Boundaries and demarcation: delimiting and securing Lebanon’s borders
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Article 1 of Lebanon’s Constitution asserts that it is “an independent, indivisible, and sovereign state.” It describes its frontiers to the north, east and south – as well as the Mediterranean to the west. Nonetheless, Lebanon’s borders with Israel and Syria are in fact neither resolved on the ground nor agreed legally.
The Blue Line did not end the territorial dispute between Lebanon and Israel, but included several points of contention. Beirut insists that Israel has not fully complied with UNSCR 425. After expelling Lebanese farmers from the Chebaa Farms during the 1967 war, Israel did not acknowledge that it had invaded de facto Lebanese territory. Since 1978, Israeli forces have transformed the occupied farms into a buffer zone along the border. Tel Aviv ostensibly waits for Syria’s official renunciation of the Chebaa Farms, knowing that Syria will not do this before recovering the occupied Golan Heights, thereby enabling Israel to maintain a strategic observatory, and control over abundant Mount Hermon water resources.
Recent discoveries of huge natural gas reserves off the coast of Haifa have presented another thorny border issue regarding the delineation of Israel’s and Lebanon’s maritime boundaries. The 2000 Blue Line did not establish a maritime boundary, which at that time did not seem important before the discovery of the gas reserves. Beirut and Tel Aviv have responded to disagreement over natural gas with militaristic rhetoric and bravado.
Lebanese-Syrian relations have been marked by political conflict and instability since their independence from the French Mandate in the mid-1940s, while families, towns and populations span and intermingle across the border. Syria has always considered Lebanon one of its ‘lost territories’. Frequent border closures by Damascus and military occupation over 30 years have prevented Lebanon from achieving security and political stability.
Following the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, Syria refused any international efforts to deploy UN observers along its own border. Beirut missed this opportunity to pressure Damascus over demarcation and to benefit from international support for Lebanon’s sovereignty. The only international involvement was a German technical support team that began a project to help Lebanon improve its border security in the north.