Since October the 8th, 2023, hostilities at the border between Lebanon and Israel reached new heights. Hezbollah was among regional actors that reacted to Israel’s renewed military advancement into the Gaza Strip, in what they claimed to be a demonstration of solidarity with the Palestinians. However, Southern Lebanon has been a long war theater after 1948. Israel’s existence has been challenged by neighboring countries to no avail, but its military successes have hardly led to a broader regional peace. However, the political, security and military situation of Southern Lebanon requires an assessment that considers both the generalized conflictual state in the region and the particularities of Lebanon as one of the most cosmopolite and fragile countries in the world. This paper will briefly reassess the two factors mentioned above, along with latest stances of actors involved developments related to Southern Lebanon.

Political parties, the Civil War, and outcomes

While elections in the United States are relatively simple to follow due to the historical race between two known parties and a broad media coverage in a relatively known language, the political system and elections from Lebanon can be considered at least complicated. Historical evidence of human civilization in this part of the world is millennia-old and the Stelae of Nahr el-Kalb inscriptions represent just one of the numerous acknowledgements of this rich and complex heritage. The complexity of Lebanon’s political, social, cultural, and economic life has been determined by its geostrategic position since Mesopotamian times, numerous interactions with major poetical power centers around the globe and a relatively pronounced openness towards social diversity that is unique to Lebanon (and Syria), among others. However, this cosmopolite characteristic of the Lebanese society has come at a cost, and balance within the country has also been fragile amid significant divisions on sectarian or ideological lines.

Historical factors contributing to the complexity of Lebanese political life, like for example Roman Empire’s expansion, the (Old) Silk Road, Christianity and Islam, the Crusades, Ottoman rule, late colonialism, and the Mandates, will not be assessed in detail in this paper although their roles are significant. The first cornerstone of the contemporary Lebanese political system is represented by the 1943 unwritten “National Pact” between Muslim and Christian leaderships.

On the backdrop of a falling Ottoman Empire which prioritized the interests of Muslims, European influence in the Middle East rose in the second part of 19th century. When the French and British began to exert direct influence in this region at the beginning of 20th century, the French had already been in connection with local Christian communities, especially the Maronites. This religious group is presented by Philip Hitti as one whose members were the followers of an ascetic monk Maron (Marun) who lived and preached in Antioch. Shortly after his death, the Maronites allegedly moved  to what is today’s Qalat al-Madiq on the Orontes (Hitti, 1965, pp. 90-91). In 1918, when the French troops arrived in Lebanon, their regional partners the Maronites asked for a state in which they could survive as a social group and avoid becoming a small minority in an eventual largely Muslim state, not as part of an eventual Greater Syria maintained from previous Ottoman rule (Assi, 2016, p. 51). The French added Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and the Bekaa Valley to Mont Lebanon (the homeland of Maronites) and created Lebanon in a bid to maintain their regional alliance with the Maronites, but the latter remained a minority (approx. 30 % of total population) dependent on France (Assi, 2016, p. 52).

At the time of 1943 National Pact, the two main groups were the Christian Maronites and Muslim Sunnis. However, the Christian community was including also Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian, Protestant and Anglican churches, whereas Muslim community included additionally Shiites, Druze, and Alawites. The agreement instated among others a confession-based political system in which the Christians received 52 % and Muslims 48 % of the parliamentary seats, based on the population ratios according to the 1932 census results. The Christians received important public offices and the presidential position was being reserved to a Christian Maronite, while the Prime Minister had to be a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shi’a Muslim (Assi, 2016, pp. 52-53).

