Instability in Lebanon is often blamed on external influence and interference: Syria and Iran, Israel and the West, Palestine and the Palestinians, and Shia and Sunni tensions. This section examines Lebanon within its regional context, unpacking internal and external relationships, and asking how Lebanese people and politics can safeguard domestic priorities against regional hegemony and transnational dynamics, to build sovereign resilience from the inside out.
Marie-Joëlle Zahar opens the section by challenging prevailing perceptions of the Lebanese as powerless victims of their external environment. She suggests that the roots of Lebanon’s vulnerability are internal and emanate from state weakness, as suspicion among Lebanese communities and endemic distrust of Beirut to uphold citizens’ interests encourages Lebanese leaders to actively seek protection from abroad.
Joseph Bahout examines armed groups in Lebanon and their various agendas, internal and external. He focuses on Hezbollah: its relations with both its domestic constituency and with Syria, and its role as a resistance force to Israel. He reflects on the potential impact of the Syrian crisis, and the challenges that overlapping agendas present within Lebanon – for dialogue and internal consensus, and for stability and sovereignty.
Michael Kerr then reviews the largely negative impact of external interventions in Lebanon with regard to consolidating peace. These are primarily driven by external (often conflicting) strategic interests, and interact with Lebanon’s sectarian political power sharing system to encourage and embed rivalry amongst Lebanese leaders seeking external patronage.
Shia and Sunni militancy are increasing sources of tension in Lebanon. Bernard Rougier reflects on their evolution, domestic constituencies, regional ties and international drivers and catalysts. Meanwhile developments in Syria also exacerbate friction. More accurate and deeper analysis of the intricacies of these relationships would help to clarify distinctions between social ties, identity values and interests of political entrepreneurs. Combined with the development of communication between the relevant leaders in Lebanon, this could facilitate better understanding as a basis for peacebuilding.
The Palestinian question has weighed heavily in Lebanon, before, during and after the war. Articles by Sari Hanafi and Suhail Natour explore the contemporary status of Palestinians in the country – legally and socio-economically, as well as links to religious radicalism. Hanafi focuses on governance within Palestinian camps and relations with broader Lebanese politics, arguing that a more constructive approach to governance and rights for Palestinians would in fact reinforce Lebanese sovereignty and security. Natour unpacks relationships between Islamism and Palestinian political mobilisation – in Lebanon and the region more broadly.
Nahla Chahal explores the reciprocal nature of Lebanon’s relationship with Syria, reviewing contemporary history to explain its evolution and complexity at political and socio-economic levels. She emphasises that recent events in Syria and their cross-border impact in Lebanon highlight the need for Lebanon to disentangle itself from its neighbour and clarify relations between the two countries.
Ghassan El-Ezzi and Oren Barak reflect on relations between Lebanon and Israel, from Lebanese and Israeli perspectives, respectively. They discuss ongoing tensions between the two countries, paying particular attention to implications for peace in Lebanon. El-Ezzi examines barriers to achieving peace – or even to opening talks – between the two countries. He looks at internal divisions and Syrian influence in Lebanon, as well as prevailing Lebanese opinion of Israel as a military power with designs on key Lebanese resources, and explores relations between Lebanon’s national security and Hezbollah’s ‘resistance’ role. Barak focuses on more tranquil periods in relations between the two states, reflecting on lessons that might be learnt from these for improved security in the future.
General Nizar Kader focuses on challenges relating to Lebanon’s borders, specifically demarcation of disputed areas like the Chebaa Farms, as well as delineating maritime boundaries in view of recent discoveries of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. He describes how porous and disputed borders serve as pretexts for political violence or channels for illicit arms transfers. Timur Goksel then analyses the UN Interim Force for Lebanon (UNIFIL), explaining that its role in patrolling Lebanon’s border with Israel is more political than military. It has correspondingly played key functions in facilitating liaison between Lebanese and Israeli militaries, as well as with local Lebanese in the south.
Duccio Bandini discusses EU support for Lebanon, and in particular the role of the Instrument for Stability (IfS). EU engagement is increasingly looking to prioritise conflict sensitivity, moving beyond a primarily post-conflict recovery approach to address structural drivers of conflict. This has led to a renewed focus on supporting conflict prevention and peacebuilding tools geared towards dialogue and reconciliation, promoting electoral reform and reconciliation, and emphasising participation and civil society as a means to promote inclusion.