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Published on June 7th, 2012 | by Harry Evans
Image © [caption id="attachment_10252" align="alignnone" width="564" caption="Rights Freedomhouse2"][/caption]   Following the Houla massacre , there is increasing discussion surrounding the next progression of the Syria situation. The slightly less shocking news to come from the region this week was that around a dozen people were killed in fire fights in the Lebanese town of Tripoli. Tripoli sits very near the Lebanon-Syria border and traditionally represents an area of friction. As eyes turn to the next step for Syria, it is worth exploring the fraught relationship that Syria and Lebanon have endured. The two countries share a mutual boundary that makes up nearly all of Lebanon's eastern border. In 1976, Syria occupied Lebanon. This action was at the request of the endangered Lebanese government, which was entangled in a messy civil war. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon lasted until 2005, in which tensions flared many times. The Syrians however, were not seen as 'the enemy' in this conflict: invasions from Israel turned Lebanon into a buffer on which Israel and Syria could wage war without resulting in collateral damage for either of them. Lebanon was left scarred. The causes of the civil war give some indication as to how Lebanese politics is tied in with Syrian affairs. Lebanon is the second most religiously diverse country in the Arab world, after Syria. The uprisings behind the civil war were driven by sectarianism, between Christian and Muslim groups. In the latest uprisings, however, the focus has been between Shia and Sunni, the two largest Islamic denominations. In Lebanon, as in Syria, the majority of Muslims are Sunni Muslims. However, the Shia are currently more politically active. This is certainly the case in Lebanon, where Hezbollah—a majority-Shia organisation, originally funded to oppose Israel—commands a disproportionate amount of power. Hezbollah back President Bashar Assad and his Syrian regime, and it is no coincidence that the backbone of the Syrian uprising is Sunni. The recent gun fighting in Tripoli is overset with this Sunni/Shia separation. The area is more balanced than usual between the two sects, and following the recent escalation in Syria the two are no longer rubbing along together as they have been. Shia Muslims that hold outright loyalty to Mr Assad (the Alawite sect) clashed with the Sunni population that were siding with the rebels in Syria.  In addition, Syrian rebels were responsible for kidnapping Shia pilgrims, who were released unharmed, again reinforcing the sectarian tensions along the border. In the Lebanese civil war of the 20th century, the prime battle lines were drawn between Christian and Muslim. Syria and Lebanon are so historically intertwined that the Syrian situation could well be a catalyst for further warfare in Lebanon. However, the battle lines will this time be broadly drawn between Shia and Sunni, as it has roughly been drawn in Syria. The sectarian violence in Tripoli was an oddity, but they are becoming more and more frequent in northern Lebanon. The balance of power is held between the vocal minority (Hezbollah and other Shia groups) and the silent majority (Sunni). Soon a tipping point will be reached, especially if further moves are made by Mr Assad to consolidate his position, as was done at Houla. The Sunnis will not continue to stand for the massacre of their religious brethren across the border. This could lead to a second all-out civil war in the Lebanon, as the Shia move to exercise their great political following in Mr Assad's favour. There is another possibility that cannot be ignored. In 2005, a Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated. It has been speculated that Syria could have been involved in this. A similar suggestion of Syrian involvement has been made in connection with the deaths at Tripoli. Gathering support for the Syrian rebels in Tripoli could have been a reason for introducing the Alawite faction into the mix. This move would make the pro-rebel Lebanese think twice about vocalising their disdain for Mr Assad. In the event of a civil war in Lebanon, there is a danger that Mr Assad would reintroduce the occupation, under the thin guise of 'peace-keeping'. This move would be disastrous for the region. Lebanon was a buffer-zone between Syria and Israel during the last civil war. Iran would ally with Syria, and there would be a great unrest in the region that could not be contained to the belligerent states.

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Fates Intertwined: Lebanon and Syria

Rights Freedomhouse2

 

Following the Houla massacre , there is increasing discussion surrounding the next progression of the Syria situation. The slightly less shocking news to come from the region this week was that around a dozen people were killed in fire fights in the Lebanese town of Tripoli. Tripoli sits very near the Lebanon-Syria border and traditionally represents an area of friction. As eyes turn to the next step for Syria, it is worth exploring the fraught relationship that Syria and Lebanon have endured.