Following the An-Nakba, Palestinian migration to neighboring countries, resulted in a large number of refugees in Lebanon and major internal tensions at political, social and economic levels. Certain support of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) by political factions generated different opinions with respect to external policy among the Lebanese decision-makers. The 1967 war against Israel and its consequences added to the internal hardships. The civil war that started in 1975 had mixed causes, and erupted initially between the Maronite-led Phalangists and their allies which created the Lebanese Front (LF) and the Arab/Muslim-led pro-PLO Lebanese National Movement (LNM), throughout the conflict consisting of Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Lebanese Ba’ath Party, Progressive Socialist Party and Communist Action in Lebanon among others. This large-scale conflict involved other camps as well and various groups attracted foreign support. Additionally, a faction of the Amal Movement founded Hezbollah in 1982. While Israel and some Western powers supported LF, the LNM received support from Iraq and Libya among others. Tragic episodes of this conflict include the bombings of American and French barracks from 1983 in Beirut, the Sabra and Shatila massacre from 1985, when LF and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) encircled the Sabra neighborhood and the Shatila refugee camp, facilitating an attack of the Falangists that resulted in horrific deaths of Palestinian and Lebanese Shi’a civilians. The civil war resulted in over 100’000 deaths and more than 200’000 wounded, while many Maronites fled to foreign countries. Israel invaded Lebanese territory in 1982 and 2006, while Syria occupied Lebanese territory between 1976 and 2005. The 1989 Ta’if Agreement from Saudi Arabia was reached under Arab League auspices and reflected the demographic changes that occurred from 1943 onwards. Consequently, the Muslim community received a better representation in the Lebanese political system and the road was theoretically paved for a future non-sectarian political system.

At Syria’s withdrawal in 2005, the main parties in Lebanon had been the previously-formed Hezbollah, Amal Movement, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), Lebanese Forces Party (LFP), Kataeb Party, el-Marada Party, Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) and Tashnak Party according to Assi. Afterwards, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Sunni Future Movement (SFM) were formed (Assi, 2016, p. 65).

The Kataeb Party (the Phalanges Libanaises or Phalange) was established by Pierre Jumayil as a (Christian) Maronite youth movement, called by Rodger Shanahan “right-wing quasi-fascist” (Shanahan, 2005, p. 92). Indeed, Jumayil was inspired by the Spanish Falange and fascists or Nazi movements observed in Europe, as he, himself stated at one point in time. However, it must be mentioned that Jumayil did not associate himself or his movement with the European movements. Although Kataeb advocated for human rights and freedoms of all Lebanese, it promoted at ideological level a “Phoenician” identity as distinct from the Arab identity. The Phoenician identity has been promoted by circles connected to the French colonial administration, as Asher Kaufman explains in detail, this theme emerging as an anti-Arab stance (Kaufman, 2014, p. 36) just as Berber identity (revival) became a distinction in French officer Hubert Lyautey’s “politique des races” in North Africa (Kaufman, 2014, p. 13).

Pierre Jumayil’s younger son Bashir Jumayil, who took over the Kataeb Party was elected as Lebanon’s President in August 1982 but he was assassinated before being able to take office in September 1982. His older brother, Amin Jumayil, became President of Lebanon between 1982 and 1988. The Phalange attracted in some phases supporters irrespective of confession, but proved subsequently to a right wing organization. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1975 it was the organization that started to attack PLO members. In August 1976, they also expelled Shi’a inhabitants of East Beirut’s al-Nab’a neighborhood (Shanahan, 2005, p. 117). Before, and during the Civil War, the Phalange had a military wing, i.e., militia, of significant size.

Benni Morris claims that the relations between the Phalange and Israel began early, with an Israeli bid to support the Maronites’ public relations efforts in the US. In 1950-1951, the Phalange are said to have received Israeli financial aid for the general elections, a collaboration that will turn in the ‘70s and ‘80s into practically an alliance (Morris, 1984). Indeed, the article published by Avi Kumar in 2023 confirms details of this alliance, claiming that the “Lebanese Christians who allied with Israel are grateful, but remain lonely and scared” (Kumar, 2023). Kumar cites a former defector from the Lebanese Army (to the Lebanese Forces) and other supporters of Israel-backed South Lebanon Army, who claim that the Maronite presence was threatened by the demographic changes taking place at the beginning of 70’s in Lebanon. The article also confirms that Israel provided the Phalangists with asylum after the Civil War (in the ‘90s) and many Phalangists fled to Israel after Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 as well (Kumar, 2023). Assi mentions that the Kataeb military wing split from the political party in the late ‘80s and formed Lebanese Forces under Bashir Jumayil (Assi, 2016, p. 71), turning into the party called Lebanese Forces Party (LFP) headed at present by Samir Geagea.

