GeographyIQ.comGeographyIQ.com
  Home
  Rankings


A B C D E F
G H I J K L
M N O P Q R
S T U V W Y
Z          


Currency Converter

 


World > Middle East > Lebanon > Historical Highlights (Notes)

Lebanon - Historical Highlights (Notes)


HISTORY
Lebanon is the historic home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years (c.2700-450 B.C.). In later centuries, Lebanon's mountains were a refuge for Christians, and Crusaders established several strongholds there. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations mandated the five provinces that comprise present-day Lebanon to France. Modern Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political power among the various religious groups. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon participated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and signed an armistice with Israel on March 23, 1949.

Lebanon's history since independence has been marked by periods of political turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade. In 1958, during the last months of President Camille Chamoun's term, an insurrection broke out, and U.S. forces were briefly dispatched to Lebanon in response to an appeal by the government. During the 1960s, Lebanon enjoyed a period of relative calm and Beirut-focused tourism and banking sector-driven prosperity. Other areas of the country, however, notably the South, North, and Bekaa Valley, remained poor in comparison.

In the early 1970's, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian refugees, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the secret 1969 Cairo Agreement permitting the establishment of Palestinian camps in Lebanon, and 1970 'Black September' hostilities in Jordan. Among the 1970 arrivals were Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense.

Beginning of the Civil War--1975-81
Full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975. After shots were fired at a church, gunmen in Christian East Beirut ambushed a busload of Palestinians. Palestinian forces joined predominantly leftist-Muslim factions as the fighting persisted, eventually spreading to most parts of the country and precipitating the Lebanese President's call for support from Syrian troops in June 1976. In fall of 1976, Arab summits in Riyadh and Cairo set out a plan to end the war. The resulting Arab Deterrent Force, which included Syrian troops already present, moved in to help separate the combatants. As an uneasy quiet settled over Beirut, security conditions in the south began to deteriorate.

After a PLO attack on a bus in northern Israel and Israeli retaliation that caused heavy casualties, Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978, occupying most of the area south of the Litani River. In response, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425 calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces and creating the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), charged with maintaining peace. Israeli forces withdrew later in 1978, turning over positions inside Lebanon along the border to their Lebanese ally, the South Lebanon Army (SLA) under the leadership of Maj. Sa'ad Haddad, thus informally setting up a 12-mile wide 'security zone' to protect Israeli territory from cross border attack.

U.S. Intervention--1982-84
An interim cease-fire brokered by the U.S. in 1981 among Syria, the PLO, and Israel was respected for almost a year. Several incidents, including PLO rocket attacks on northern Israel, as well as an assassination attempt on the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, led to the June 6, 1982 Israeli ground attack into Lebanon to remove PLO forces. Operation 'Peace for Galilee' aimed at establishing a deeper security zone and pushing Syrian troops out of Lebanon, with a view toward paving the way for an Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement. With these aims in mind, Israeli forces drove 25 miles into Lebanon, moving into East Beirut with the support of Maronite Christian leaders and militia.

In August 1982, U.S. mediation resulted in the evacuation of Syrian troops and PLO fighters from Beirut. The agreement also provided for the deployment of a multinational force composed of U.S. Marines along with French and Italian units. A new President, Bashir Gemayel, was elected with acknowledged Israeli backing. On September 14, however, he was assassinated. The next day, Israeli troops crossed into West Beirut to secure Muslim militia strongholds and stood aside as Lebanese Christian militias massacred almost 800 Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Israel's then-Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon was held indirectly responsible for the massacre by the Kahane Commission and later resigned. With U.S. backing, Amin Gemayel, chosen by the Lebanese parliament to succeed his brother as President, focused anew on securing the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces. The multinational force returned.

On May 17, 1983, Lebanon, Israel, and the United States signed an agreement on Israeli withdrawal that was conditioned on the departure of Syrian troops. Syria opposed the agreement and declined to discuss the withdrawal of its troops, effectively stalemating further progress. In August 1983, Israel withdrew from the Shuf (southeast of Beirut), thus removing the buffer between the Druze and the Christian militias and triggering another round of brutal fighting. By September, the Druze had gained control over most of the Shuf, and Israeli forces had pulled out from all but the southern security zone, where they remained until May 2000. The virtual collapse of the Lebanese Army in February 1984, following the defection of many Muslim and Druze units to militias, was a major blow to the government. With the U.S. Marines looking ready to withdraw, Syria and Muslim groups stepped up pressure on Gemayal. On March 5, 1984 the Lebanese Government canceled the May 17 agreement; the Marines departed a few weeks later.

