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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 1 - Lebanon: A Century of Unrest and Wars

The Geopolitics of Lebanon in the Renewed Regional Tensions

Fabrice Balanche

Texte intégral

1The concept of “buffer state” developed by George Corm perfectly fits Lebanon, with which all the conflicts taking place in the area resonate. In a system structured by institutionalized communitarianism, decisions made in the political sphere are very much shaped by the regional power relationships and the interventions of both regional and external patrons (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, USA, Russia).

Lebanon at the heart of regional tensions

Figure I-13: Lebanon and the geopolitics of the region

Figure I-13: Lebanon and the geopolitics of the region

2Lebanon is at the center of tensions fueled by the Arab-Israeli conflict, of which the Israeli-Palestinian component is now the essential part, and by the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which increasingly overshadows the former. Western powers, including the United States, back Israel and Saudi Arabia. The American invasion of Iraq has unsettled the previous equilibrium. Lebanon is facing their resulting after-effects: the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, the withdrawal of Syria and the beginning of a new cycle of violence.

3Southern Lebanon remains the last active front line between Arab and Israeli actors, except for the Gaza Strip. The other borders are stabilized, including the one in the Golan Heights, even though the latter could once again be the subject of clashes as a result of the Syrian Civil War. It is imperative for Iran to maintain the tension with Israel through its allies. It has enabled the authorities to negotiate the lifting of the economic sanctions the country has been facing. Consequently, Lebanon suffered several Israeli attacks aimed at eliminating Hezbollah, which the Hebrew State sees as the armed branch of Iran on its border. The 2006 war constituted the most violent episode of this confrontation. Hezbollah pushed back the Israeli assault and increased its standing thanks to what it considers to be its victory, despite the extent of the damages and the number of victims.

The Syrian issue

4Disagreements about how to deal with the aftermaths of the 2006 war were added to older points of contention about the relationships with Syria. Since then, the Lebanese political class has been divided between two cross-community alliances, named after the 2005 protests for and against the Syrian withdrawal. Michel Aoun’s Christian party has joined the “March 8 Alliance”, led by Hezbollah and Amal. The “March 14 Alliance” gathers the mostly Sunni Future Movement and various Christian parties and groups. Other political organizations choose intermediate and changing positions.

5The Syrian issue is so important on the Lebanese political scene that the Civil War in Syria could only but dangerously weigh in on Lebanon. Regardless of its internal roots, the Syrian crisis can be related to the antagonism between Iran, a sponsor of the Assad regime, and Saudi Arabia, which wishes for its fall. Since the militarization of the conflict, Assad’s opponents have used Lebanon for transferring weapons, recruiting men and as a refuge. In 2012, Hezbollah began sending forces in the field alongside the regime’s army and against opposition groups, in order to protect Shiite villages related to the Shiite tribes living in the Bekaa Valley. The intervention then got bigger with the support of Iran and the efforts made to protect Damascus, a strategic point between Iran and the Shiite party. The recovery of al-Qusayr by Hezbollah in May 2013 was followed by battles in the Qalamoun Mountains, which were aimed at stopping infiltration and attacks on Lebanese soil. On the other hand, various Lebanese Islamist factions support the Syrian opposition and organize assaults against the army and Hezbollah, including in Lebanon. The involvement of Lebanese armed groups in the Syrian conflict reflects the political and sectarian cleavages and threatens to severely destabilize Lebanon.

Figure I-14 : Le Liban et la crise en Syrie

Figure I-14 : Le Liban et la crise en Syrie

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure I-13: Lebanon and the geopolitics of the region
Fichier image/png, 192k
Titre Figure I-14 : Le Liban et la crise en Syrie
Fichier image/png, 143k

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