The two countries share a mutual boundary that makes up nearly all of Lebanon’s eastern border. In 1976, Syria occupied Lebanon. This action was at the request of the endangered Lebanese government, which was entangled in a messy civil war. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon lasted until 2005, in which tensions flared many times. The Syrians however, were not seen as ‘the enemy’ in this conflict: invasions from Israel turned Lebanon into a buffer on which Israel and Syria could wage war without resulting in collateral damage for either of them. Lebanon was left scarred.

The causes of the civil war give some indication as to how Lebanese politics is tied in with Syrian affairs. Lebanon is the second most religiously diverse country in the Arab world, after Syria. The uprisings behind the civil war were driven by sectarianism, between Christian and Muslim groups. In the latest uprisings, however, the focus has been between Shia and Sunni, the two largest Islamic denominations. In Lebanon, as in Syria, the majority of Muslims are Sunni Muslims. However, the Shia are currently more politically active. This is certainly the case in Lebanon, where Hezbollah—a majority-Shia organisation, originally funded to oppose Israel—commands a disproportionate amount of power. Hezbollah back President Bashar Assad and his Syrian regime, and it is no coincidence that the backbone of the Syrian uprising is Sunni.

The recent gun fighting in Tripoli is overset with this Sunni/Shia separation. The area is more balanced than usual between the two sects, and following the recent escalation in Syria the two are no longer rubbing along together as they have been. Shia Muslims that hold outright loyalty to Mr Assad (the Alawite sect) clashed with the Sunni population that were siding with the rebels in Syria.  In addition, Syrian rebels were responsible for kidnapping Shia pilgrims, who were released unharmed, again reinforcing the sectarian tensions along the border.

In the Lebanese civil war of the 20th century, the prime battle lines were drawn between Christian and Muslim. Syria and Lebanon are so historically intertwined that the Syrian situation could well be a catalyst for further warfare in Lebanon. However, the battle lines will this time be broadly drawn between Shia and Sunni, as it has roughly been drawn in Syria. The sectarian violence in Tripoli was an oddity, but they are becoming more and more frequent in northern Lebanon. The balance of power is held between the vocal minority (Hezbollah and other Shia groups) and the silent majority (Sunni). Soon a tipping point will be reached, especially if further moves are made by Mr Assad to consolidate his position, as was done at Houla. The Sunnis will not continue to stand for the massacre of their religious brethren across the border. This could lead to a second all-out civil war in the Lebanon, as the Shia move to exercise their great political following in Mr Assad’s favour.

There is another possibility that cannot be ignored. In 2005, a Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated. It has been speculated that Syria could have been involved in this. A similar suggestion of Syrian involvement has been made in connection with the deaths at Tripoli. Gathering support for the Syrian rebels in Tripoli could have been a reason for introducing the Alawite faction into the mix. This move would make the pro-rebel Lebanese think twice about vocalising their disdain for Mr Assad. In the event of a civil war in Lebanon, there is a danger that Mr Assad would reintroduce the occupation, under the thin guise of ‘peace-keeping’. This move would be disastrous for the region. Lebanon was a buffer-zone between Syria and Israel during the last civil war. Iran would ally with Syria, and there would be a great unrest in the region that could not be contained to the belligerent states.

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About the Author

Harry Evans

Harry is a recent Philosophy graduate from the University of York. He is taking a Master’s in European Studies next year at UCL and has a particular interest in Scandinavian politics and economy. His time is currently spent undertaking an internship, researching and writing a history of the University of York Philosophy department. At University, he was editor of the student Philosophy journal, and has been published by the Club of PEP journal. Harry is hoping to make a career in International Relations and Journalism, and writes for Catch21 in this capacity. For more information and updates follow @hevans567 or find him on LinkedIn. You can also read more from this author on their personal blog.



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