This period of chaos witnessed the beginning of terrorist attacks launched against U.S. and Western interests. These included the April 18, 1983 suicide attack at the U.S. Embassy in West Beirut (63 dead), the bombing of the headquarters of U.S. and French forces on October 23, 1983 (298 dead), the assassination of American University of Beirut President Malcolm Kerr on January 18, 1984, and the bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex in East Beirut on September 20, 1984 (9 dead).

It also saw the rise of radicalism among a small number of Lebanese Muslim factions who believed that the successive Israeli and U.S. interventions in Lebanon were serving primarily Christian interests. It was from these factions that Hezbollah emerged from a loose coalition of Shi'a groups. Hezbollah employed terrorist tactics and was supported by Syria and Iran.

Worsening Conflict and Political Crisis--1985-89
Between 1985 and 1989, factional conflict worsened as various efforts at national reconciliation failed. Heavy fighting took place in the 'War of the Camps' in 1985 and 1986 as the Shi'a Muslim Amal militia sought to rout the Palestinians from Lebanese strongholds. The Amal movement had been organized in mid-1975, at the beginning of the civil war, to confront what were seen as Israeli plans to displace the Lebanese population with Palestinians. (Its charismatic founder Imam Musa Sadr disappeared in Libya three years later. Its current leader, Nabih Berri, is the Speaker of the National Assembly.) The combat returned to Beirut in 1987, with Palestinians, leftists, and Druze fighters allied against Amal, eventually drawing further Syrian intervention. Violent confrontation flared up again in Beirut in 1988 between Amal and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Prime Minister Rashid Karami, head of a government of national unity set up after the failed peace efforts of 1984, was assassinated on June 1, 1987. President Gemayel's term of office expired in September 1988. Before stepping down, he appointed another Maronite Christian, Lebanese Armed Forces Commanding General Michel Aoun, as acting Prime Minister, contravening Lebanon's unwritten 'National Pact,' which required the prime minister to be Sunni Muslim. Muslim groups rejected the move and pledged support to Salim al-Hoss, a Sunni who had succeeded Karami. Lebanon was thus divided between a Christian government in East Beirut and a Muslim government in West Beirut, with no president.

In February 1989 Aoun attacked the rival Lebanese Forces militia. By March he turned his attention to other militias, launching what he termed a 'War of Liberation' against the Syrians and their Lebanese militia allies. In the months that followed, Aoun rejected both the agreement that ultimately ended the civil war and the election of another Christian leader as president. A Lebanese-Syrian military operation in October 1990 forced him to take refuge in the French Embassy in Beirut and later to go into a 15-year exile in Paris. After Syrian troop withdrawal, Aoun returned to Lebanon on May 7, 2005 and won a seat in the 2005 parliamentary elections. His Free Patriotic Movement became a principal element of the pro-Syrian opposition bloc.

End of the Civil War--1989-91
The Ta'if Agreement of 1989 marked the beginning of the end of the war. In January of that year, a committee appointed by the Arab League, chaired by Kuwait and including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco, had begun to formulate solutions to the conflict, leading to a meeting of Lebanese parliamentarians in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia, where they agreed to the national reconciliation accord in October. Returning to Lebanon, they ratified the agreement on November 4 and elected Rene Moawad as President the following day. Moawad was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut on November 22 as his motorcade returned from Lebanese Independence Day ceremonies. Elias Hrawi, who remained in office until 1998, succeeded him.

In August 1990, parliament and the new President agreed on constitutional amendments embodying some of the political reforms envisioned at Ta'if. The National Assembly expanded to 128 seats and was divided equally between Christians and Muslims (with Druze counted as Muslims). In March 1991, parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes prior to its enactment. The amnesty was not extended to crimes perpetrated against foreign diplomats or certain crimes referred by the cabinet to the Higher Judicial Council. In May 1991, the militias (with the important exception of Hezbollah and Palestinian militias) were dissolved, and the Lebanese Armed Forces began to slowly rebuild itself as Lebanon's only major nonsectarian institution.

In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 were killed, and another 100,000 left handicapped, during Lebanon's 16-year civil war. Up to one-fifth of the pre-war resident population, or about 900,000 people, were displaced from their homes, of which perhaps a quarter of a million emigrated permanently. The last of the Western hostages taken during the mid-1980s were released in May 1992.

