Re-igniting Lebanon’s Internal Fire

By D. Elias Akleh

Reports about the latest Lebanese conflict talked only about the symptoms of the conflict and ignored its root causes. The Lebanese political infrastructure was deliberately formed, since its independence in 1943, to set up the country for perpetual political conflicts. One also needs to consider the global and regional political dynamics to understand the Lebanese dilemma.

Lebanon was original part of Greater Syria encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Cilicia and Iskandarun Province of Turkey, historical Palestine, Sinai of Egypt, Cyprus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Ahwaz Khuzestan of Iran.  After the Great Arab Revolution during WWI and the emancipation of the Arab World from the Ottoman Empire, the British broke their promises to Sherif Hussein ibn Ali to establish a single unified Arab State. They were afraid that such an Arab State with vast areas of land including oil could become a major global power. So they and the French divided the land according to Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Thus Arab land was divided into smaller chunks under the British and French mandates, and Lebanon was separated from Greater Syria and became a French protectorate.

Arab nations continued their struggle for freedom, and the Lebanese gained their independence in 1943. Yet, due to the lingering French political influence on the country, the Lebanese ethnic groups were still not completely in agreement, and thus a Lebanese confessional system of government, known as National Pact, was established. This form of government is allegedly meant to distribute political and institutional power proportionally among ethnic communities according to its demographic composition. The Pact’s real goal was to plant the seeds of division between the Lebanese factions to keep them divided, weak, and under the mercy of foreign interference.

According to the National Pact the President of the Republic will always be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister will always be a Sunni Muslim, the President of the National Assembly will always be a Shi’a, the deputy speaker of the Parliament will always be Greek Orthodox Christian, and the Parliament members will always be in a ratio of 6:5 in favor of Christians to Muslims.

The Pact did not, or intentionally was set up not to, take into consideration the different birth growth between the different groups, where the Muslim birth growth exceeds the Christian birth growth. Also the group holding the most political power, the Christians in this case, would have the opportunity to use government institutions to bolster its power and even to oppress rival groups. Such abuse of power had caused grief among Muslims, which led to modification of the ratio in the Parliament to 50:50 according to the Taif Agreement of 1990 reducing the power of the Maronite Christian president.

Lebanon flourished greatly and was considered the Paris of the Middle East. Yet this did not last long. In 1948 after the establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian land the Israelis evacuated about 100 thousands of Galilee Palestinians and transferred them to Lebanon. In 1967 Israel occupied the rest of Palestine creating a second wave of Palestinian refugees, some of whom went to Lebanon. Feeling invincible, the Israeli army crossed the Jordan River to invade Jordan but was defeated by the Jordanian army with the help of PLO fighters in Al-Karameh battle in March 1968. To weaken the Palestinian/Jordanian alliance Israel and its American CIA support incited political conflict between the Jordanian King and the PLO. It seemed a deal was struck by which the Jordanian army, armed with Israeli-delivered Uzi machine guns, raided the PLO camps and booted the fighters out of the country during what is known as the Black September of 1970.

The PLO moved to Lebanon, buttressed its bases to avoid its Jordanian-like fate, and continued their struggle against the Israeli occupation. One more time Israel used the same trick to incite conflict between the PLO and the Lebanese. Israel used the Phalanges and the South Lebanon Army as its proxy army to inflame the Lebanese Civil War.  The Arab League summit of 1976 in Riyadh proposed sending an Arab Deterrent Force under the leadership of Syria to disentangle the combatant sides. The small forces from other Arab countries soon withdrew leaving about 40 thousand Syrian troops to do the job. 

Israel, on its part, invaded north Lebanon several times, and in 1982 reached the southern suburbs of Beirut. International forces intervened to stop the fighting and allowed the PLO to leave Lebanon heading to Tunis. Israel, though, did not withdraw from Lebanon and thus was faced with Lebanese freedom fighters spear-headed by Hezbollah. Eventually Israel was forced to retreat in 2000. Hezbollah became Israel’s number one enemy especially after Palestinian freedom fighters started following Hezbollah’s example in fighting the Israelis.

