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CHAPTER 5. National Security


A view of the Crusader Castle at Sidon

BY THE LATE 1980s, Lebanon's national security system had broken down almost completely. To the extent that a state's viability is defined by its government's ability to safeguard its borders against foreign incursions, enforce domestic security, and exert a monopoly on the use of armed force, Lebanon can no longer be considered a state. In 1987 the vestigial Lebanese government proved incapable of providing security to its citizens. Furthermore, most Lebanese do not identify themselves primarily with the state. A heterogeneous collection of population has traditionally pledged its allegiance to sects rather than to the state (see Sectarianism , ch. 2). The fractious nature of the population was reflected in a weak central government, which maintained only a token national army in an environment where neighboring states supported formidable armed forces.

Lebanon's Civil War, which began in 1975, was the culmination of centuries of strife and conflict over sectarian issues and the resulting struggle for political and economic power. Over a decade of warfare took as many as 130,000 lives and caused an estimated US$100 billion in property damage. As of 1987, the basic issues had not been resolved; intermittent but chronic warfare continued. Because the numerous militias, each representing a sect, were approximately equivalent in strength, the conflict had reached a stalemate, with neither victor nor vanquished, only victims. And the overwhelming majority of victims in Lebanon's warfare have been civilians.

The Civil War has often been depicted as pitting leftist Muslims against rightist Christians. But there was considerable ambiguity as to the issues of contention. Although there were two main sides in the Civil War--the leftist Muslim Lebanese National Movement versus the rightist Christian Lebanese Front--each of these umbrella organizations was an uneasy coalition composed of scores of smaller groups (see Appendix B). Neither side was monolithic, and when fighting between the two sides slackened ephemeral alliances broke down and internecine warfare broke out. The Civil War has always been a multilateral rather than a bilateral conflict, with numerous protagonists.

By 1987 a dozen years of such conflict had fragmented the Lebanese polity. Lebanon has been divided since about 1976 into autonomous cantons and enclaves that function as small states within the matrix of the old state. Nevertheless, Lebanese politicians with near unanimity opposed partition, less from optimism than from conviction that only a unified Lebanon can justify the devastation and decimation the Lebanese people have suffered. To support this conviction, many Lebanese cited the prophetic writing of native poet Khalil Gibran: "Pity the nation divided into fragments, and each fragment deeming itself a nation."

Furthermore, foreign forces have been drawn into the Lebanese vortex by this vacuum of power, further complicating Lebanon's internal balance of power. In the 1960s, Palestinian guerrillas were the first interlopers, and their presence hastened the Civil War. The Syrian armed forces were invited by the Lebanese government as peacekeepers in 1976, but they later came to be regarded by some as a Trojan horse that would bring permanent Syrian occupation or annexation. The Israel Defense Forces invaded in 1978 and 1982 with the ostensible mission of expelling Palestinian guerrillas who had ensconced themselves in Lebanon. The Israelis managed ultimately to evict most Palestinians fighters, but many in Israel believed the moral and material cost of the campaign had been too high, and they cited the Old Testament warning, "The violence you do to Lebanon shall overwhelm you." In the 1980s, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon and also United States and West European contingents of the Multinational Force fought and died in Lebanon as peacekeeping troops invited by the government to enforce truces and cease-fires. Some Middle Eastern countries organized proxy forces or dispatched expeditionary forces into Lebanon for their own reasons. The Iranian Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), for example, entered Lebanon in 1982 as volunteers invited by Lebanese Shia (see Glossary) Muslims. Lebanon, therefore, became an arena for conflict among foreigners, and these conflicts were superimposed on the domestic conflict.

Searching for scapegoats, many Lebanese tended to attribute the war entirely to these foreign forces. As President Amin Jumayyil (also spelled Gemayel) said, "The current violence, while it is taking place in our country, is essentially a product of the interplay of foreign forces." The Lebanese Chamber of Deputies passed resolutions demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and insisting that the Civil War would end as foreigners evacuated the country.

Although the Lebanese have tended to look abroad for its cause, the perennial violence appeared to be endemic and indigenous. This admission was a difficult one for the Lebanese, who have regarded themselves as more cosmopolitan and modern than their Arab neighbors. Nevertheless, as one of Lebanon's leading sociologists, Samir Khalaf, explained in 1986, the characteristics that account for the resourcefulness, prosperity, and cultural awakening in Lebanon were the same characteristics that fragmented the society and weakened its civic and national loyalties.

Data as of December 1987

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Lebanon Table of Contents