUPATION OF LABANON:
A Brief History:
Lebanon is a country of ethnic minorities. Maronite Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Alawites, and many others have all made Lebanon their home. The diverse composition of the nation was reflected in the structures of political power. For ex- ample, the 1943 National Pact mandated that the President of Lebanon would be a Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni, the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite, and so on. However, in time, the ethnic and religious continuity of Lebanon broke down when the Shiite population grew to surpass the others. Tensions were further heightened by the increased presence of Palestinians who built a "state within a state" after their expelsion from Jordan in 1970. The situation deteriorated into a state of civil war in 1975.
In the midst of this chaos, the Syrian government intervened under the guise of be- nign pretenses. Initially, the regime of Hafez Assad signed the Red Line Agreement limiting Syria's military profile in Lebanon, but he later violated this accord by de- ploying tanks and warplanes. After much bloodshed, the Syrian conquest of Lebanon was completed in 1990. Since then, the grip of Damascus over her neighbor has been tightened and institutionalized. Candidates for top political offices in Lebanon are thoroughly vetted by Damascus.
What are the Syrian Gains in Occupying Lebanon?
Syrian gains from occupying Lebanon are several:
About 1.2 million untaxed and unregulated Syrian workers are employed in Lebanon, generating over $3 billion for the ailing Syrian command-and-control economy. Leb- anon also serves as a closed market for Syrian products, not widely desirable in other parts of the world.
During Arab summits or conferences, Damascus often uses Lebanese proxies to ad- vance its own political interests. When Syria seeks to sponsor anti-American resolu- tions, Lebanon will most likely do the heavy lifting.
Lebanon is the most direct land route to invade Israel (and vice versa). Also, Leba- non is host to a multitude of Syrian-backed terrorist organizations, which operate with greater impunity there than they do in Syria itself and use Lebanon as a launch pad for cross border attacks on Israel. (Damascus would never dream of allowing terrorist groups to attack Israel directly from Syrian soil.)
Why Does the Occupation Continue?
Although Lebanon's sectarian divisions and fractured political culture have contrib- uted to the lasting Syrian occupation, the most decisive factor is international per- missiveness; the United States of America and other powers tacitly accept Syrian hegemony. Several factors explain this.
Fear of Instability
During the 1980s, war-torn Lebanon became a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorist groups that abducted scores of Western hostages and threatened Western interests in the Middle East. Although most of these groups were Syrian-sponsored, the United States and Europe came to support Syrian domination of Lebanon in re- turn for Syria's "cooperation" in freeing the hostages and regulating terrorist ac- tivity there. Even Israeli officials became convinced that an extended Syrian mili- tary presence would be a guarantor of Lebanese stability.
According to conventional wisdom, contesting Syrian control of Lebanon makes Da- mascus less willing to take risks for peace. This is true in a limited sense: Assad seniro was willing to go through the motions of diplomacy in return for Western ac- ceptance of his control of Lebanon. However, there is little evidence that such ap- peasement makes Syria more willing to actually reach a settlement with Israel. Moreover, an implicit assumption in American policy–that Syria will be more willing to give up Lebanon once peace has been established–is dead wrong. Lebanon is far more important to Damascus than the Golan Heights. Given the choice, Syria would rather have Lebanon than a peace treaty with Israel.
Although the logic of Western appeasement is clearly flawed, career diplomats in the American State Department and other Western foreign policy establishments have staked their careers on this policy. Reversing course with respect to the Syrian oc- cupation would threaten these entrenched interests. Although some Neoconserva- tives in the United States support an end to appeasement of Syria, the issue is not yet their highest priority.
As long as Washington persists in its indifference towards the Syrian occupation, Lebanon will likely remain a Syrian satellite state devoid of real democracy and a nerve center for international terrorism. External pressure by itself will not be ef- fective in loosening the Syrian stranglehold; perhaps a strategy seeking to foment internal dissent is more feasible. Historically, when the U.S.A. spoke with moral clarity against the occupation, Lebanese disobedience and criticism intensified. Stronger rhetoric, matched by a concerted non-violent campaign of indigenous re- sistance, may be the most practical challenge to Damascus.
The paragraphs above constitute a summary account of the May 13, 2003, briefing by Gary C. Gambill. The summary was written by Zachary Constantin, a Research Assistant at the Middle East Forum. The original version of the briefing can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
The Middle East & the Problem of Syria
The Middle East & the Arabs
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three Page Two Page One
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Gary Gambill is currently a Research Associate at the Middle East Forum, as well as a consultant to Freedom House. His professional
expertise focuses on Syrian and Lebanese politics, state sponsorship of international terrorism, and authoritarianism across the Arab
world. He is currently working to complete his Ph.D. at New York University. He addressed and presented his briefing to the Middle
East Forum in Philadelphia on May 13, 2003.
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