Rafiq Al-Hariri, a Lebanese self-made billionaire and a business tycoon, who made his wealth in Saudi Arabia, returned to Lebanon, and invested his wealth and loans from the World Bank to rebuild Beirut and make it a world financial center. Al-Hariri served as the Prime Minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 until his resignation in October 2004. He worked closely with the Syrian government, and refused to hand over members of Hezbollah, who were accused by the US of being terrorists. Protecting Israel the Bush administration had declared Hezbollah a terrorist group for their fight against the illegal Israeli occupation of Sheba’a Farms; parts of Lebanon. During his 2001 BBC interview Al-Hariri stated that Hezbollah were protecting Lebanon against Israeli occupation, and called for implementation of all United Nations Resolutions against Israel. According to Bush’s statement of “You are either with us or with the terrorist”, Al-Hariri was viewed as obstacle to American/Israeli expansions, which would set an example to the rest of the Arab leaders. Such an example had to violently disappear to send an intimidating message to the others. Through the use of the most advanced electronic equipment to disable Al-Hariri’s sophisticated motorcade alarm system and the use of explosives equivalent to around 1000 kg of TNT, Al-Hariri’s strongly armored motorcade was blown to smithereens. Syria was blamed for the assassination, although there was no evidence at all for such accusation, and was pressured to pull out its forces from Lebanon.

After the American invasion of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Palestinian Hamas were viewed as the remaining threats to Israel. The Bush administration directed Israel to attack southern Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah after sending an Israeli patrol through Lebanese border as a provocation to be attacked by Hezbollah. The attack and the capture of two Israeli soldiers were used as justification for Israel’s July 2006 war against Lebanon. Despite all the Israeli bombing using illegal rich uranium and cluster bombs, the American pressure to continue the fight, the American arms aerial bridge to Israel, and the accusations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah, Israel was defeated by Hezbollah. The Israeli Winograd Commission, set up to investigate the causes of the Israeli defeat, pointed also to the incorrect intelligence about Hezbollah’s strength and positions that were supplied by some Lebanese party leaders of March 14th Alliance, who were opposed to the increasing national and political popularity of Hezbollah. These leaders include Saad Al-Hariri, leader of the Future Movement, Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, and the Israeli paid and operative war criminal Samir Geagea, leader of the right wing Lebanese Forces.

Defeating the so-called undefeatable Israeli army, a feat all the Arab armies combined could not accomplish, Hezbollah demanded a change in the Lebanese political structure that will give it a say in the affairs of the country. This victory angered Israel and the American administration. It angered the French, who wanted to get back to its old protectorate, Lebanon, and to play a role in the war on terror so that its military industries can flourish. Hezbollah’s victory had angered the Arab leaders most of all, for it highlighted their lack of political will and their loyalties to foreign countries rather than to their people. All of these were afraid that Hezbollah would become an example for the Arab nations to rise up against their corrupt leaderships and to defeat Israel.

Divide in order to conquer policy that had been used to split Palestinians into Hamas and Fatah combatant rivals has also been used to split Lebanese into Western backed anti-Syrian pro-government loyalists led by the March 14th Alliance vs government oppositional parties led mainly by Hezbollah, and to create Lebanon’s political crisis. The Western media tried to portray the crisis as Sunni vs Shi’a religious conflict even though there are Sunni, Shi’a and Christians on both sides. Hezbollah was accused of being a tool in the hands of Syria and Iran, whose goal is to return Syrian rule to Lebanon and to give Iran free access to the Mediterranean shores. It was also accused of arming and training Iraqi insurgents.

The Al-Manar Newspaper exposed an American/Israeli/French/Saudi plan to discredit and to weaken Hezbollah by inciting civil confrontation in Lebanon, and then sending international peace keeping troops under the justification of protecting foreigners. The paper had also reported that Israel has been training Lebanese militia loyal to Saad Al-Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, and Samir Geagea. American weapons, bought by Saudi money, have been smuggled through Lebanon’s Al-Hariri international airport to these militias. Israel had lately completed new war games in preparation for another war against Hezbollah anticipated during this summer.

Aware of the danger, Hezbollah had avoided civil confrontation through political process and dialogue with the Siniora government and with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Mousa. But when Siniora’s government was directed to issue orders to dismantle Hezbollah’s installed cameras in the airport to monitor the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon, and its updated pre-2000 ground communication systems, Hezbollah considered the orders a declaration of war and a threat to all Lebanon. It considered the orders as an attempt to sever its leadership from its military groups; a service to Israeli enemy. Al-Hariri’s Future Party militia attempted to ignite a civil war by throwing stones and shooting at civilians, but Hezbollah fighters swiftly and unexpectedly were able to occupy their headquarters, seized cache of weapons, ammunition, and alcohol, and turned them to the Lebanese army. They also surrounded Al-Hariri’s and Jumblatt’s homes causing the government to rescind its orders. One more time, Hezbollah had proved to be the real savior of Lebanon.

-Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala. Currently he lives in the US. He contributed this article to

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out