Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2013

Can Lebanon Survive the Syrian Crisis?

Paul Salem

December 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Of all the countries neighboring Syria, Lebanon is the most vulnerable to spillover from the conflict there. The state is weak, sectarian relations are fraught and easily inflammable, and the main political coalitions in the country either explicitly back or oppose the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The process of domestic alignment has been accompanied by periods of high political tension or paralysis. Brief bouts of armed clashes have flared up, and there have been assassinations of anti-Syrian figures, most recently the assassination of the head of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces’ intelligence branch, General Wissam al-Hassan, in October 2012. Lebanon has been intertwined with Syria since 1976, and the alignments for and against the Assad regime have defined Lebanese politics since 2005. The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 led to a Lebanese uprising against the Assad regime’s presence in Lebanon. An anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon, the so-called March 14 coalition made up of Sunni, Christian, and Druze parties, emerged as a result, and Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon. March 14 was backed by the Bush administration, France, and Saudi Arabia, among others. Some within the coalition hoped that the U.S. administration might take steps to dramatically weaken, or even overthrow, the Assad regime in Damascus, as happened with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Meanwhile, Syria’s allies in Lebanon, led by Hezbollah, formed the March 8 coalition including the Shia Amal movement and other Sunni, Christian, and Druze parties, which openly supported the Assad regime and was backed by Iran (and Syria).