As the Syrian Civil War continues to pile up an enormous amount of human suffering, it is easy to ignore the spillover effects that the War has had in Lebanon and the likely influence on the Civil War will have on Lebanon’s structure for decades to come.
Some of the evidence of that influence was seen recently in a deal struck by ISIS fighters in Lebanon with Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army. ISIS agreed to withdraw from a region along the border with Syria and in exchange was given passage with their families back to Syria.
Any setback for ISIS is a good thing, but it begs the question of how powerful Hezbollah will emerge from the fighting in the region.
Lebanon has a complicated history which has produced a multi-sectarian society. From 1920 until 1943 it was a French colony. A Christian group known as the Maronites, after the fourth-century monk Maron, were originally the largest group, but other Christian groups and Arab Muslims also settled in Lebanon after years of rule by the Ottoman Empire.
When Israel became a country in 1948, Lebanon supported their neighbors in fighting the new country and when Israel emerged victorious, a hundred thousand Palestinians sought refuge in Lebanon. Then, during 1970, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) went to war with Jordan, their eastern neighbor, after militants originally based in the West Bank moved their operations in Jordan and presented problems for the government there. Jordan’s victory in the conflict caused even more refugees and militants to settle in Lebanon. As demographics in Lebanon changed drastically in a short period, conflicts regarding the nature of the government ensued and led to the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.
When certain Palestinian groups began attacking targets in Israel, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and cleared out a strip of land on the border. This was the birth of Hezbollah, a Shia sect supported by Iran and the Alawite government in Syria that was created for the purpose of launching attacks on the occupying troops of Israel in Lebanon.
An international peace keeping force followed Israel to Lebanon that included American and French soldiers. Two truck bombs destroyed barracks in use by these troops in 1983 in a suicide bombing arranged and executed by Hezbollah, the first time most in the world was familiarized with the group.
The War dragged on until 1989 when the Taif agreement sought to provide for the removal of Israeli and Syrian troops from the country and restore a functioning government, whereby Christian and Muslim groups would share power.
Hezbollah closely adheres to the same Shia beliefs in the Iranian government and, not surprisingly, has deeply anti-Semitic views. Part of its mission is the destruction of the state of Israel as well as all of the individual Jews living there. One Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was quoted as saying, “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
Since 2005, Hezbollah as take a role in the Lebanese government as a political party. When the Syrian Civil War began, Hezbollah threw its support behind the government of Assad, as did Iran. They have handled the War brilliantly from a political viewpoint and positioned themselves as the defenders of civilians, not only of Shia Muslims, but Sunni and Christian groups too. Russia is now a reliable ally of the group too, refusing to back any United Nations Security Council resolution calling the group terrorists.
The deal that Hezbollah made with ISIS raises questions on its face, since Hezbollah made a unilateral agreement rather than one through the Lebanese government. Does that indicate that Hezbollah will be making a play to assume leadership of the country? Their position has not just been strengthened dramatically by favorable politics, but the War has caused the group to be better funded and trained than it ever has in the past.
Only time will tell, but a Hezbollah government would be quite dangerous to the world. At previous rallies, Hezbollah supporters invoked mushroom clouds as a symbol of what they would like to do to Israel.
The threat is already being felt as the Israeli military is conducting drills to prepare for a potential war with Hezbollah. Let us hope that that training will go to waste.