Lebanon’s dependence on the regional context is particularly strong with regard to its larger neighbour Syria, which has presented itself as the spearhead of resistance to Israel ever since the latter’s signing of peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the PLO. Hafez al-Assad (Syrian President from 1970–2000) continuously subjugated Lebanon and the PLO in order to dominate the northern part of the Arab-Israeli front. Between 1976, when its troops entered Lebanon, and 2005, when they left, Syria controlled nine-tenths of the country while Israel occupied the south.
Instead of fighting in the Golan Heights, seized by Israel from Syria in 1967, Damascus and Tel Aviv have waged their wars in Lebanon through the various Lebanese parties. During the long and burdensome years of Syrian tutelage in Lebanon, the mere mention of a ‘peace treaty with the Zionist enemy’ was taboo. When Lebanon participated in the peace process in Madrid in 1991–94, it was under the suspicious eye of Damascus, and only as long as the Syrian file was moving forward.
Syrian tutelage became formal when the Taif Agreement was signed in 1989, and lasted until the aftermath of the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. However, Lebanon’s subservience to Damascus has not diminished and is now combined with having to heed Iran’s strategic interests in the Levant. By helping to found Hezbollah in the 1980s and supporting it militarily and financially, especially in its 2006 war against Israel, Iran has become a Mediterranean power.
Syrian tutelage and Iranian interests have weighed heavily in Lebanon’s decision not to negotiate peace with Israel. Israel itself has done little to foster trust, having imposed faits accomplis following military victories over its Arab neighbours in 1967. Its refusal to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories and comply with UN resolutions weakens the position of the ‘moderate’ Arabs who favour negotiations.