For much of the last several decades, Lebanon has been wracked by instability and tangled up in the affairs of larger or more powerful neighbours. Its confessional political system, based on power sharing among its eighteen officially recognised ethno-religious groups, is arguably both the cause and the effect of recurrent strife, notably the 1975-1990 civil war. Today the elites who run the system are also implicated in ever-deepening state dysfunction and economic recession. Meanwhile, Lebanon is at risk of spillover from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian war and regional turmoil, due partly to the rise of Hizbollah, the Shiite Islamist movement opposed to Israel and allied with Iran and the Syrian regime, as a political force. The country hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees as well as nearly 1.5 million Syrians. Pending changes that would allow resolution of the outside conflicts, Crisis Group works to keep Lebanon insulated from their flare-ups, to seek durable solutions for refugees and to encourage structural reform that might alleviate the country's internal problems.
As war rages in Gaza, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to escalate, causing grievous harm to civilians and threatening stability across the Middle East. Crisis Group experts offer a 360-degree view of how various capitals in the region view this crisis and their own interests therein.
Border clashes between Hizbollah and Israeli forces killed dozens of militants and multiple Israeli soldiers; hostilities could open new front in Israel-Hamas war in coming weeks.
Lebanon faced spectre of major conflict. Following outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel on 7 Oct (see Israel-Palestine), Hizbollah repeatedly stated its willingness to militarily intervene to support its ally Hamas. Border areas witnessed pattern of near-daily clashes between group and Israeli forces that killed around 50 Hizbollah fighters and at least eight Israeli soldiers during Oct, with intensity and casualty count inching upward and geographical scope of hostilities reportedly widening late Oct. While clashes appeared to remain manageable, sides ap-peared to be merely one bloody attack – by accident or design – away from triggering escalation that spirals into all-out war, or Hizbollah may intervene to support Hamas as Israeli ground operations in Gaza get under way. Notably, Hizbollah 8 Oct launched several guided rockets into disputed Shebaa farms; Israel 9 Oct killed three Hizbollah fighters in retaliation for alleged infiltration attempt by Palestinian fighters; pair over subsequent days exchanged missiles and shelling. Hizbollah strike 11 Oct allegedly killed Israeli. Israel 17 Oct reportedly killed five Hizbollah fighters in airstrikes.
Syrian refugees faced oppressive govt measures and threats to safety. In sign of rising hostility, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi 4 Oct claimed Syrians are responsible for 30% of crime and next day ordered authorities to crack down on Syrians without valid residency permits, close down Syrian-owned businesses operating without valid paperwork and enforce “categorical ban” on donations to support Syrian refugees. Large brawl 5 Oct erupted between Lebanese and Syrians in capital Beirut, while reports indicated bands of Lebanese roamed streets at night searching for Syrians to attack.
Presidential vacuum reached one-year anniversary amid economic crisis. No signs of progress emerged of filling presidency, which has been vacant since 1 Nov 2022, reflecting prevailing political deadlock. Economic crisis remained severe despite ongoing period of relative stability for Lebanese Lira, which may have been buoyed by substantial influx of hard currency but could soon face sharp devaluation.
Nothing happens in southern Lebanon without Hezbollah’s knowledge.
Israel and one of its neighbors [Lebanon] - a neighbor that doesn't officially recognize Israel - have come to a constructive solution for a conflict. And that's histor...
Israeli security interests are best served by Lebanon's economy being rebuilt rather than the crisis getting worse.
Thus far, October’s exchanges of fire between Hizbollah and Israel have stayed within the sides’ red lines. Still, with an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza looming, risks are tremendous. A Gaza ceasefire, while improbable, is the only way to rule out a broader war.
In this video, David Wood discusses the presidential vacuum in Lebanon and how it's affecting the country's ability to deal with its other compounding crises.
With tensions rising along the Israeli-Lebanese border, the UN peacekeeping force stationed in the area has arguably never been more important. With the mandate up for renewal, the UN Security Council and troop-contributing countries should reassert their backing for the mission in the strongest terms.
In this video, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Lebanon, David Wood, warns that tensions between Hizbollah and Israel risk ending the relative calm of the past seventeen years.
The CrisisWatch Digest Lebanon offers a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments.
The erosion of Lebanese political institutions, which has already disabled the presidency and the cabinet, now threatens hundreds of municipalities. Amid its crippling economic crisis, Lebanon can ill afford to lose one of the last vestiges of state functionality.
Barring an eleventh-hour compromise, Lebanon will soon be without a president. An extended vacancy could stall action needed to ease the country’s economic crisis, risking unrest. With outside help, politicians should strive to avert this outcome – and to find ameliorative measures for the interim.
Domestic politics in Israel and Lebanon could scuttle talks about their claims in the Mediterranean – and to the gas riches underneath. With the U.S. mediator’s help, the two countries should refocus on achieving an accord that serves their mutual interest and spares them a confrontation.
On 15 May, amid a continuing economic meltdown, Lebanese voters chose a new parliament. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert David Wood parses the results and assesses the implications for efforts to resolve the country’s deepening crisis.
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