The Amal Party is the largest Shi’a parliamentary party from Lebanon and was founded in 1974. As the Civil War broke out and (Shi’a) population from Southern Lebanon began to flee to safer places, Amal Party’s prominence began to rise. This party also maintained an armed wing during the conflict. The party has been led by Nabih Berri for decades.

Hezbollah Party was created in 1982 as a Shi’a party, inspired and founded according to Assi by the Islamic Republic of Iran. After the Civil War, Hezbollah is the only party that maintained a military wing according to more sources, with the aim to fight against Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon (occupied between 1978 and 2000) (Assi, 2016, p. 67). Since 1992, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah leads the party that became involved in government only after Syria’s withdrawal.

Abbas Assi mentions that two parliamentary blocks dominated the parliament in 2009: the March 8th Coalition, which was essentially pro-Syria and March 14th Coalition which was anti-Syria. Table 1 summarizes the parties comprising these coalitions and their main characteristics as presented in literature (Assi, 2016, pp. 65-72).

Table 1. Main parties in the March 8 and March 14 coalitions from Lebanon as of 2009 (Abbas Assi).

Coalition Party Party highlights
March 8 Coalition (pro-Syria): no major Sunni party in the alliance Amal Movement Shiite, led by Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri
Hezbollah Shiite, led by Hassan Nasrallah, has a military wing, fought/fights Israeli occupation
El-Marada Party Christian, founded by the Maronite family Frangieh, led by Suleiman Frangieh Jr., former Interior Minister
Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) Nationalist, supports Greater Syria, main non-sectarian party in the coalition, founded in 1932 by Antoun Sa’adeh, a Greek Orthodox
Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) Druze but not a major Druze party, theoretically secular, founded and led by Talal Arslan since 2001
Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM, since 2006) Popular, only Christian Party joining the alliance, led by General Michel Aoun, switched from March 14 Coalition in 2006, largest Christian Party in coalition
Tashnak Party (Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Lebanon) Allied with FPM, led by Hagop Pakradouni
Arab Ba’ath Party Founded in 1953, led by Fayez Shukr in 2009, by Ali Hijazi in 2022
Others, affiliated independents
March 14 Coalition (anti-Syria, anti-Hezbollah): no major Shi’a party in the alliance Kataeb Party Christian, led by Amin Jumayil, major role in Ta’if Agreement
Lebanese Forces Party (LFP) Christian, formed after it split as the military wing of Kataeb, led by Samir Geagea
Sunni Future Movement (SFM) Sunni, dominant, led by Saad Hariri, allied with Saudi Arabia, began to criticize Hezbollah in 2005
Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Main Druze party of the coalition, its armed wing in the Civil War – People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was strong, led by Walid Jumblatt until 2023, afterwards by his son Taymour Jumblatt
Hanchak (Armenian Party) Social-democrat, among oldest parties
Others, affiliated independents

Besides these political forces, the influential non-partisan billionaire Najib Mikati can be mentioned, as he served as Prime Minister of Lebanon and is a central political figure in Lebanon. In the 2022 elections, the highest numbers of seats were won by LFP, FPM, Hezbollah, and the Amal Movement, hence the description from Table 1 relatively representative for the present political landscape from Lebanon. From a historical perspective, it can be noticed that the initial political debate in Lebanon was dominated by the Maronites and Sunnis. As the country was based on a fragile political agreement, a change in demographics and the conflictual regional situation directed Lebanon on the path of a large-scale conflict. This conflict is generally known as the Lebanese Civil War, but either the definition of modern civil wars does not require the parties to belong to the same country anymore, or the biased coverage of these tragic decades for Lebanon disregard the obvious projection of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this small country.

Prior to and during the war, the spat between the Maronites and Sunni gradually transition between a spat between an anti-Syria camp, encompassing the Maronites and Sunnis, and a pro-Syria camp encompassing mainly the Shiites. This perspective is accurate only on a large scale and strictly related to major confessional lines from Lebanon. It does not reflect other aspects like secular political orientations – also important, or the role of independent political figures or smaller groups represented in the parliament.