Postwar Reconstruction--1992 to 2005
Postwar social and political instability, fueled by economic uncertainty and the collapse of the Lebanese currency, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami in May 1992, after less than 2 years in office. Former Prime Minister Rashid al Sulh, who was widely viewed as a caretaker to oversee Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in 20 years, replaced him.

By early November 1992, a new parliament had been elected, and Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri had formed a cabinet, retaining for himself the finance portfolio. The formation of a government headed by a successful billionaire businessman was widely seen as a sign that Lebanon would make a priority of rebuilding the country and reviving the economy. Solidere, a private real estate company set up to rebuild downtown Beirut, was a symbol of Hariri's strategy to link economic recovery to private sector investment. After the election of then-commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Emile Lahoud in 1998, following Hrawi's extended term as President, Salim al-Hoss again served as Prime Minister. Hariri returned to office as Prime Minister in November 2000. Although problems with basic infrastructure and government services persist, and Lebanon is now highly indebted, much of the civil war damage was repaired throughout the country, and many foreign investors and tourists returned.

In early April 1996, Israel conducted a military operation dubbed 'Grapes of Wrath' in response to Hezbollah's continued launching of rockets at villages in northern Israel. The 16-day operation caused hundreds of thousands of civilians in south Lebanon to flee their homes. On April 18, Hezbollah fired mortars at an Israeli military unit from a position near the UN compound at Qana, and the Israeli Army responded with artillery fire. Several Israeli shells struck the compound, killing 102 civilians sheltered there. In the 'April Understanding' concluded on April 26, Israel and Hezbollah committed themselves to avoid targeting civilians and using populated areas to launch attacks. The Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG), co-chaired by France and the United States, with Syria, Lebanon, and Israel all represented, was set up to implement the Understanding and assess reports of violations. ILMG ceased operations following the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.

On May 23, 2000, the Israeli military carried out a total withdrawal of Israeli troops from the south and the Bekaa Valley, effectively ending 22 years of occupation. The SLA collapsed and about 6,000 SLA members and their families fled the country, although more than 3,000 had returned by November 2003. The military court tried all of the SLA operatives who remained in the country and the average sentence handed down was 1-year imprisonment.

On June 16, 2000, the UN Security Council adopted the report of the Secretary General verifying Israeli compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 (1978) and the withdrawal of Israeli troops to their side of the demarcated Lebanese-Israeli line of separation (the 'Blue Line') mapped out by UN cartographers. (The international border between Lebanon and Israel is still to be determined in the framework of a peace agreement.) In August 2000, the Government of Lebanon deployed over 1,000 police and soldiers to the former security zone, but Hezbollah also maintained observation posts and conducted patrols along the Blue Line. While Lebanon and Syria initially agreed to respect the Blue Line, both since have registered objections and continue to argue that Israel has not fully withdrawn from Lebanese soil. As regional tension escalated with the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, Hezbollah cited Blue Line discrepancies when it reengaged Israel on October 7, taking three Israeli soldiers captive in an area known as Sheba'a Farms. (In 2001, the Israeli Government declared the three soldiers were believed to be dead.) Sheba'a Farms, a largely unpopulated area just south of the Blue Line opposite the Lebanese town of Sheba'a, was captured by Israel when it occupied Syria's Golan Heights in 1967. The Lebanese Government has repeatedly laid claim to the area since shortly before Israel's general withdrawal. Meanwhile, the Syrian Government has verbally stated that the Sheba'a Farms tract is Lebanese, but, as with the rest of the Lebanon-Syria border, has been unwilling to commit to a formal border demarcation in the area. As a result of secret mediation by the German Government, Israel released a number of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in early 2004 in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli reservist abducted by Hezbollah in late 2000.

In January 2000 the government took action against Sunni Muslim extremists in the north who had attacked its soldiers, and it continues to act against groups such as Asbat al-Ansar, which has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, and other extremists. On January 24, 2002, Elie Hobeika, a former Lebanese Forces figure associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacres and who later served in three cabinets and the parliament, was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut.

A September 2004 vote by the Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution to extend President Lahoud's term in office by 3 years amplified the question of Lebanese sovereignty and the continuing Syrian presence. The vote was clearly taken under Syrian pressure, exercised in part through Syria's military intelligence service, whose chief in Lebanon had acted as a virtual proconsul for many years. Syria, which views Lebanon as part of its own territory, has not signed a boundary agreement with Lebanon and does not have normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon. The UN Security Council expressed its concern over the situation by passing Resolution 1559, also in September 2004, which called for withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces throughout the country, and a free and fair electoral process in the presidential election.

