Conflict Summary

Neither Lebanon nor Syria ever recognised the state of Israel, but relations drastically worsened after the Jewish state invaded Lebanon in 1982. Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia Islamic movement, has called for Israel’s destruction ever since. Syria, a Hizbullah backer, wants the return of the Golan Heights and other land captured by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967. Former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin launched Operation Peace for Galilee towards Beirut in 1982, in pursuit of Palestinian fighters using Lebanon as a base from which to attack his country. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat and his supporters had moved to Lebanon after being expelled from Jordan in 1971, and following the invasion were forced to relocate to Tunisia. However, Lebanon was also home to many Palestinian refugees, and Israel was widely condemned after news emerged that its soldiers had not stopped Christian fighters massacring hundreds of civilians in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. Some contend Israel was more deeply implicated in these events. Another 33-day war erupted between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, after Hizbullah fired rockets into Israel, killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured another two. The war ended inconclusively, but with Hizbullah largely intact and Israel saying that Iran was now also backing the Islamic group. Syrian involvement in Lebanon since the mid-1980s has intensified sectarian rifts within Lebanon’s complicated political system. Damascus was widely blamed for the 2005 assassination of pro-Western Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, prompting huge anti-Syrian protests and forcing the pull-out of Syrian troops. As those assassination allegations were still being investigated in 2015, Hizbullah tightened its grip on political power inside Lebanon. The Syrian conflict that began in 2011 has also had a significant impact on the state. It is now hosting more than one million Syrian refugees despite its limited capacities, a challenge on both security and humanitarian grounds. Moreover, Hizbullah’s militia has fought alongside the Syrian regime since 2012. Because of this and the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian war, recurrent spillovers have occurred in Lebanon, although they have remained relatively contained. The political deadlock between pro- and anti-Syrian parties in the country mean that the office of president has been vacant since Michel Suleiman’s departure in May 2014, deepening Lebanon’s political crisis.