Both Syria and Israel interfered in Lebanon’s political life in the second part of the 20th century and afterward: the former as a reaction to the French colonial borders imposed in the region and the latter to “help” the Maronites maintain their political influence in the country, and to protect themselves against an active Muslim neighborhood at its Northern border. But while favoring the Maronites against the Sunnis, the question becomes whether Israel contributed to the rise of the Shiites to political prominence in Lebanon, a prominence that presents Israel with further challenges at present.

Israel’s implication in Southern Lebanon between privilege and liability

Since its inception, Israel was confronted with challenges from its Muslim and/or Arab neighbors directly and indirectly. The central direct problem, i.e., the Palestinian Problem, had led to associated problems that often to conflicts. In the case of Lebanon, it was not only the presence of Palestinian refugees on its territories that generated confrontations, but their struggle to fight Israel as well. After the 1967 “Six-Day War”, the hostilities continued. For example, the 1968 bombing of Beirut Airport was framed as a retaliation to the attacks on El Al flights 426 and 253 by the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 242 from 1967 provided for the Israel to withdraw from the territories occupied in the 1967 war among others. In the fierce confrontation with PLO, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978, amid the developing “Civil War” within the country. UNSCR 425 adopted in March 1978 called “upon Israel immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory” and “for strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized boundaries” among others (United Nations Security Council, 1978). Israel’s 1978 military operations in Lebanon displaced an estimated 120’000 persons from the Beirut region only (Assaf & El-Fil, 2000), adding up to further displacements from the southern territory that had been inhabited by many Shiites among others.

In July 1981, Israel’s aerial bombing of multiple sites across Lebanon, including Beirut, targeted PLO operatives and led to a ceasefire mediated by the United States, but in 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon with 60’000 troops (CNN, 2006). A so-called “Israel-Lebanon Treaty” has been signed on the 17th of May 1983 between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Lebanese President Amin Jumayil (Economic Cooperation Foundation – ECF, 2024), under US mediation. Keeping in mind that Kataeb Party and LFP support of Israeli interests led to tensions, the deal was rescinded by Amin Jumayil under Syrian pressure. However, the pact mentioned among others the establishment of a so-called Security Zone in Southern Lebanon as the Israeli troops withdrew.

The Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon lasted from 1985 until 2000. The South Lebanon Security Zone (Belt) was a strip of land from the sea to the Sheeba Farms that was occupied by Israel, allied with the so-called South Lebanon Army (a Lebanese militia) with the aim to protect Israel from Hezbollah attacks. Antoine Lahad (Maronite) headed this militia until 2000 when it was disbanded. When Antoine Lahad died of heart attack in 2015 during his exile in France, protests erupted in Beirut with the aim to prevent his burial in the country as he was depicted as the “biggest traitor in the country’s recent history” according to media reports (Nour, 2015).

It is also to be mentioned this was not the first Israeli attempt to install friendly regimes in the south of Lebanon. The so-called State of Free Lebanon, was a puppet “state” declared by Saad Haddad (Greek Catholic), the founder of South Lebanon Army, with Israeli backing. Immediately after declaring the alleged independence, he was designated as a traitor by the government/army. Saad Haddad also headed the radio station “Voice of Hope” funded back then by the American citizen George Otis through his company High Adventure Ministries. Without mentioning treason accusations openly because they have been allegedly rescinded shortly before his death, the Washington Post was mentioning in 1984, when Haddad had died of cancer at 47 and “senior Israeli officials paid tribute to their longtime ally. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted as calling Haddad «a great Lebanese patriot and true friend and ally of Israel»” (Walsh, 1984). Arza Haddad, the daughter of Saad Haddad, was reportedly researching rocket engines at Haifa University as of 2012, within a master’s degree (Times of Israel Staff, 2012).

The withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon in 2000 has allegedly been determined at least partially by Hezbollah’s low fire attacks on the forces presented in the occupied territory. While Israel was able to capitalize on relations with Lebanese political entities and individuals that attended to its requests, the fundamental regional landscape remains tense. While the Sunnis are probably not considered anymore a challenge for the Maronites in the same way they were in the ‘70s, and Israel established relations with Sunni powerhouses like Egypt, the UAE (and potentially Saudi Arabia in the future), a certain success can be eventually claimed.

