For a long time, Lebanon has been confronted with numerous security threats both inside and outside the country. Tension in relations with Israel, the permanent danger of another major armed conflict with it on Lebanese territory, largely against the wishes of the country’s government, and a large part of the Lebanese, pose a serious threat to external security. A significant threat to the national security of the country continues to come from the armed conflict in neighboring Syria, and the involvement of Lebanon in it. Negative influence on the development of the situation in the country has a tough rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, seeking to subjugate Lebanon to their influence. The difficult situation in the financial, economic and social spheres also represents a growing potential threat to domestic political stability in Lebanon.
A complex, periodically aggravating situation persists on the Lebanese-Israeli border. This is largely due to the activities of the Lebanese Shiite organization “Hezbollah” supported by Iran, which takes an uncompromising stance towards the Jewish state. At the same time, the leadership of “Hezbollah” in recent years is not going to unleash direct armed incidents against Israel.
In recent years, in connection with the discovery of large reserves of natural gas on the shelf of the eastern Mediterranean, the problem of the demarcation of the sea borders between Lebanon and Israel has become more acute. Lebanon insists on delimiting the maritime border with Israel under the auspices of the UN, rejecting Israeli claims for part of the shelf deposits, and not wanting to conduct direct negotiations with the Jewish state. The problem worsened after Lebanon in December 2017 issued licenses for the development of offshore hydrocarbon deposits off its coast to a consortium of the French company “Total”, the Italian “Eni” and the Russian “Novatek”. At the end of 2019, the consortium participants plan to begin exploratory drilling. Given the serious differences between the parties and the chronic political instability in Lebanon, the resolution of this problem is unlikely to happen soon. At the same time, both Lebanon and Israel are interested in the safe development of their energy resources and their safe transportation. Efforts to resolve the dispute are taking by American diplomats.
The ongoing war in Syria is constantly generating new problems for Lebanon: a sharp deterioration in the economic situation (solely the direct losses of the Lebanese economy from the Syrian crisis mounted to $ 7.5 billion), the presence in the country of a large mass of Syrian refugees (according to various estimates, from 1 to 1.5 million people, which is a tremendous burden for the Lebanese economy), illegal arms trade, and, very importantly, — increasing the disengagement in Lebanese society among those who support the regime of the SAR President B. Assad and its opponents. Thus, the “Coalition of March 8” continues to act on the side of official Damascus. At the same time, the leading force of this coalition, “Hezbollah”, actively participates in the war on the side of the Syrian government forces in violation of the Baabda Declaration adopted by the leading political parties of Lebanon in 2012 and announced a policy of non-intervention in the Syrian conflict. Opponents of this bloc from the “Coalition of March 14” insist on the withdrawal of the “Hezbollah” units from Syria and, in fact, support the Syrian opposition. The large-scale participation of “Hezbollah” in the Syrian war (including at the suggestion of Iran) causes discontent among a number of other Lebanese political forces. On the whole, the question of the need to disarm “Hezbollah”s armed groups remains a subject of heated debate in the country. Thus, the president of the republic, M. Aoun, stated that “Hezbollah” does not use weapons inside Lebanon. In this regard, the presence of armed formations of the movement, in his opinion, is a problem of politics, not security. This statement by Aoun provoked a negative reaction from prominent Sunni and some other politicians.
After the start of the Syrian war (2011) for a long time, militants of terrorist groups, mainly “Jabhat al-Nusra” and “Islamic State” (both banned in the Russian Federation), were active in Lebanon and used the territory of the country for combat action against the Syrian army, the transfer to Syria of militants and weapons. However, by the autumn of 2017, the Lebanese Armed Forces and the “Hezbollah” units were able to defeat the main forces of jihadists, some of whom had gone to Syria. After the fighting ended, the “Hezbollah” detachments handed over the guard of the border with the SAR to the Lebanese army.
Latent tensions persist in Palestinian refugee camps, which remain dangerous foci of political extremism, terrorism, and crime. Radicalization is increasing among Palestinians. Thus, the problem of the Palestinian presence (up to 500 thousand people) remains one of the most acute in Lebanon.
In general, despite the reduction in the level of the terrorist threat, there is no reason to talk about its neutralization. The difficult situation inside Lebanon, the ongoing armed conflict in Syria are a breeding ground for terrorists and their patrons.
To date, the Lebanese army (60 thousand people) remains the most organized and stable institution of state power. At the same time, in terms of the quality and quantity of weapons, the level of training, the army in its current state is not able to fully meet the tasks of ensuring the security of the country. The issue of increasing the combat capability of the armed forces, their re-equipment for modern weapons and equipment is one of the priorities for Lebanon in the context of maintaining threats to external and internal security. All the main Lebanese political forces do not object to this. In recent years, military supplies from the United States and France have resumed. Meanwhile, the “Hezbollah” armed groups retain the “status of the most influential military force in the country”.
A distinctive feature of present-day Lebanon is permanent internal political instability, which is caused by difficulties in relations between Christians and Muslims, as well as between different political-religious groups and clans within each of the communities. This is due to the confessional nature of the Lebanese state, where the main branches of government are divided and consolidated between various religious communities. The lack of unity of views and approaches of the leading political forces to solving the main problems of the domestic and foreign policy of the republic has a negative impact on the situation in the country. The role of active intervention in Lebanese affairs of external forces is also significant. The complex financial and economic situation of the country does not contribute to the stabilization of the domestic political situation.
The political life of Lebanon is largely determined by the rigorous confrontation between the two leading political coalitions: the “Coalition of March 8” and the “Coalition of March 14”. The basis of the “Coalition of March 8” supporting Damascus consists of the Shiite movements “Hezbollah” (leader H. Nasrullah) and “Amal” (led by parliamentary speaker N. Berri) and the Christian (Maronite) “Free Patriotic Movement” headed by President M. Aoun.
The “Coalition of March 14”, which focuses primarily on the West, is made up of the “Mustaqbal” Sunni movement (leader is the Prime Minister S. Hariri) and the “Lebanese Forces” Maronite party (leader S. Geagea).
At the same time, the leading Lebanese political forces and their leaders understand the need to continue the dialogue in order to bring the country out of the protracted systemic crisis and prevent Lebanon from slipping into a new civil war. In the meantime, “the Lebanese society and the political elite of this country have not solved any of the problems facing Lebanon”, neither in the sphere of security, nor in solving acute economic and social issues.
Lebanon remains the scene of geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The United States is actively influencing the situation in the republic. Moreover, Washington and Riyadh in every way seek to prevent over-gaining Iran in Lebanon. In this regard, we note the US banking, financial and other sanctions against “Hezbollah”, which caused significant damage to this movement, as many Lebanese banks were forced to follow these sanctions. The United States, and the League of Arab States on the initiative of the KSA, recognized “Hezbollah” as a terrorist organization.
Thus, there is no reason to talk about an early normalization of the situation in Lebanon and around it, the achievement of stability of Lebanese society, the elimination of external and internal threats to security in the republic. Much here depends on external factors (first of all, the Syrian one), behind which stand the interests of specific states of the Middle East region and not only them.
Institute of the Middle East.
On changes in the military-political situation in the Middle East and North Africa (May 13 — 19, 2019). Annex.