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 had comprised present-day Lebanon to France. Modern
Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political
power between the various religious groups. The country gained independence
in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946.
Lebanon's history from 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, experienced increasing
In the early 1970s, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian
refugees, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and "Black
September" 1970 hostilities in Jordan. Among the latter 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 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 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 a Lebanese ally, the South
Lebanon Army (SLA) under the leadership of Maj. Saad Haddad, thus informally
setting up a 12-mile wide "security zone" to protect Israeli territory
from cross border attack.
An interim cease-fire brokered by the U.S. in 1981 between 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 comprised 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.
Then-Israeli 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 Hizballah emerged from a loose coalition of Shi'a groups.
Hizballah 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
3 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 Hizballah.
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 'Awn,
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 'Awn 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, 'Awn 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
cover in the French Embassy in Beirut and later into exile in Paris, where
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. Assassinated
in a car bombing in Beirut on November 22 as his motorcade returned from
Lebanese Independence Day ceremonies, Moawad was succeeded by Elias Hrawi,
who remained in office until 1998.
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 108 seats and was divided equally between
Christians and 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 Hizballah) 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 whom 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 Present
Postwar social and political instability, fueled by economic uncertainty
and the collapse of the Lebanese currency, led to the resignation of Prime
Minister Omar Karamiin May 1992, after less than 2 years in office. He
was replaced by former Prime Minister Rashid al Sulh, who was widely viewed
as a caretaker to oversee Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in 20
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 has been repaired throughout the country, and many foreign investors
and tourists have returned.
If Lebanon has in part recovered over the past decade from the catastrophic
damage to infrastructure of its long civil war, the social and political
divisions that gave rise to and sustained that conflict remain largely
unresolved. Parliamentary and municipal elections have been held with fewer
irregularities and more popular participation than in the immediate aftermath
of the conflict, and Lebanese civil society generally enjoys significantly
more freedoms than elsewhere in the Arab world. However, there are continuing
sectarian tensions and unease about Syrian and other external influences.
Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Ja'ja, convicted in 1994 on civil war-related
charges, remains imprisoned, and the LF is still banned, although Jaja
supporters carry out periodic demonstrations and participate in local elections.
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 Usama 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
who later served in three cabinets and the parliament, was assassinated
in a car bombing in Beirut. An estimated 16,000 Syrian troops remain in
position in many areas of Lebanon, notwithstanding Ta'if stipulations that
called for agreement between the Syrian and Lebanese Governments on their
redeployment by September 1992. Syrian troops did not leave greater Beirut
until mid-2001. Israel withdrew its troops from south Lebanon in May 2000,
where armed elements of Hizballah are still present.