Syrian Withdrawal--2005
Former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who had resisted Syria's effort to secure Lahoud's extension, and 19 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on April 26. In the months that followed Hariri's assassination, journalist Samir Qassir, Lebanese politician George Hawi, and journalist Gebran Tueni were murdered by car bombs, and Defense Minister Elias Murr and journalist May Chidiac narrowly avoided a similar fate when they were targeted with car bombs. The UN International Independent Investigative Commission (UNIIIC) headed by Detlev Mehlis began an investigation of Hariri's assassination and related crimes, beginning with the October 2004 attempt to assassinate Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh. Serge Brammertz took over the investigation at the beginning of 2006. In December 2006, the Lebanese Cabinet approved an agreement with the UN Security Council to create a Special Tribunal of international character which will be responsible for trying those who may be indicted as a result of the investigation. President Lahoud, Parliament Speaker Berri, and the Shia ministers who resigned from Lebanon's cabinet in November 2006 do not recognize the cabinet's decision on this matter, however.

Parliamentary elections were held May 29-June 19, 2005 and the anti-Syrian opposition led by Sa'ad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son, won a majority of 72 seats (out of 128). Hariri ally and former Finance Minister Fouad Siniora was named Prime Minister and Nabih Berri was reelected as Speaker of Parliament. Parliament approved the first 'made-in-Lebanon' cabinet in almost 30 years on July 30. The ministerial statement of the new cabinet (which included two Hezbollah ministers), a summary of the new government's agenda and priorities, focused on political and economic reform, but also endorsed Hezbollah's right to possess military weapons to carry out a 'national resistance' against the perceived Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.

Hezbollah forces continued to launch sporadic military strikes on Israeli forces, drawing responses that produced casualties on both sides and, on two occasions in 2001, Israeli air strikes on Syrian radar sites in Lebanon. Israel continues to violate Lebanese sovereignty by conducting overflights of Lebanese territory north of the Blue Line. UNIFIL has recorded numerous violations of the Blue Line by both sides since the Israeli withdrawal. In general, however, the level of violence along the Israeli-Lebanon front decreased dramatically from May 2000 until mid-2006.

War with Israel--2006
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah guerillas crossed into Israel, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others, precipitating a war with Israel. Israeli air strikes hit Hezbollah positions in the south and strategic targets throughout Lebanon, and Israeli ground forces ground forces moved against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah resisted the ground attack and fired thousands of rockets at civilian targets in Israel. By the time the war ended, on Aug. 14, an estimated 1200 Lebanese civilians and hundreds of Hezbollah fighters had died, along with 119 Israeli military and 43 Israeli civilians. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war, provided for a ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal and lifting of blockades, disarming of Hezbollah and other militias, and a ban on unauthorized weapons transfers into Lebanon. UNSCR 1701 also significantly strengthened UNIFIL's mandate and authorized its enlargement from about 2,000 initially up to a maximum of 15,000. Bolstered by UNIFIL, which by the beginning of 2007 had more than 11,000 personnel, the Lebanese Armed Forces deployed to southern Lebanon and the border with Israel for the first time in almost four decades.

The war temporarily or permanently displaced roughly one-fourth of Lebanon's population, and caused enormous damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. The country, which was already seriously indebted, suffered roughly $5 billion in damages and financial losses. The international community provided massive humanitarian relief, plus substantial aid for economic reconstruction and reform, with $940 million in aid pledged at an August 31, 2006 donors conference in Stockholm and $7.6 billion in pledges announced at a Paris conference January 25, 2007. Aid pledged in Paris was to be coordinated with the Lebanese Government's program for fiscal and economic reform.

.Although Syria withdrew its military forces from Lebanon, intelligence assets remained, and Syria continues to have a strong influence in Lebanese politics. In November 2006, as Siniora's cabinet neared approval of the Hariri tribunal, pro-Syrian ministers, including all the Shi'ite ministers, withdrew from the cabinet. Led by Hezbollah, pro-Syrian forces began months of massive demonstrations, sit-ins, and occasional violence with the aim of either paralyzing or bringing down the cabinet. Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel, son of ex-president Amin Gemayel, was assassinated November 21.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





   Privacy Policy

   Portions of this site are based on public domain works from the U.S. Dept. of State and the CIA World Fact Book
   All original material copyright © 2002 - GeographyIQ.com. All Rights Reserved.
   For comments and feedback, write to us at info@GeographyIQ.com.