But at the same time, questionable achievements of Israel in the Gaza Strip after October 2023 (in reference to which, the Chinese Foreign Minister called the situation a “disgrace for civilization”), the rising influence of Qatar in the region, a state that regards the Palestinian cause as non-negotiable, the rise of what Iran calls the Axis of Resistance, present in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, represent the other side of a coin that is still in the air. And Israel may have just contributed to the rising image of Hezbollah as a winning party, that managed to push Israel back from Lebanon.

Southern Lebanon as a significant area in regional geopolitics

The media and various organizations present in recent years Lebanon as a country in which various crises occur. These span from currency crisis, fuel crisis to water resource management crisis/public water service crises, electricity crisis or employment crisis, etc. Security presents also the Lebanese with special challenges. Since the 1970, Southern Lebanon has been the stage of an almost continuous conflict. But whether this means the conflict between Lebanese internal parties, or between Israel and PLO, is a legitimate question. Certainly, the so-called Civil War has opposed various factions from Lebanon, especially when considering the typical rights that migrants receive in a destination country in recent decades. But at the same time, the internal conflict represented an umbrella for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict carried out on a third-party territory. Likewise, Syria attempted to capitalize on the fragile security and undo the colonial split of the former Ottoman territories considered Greater Syria.

The internal tensions in Lebanon have not been attenuated by time. It is not herewith suggested that a possible solution to the Palestinian Problem could have contributed to a better political landscape in Lebanon, but the Hezbollah-led political pole has certainly remained alert and suspicious and the Maronite/Sunni pole attempts at multiple levels to achieve a breakthrough under existing conditions. The continued tense situation is well reflected by Maronite Patriarch’s call from July towards Lebanese authorities to refrain from calling Lebanese living in Israel “agents.” Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai referred especially to the arrest of Patriarchal Vicar of Haifa and Jerusalem Archbishop Moussa al-Hage, but the article mentions also the 10’000 Lebanese that fled to Israel after latter’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 (L’Orient Today, 2022).

A broader assessment of regional developments is not in the scope of this paper, but Israel’s economic interests appear to become bolder. As Europe’s energy situation has become unclear in conservative’s terms and the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas emerges as a possible replacement to Russian pipeline gas, Israel is negotiating its interests with neighbors like Egypt and Lebanon. The breakthrough of Amos Hochstein’s “mediation” in the border dispute between Israel and Lebanon should have led to an enhanced US negotiating position in Lebanon-related matters. However, the recent border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, in the broader context of attacks from Yemen and Iraq on Israel, suggest renewed hardships for Southern Lebanon inhabitants, with no clear end in sight. Likewise, the 2022 border deal can become void should an occupation of Southern Lebanon come into question again. Or a new “independent” state, that could potentially ask the help of Israel or the West to protect “its” maritime borders and natural gas exploitation rights.


This article analyzed contemporary Southern Lebanon from the perspective of a war front. Since at least 1975, this region was confirmed to be an almost continuous war front, but two main conflicts were identified: the conventionally-called Lebanese Civil War and its closely-related Israel-PLO war carried out on an otherwise third-party territory. The study identified main political spheres and their orientations, like for example attitudes towards Syria or main religious groups, but also actors that serve either Israeli, Western, Syrian, Iranian or other exogenous interests in Lebanon.

Both Syria and Israel occupied Lebanese territory during the long conflict, but neither managed to maintain occupation or influence in regions concerned. However, the unsuccessful Israeli struggle to create and maintain a friendly Lebanese (or new Lebanese) buffer in Southern Lebanon may have contributed to strengthening Hezbollah, its image and resolve, and to reorienting the internal Lebanese political competition from a Maronite-Sunni setting to a Sunni/Maronite-Shi’a landscape, in a continuously fracturing political environment in which Hezbollah achieved gains.



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About the author:

Prof. Ecaterina MAŢOI

Prof. Ecaterina MAŢOI is Program Director at MEPEI.

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