Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Who Will Speak Up for Lebanon?

by Elliott Abrams
September 28, 2012


Lebanon’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity were for decades violated by Syria, during the years of Syrian occupation: 1976 to 2005. After the occupation ended, the Assad regime in Syria continued to intervene in Lebanon, but less openly–for example by secretly arranging the murders a long series of Lebanese leaders and journalists who opposed Syrian interests.

But now, while Syria is mired in a bloody conflict between the populace and the Assad regime, Syrian intervention in Lebanon is both more open and less bearable. In addition of course to creating the problem of coping with Syrian refugees (a problem shared with Jordan and Turkey), the Syrian military continues to violate Lebanon’s borders with impunity. As the Aspen Institute’s Weekly Lebanon Round-Up just reported,

Syrian reconnaissance jets flew over the Lebanese border towns this week, escalating tensions between the two sides. The raids took place as U.N. Special Coordinator to Lebanon Derek Plumbly toured the area to check up on Syrian refugees. Last week, Syrian troops entered the Lebanese town of Arsal and attacked Lebanon’s Army post. (Go here to subscribe.)

There is more: the Wall Street Journal has reported that “Syrian warplanes fired missiles into Lebanese territory” just ten days ago.

What could Lebanon do? The Weekly Lebanon Round-Up, produced jointly with the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation, suggests:

For one, Lebanon could choose to proceed with filing complaints against Syria for its violations of Lebanese sovereignty. Lebanon could also explore the option of deploying UNIFIL forces along the Syrian border, in order to support the military’s defense efforts and stabilize border towns. The Prime Minister could also summon the Syrian Ambassador in Beirut, who has accused Lebanese groups of complicity in the Syrian conflict, to reprimand him over the recent aggression.

But of these, Lebanon has done none. Fear of Syria and fear of Hezbollah are part of the explanation, for the terrorist group remains not only a steadfast supporter of Assad but a direct participant in Syria’s war. To me this Lebanese silence is reminiscent of the situation during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, which was caused when Hezbollah violated the Israeli border and captured and killed Israeli soldiers. When U.S. officials told Lebanon’s then-prime minister Siniora that all we needed to start putting together an international force to keep the peace, patrol the borders, and defend Lebanese sovereignty was his request for such a force, he balked. Do I really have to ask, he said to us–fearful no doubt of the reactions of both Syria and Hezbollah.

In the language so many Lebanese speak, “plus ca change….” But things should change, and Lebanon’s leaders should this time rise to the challenge and defend their nation’s borders and sovereignty. I suggested above that two things, fear of Syria and fear of Hezbollah, explain in part why they do not. Here is the third part: lack of faith in us. That is, they fear that if they stand up to Syria they will not get the support they need from the United States, the UN, France, the EU, Turkey and others in a position to back their demands. Those who ask what good a no-fly zone would do should consider this: one very simple standard to be imposed would be that the sovereignty of the Assad regime’s neighbors may no longer be violated at will. I believe Lebanon’s leaders would be far more likely to ask for help if they believed they would actually then receive it. Sadly, there is today little reason for them to reach that conclusion–so the shame is ours more than theirs.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by EthanP

    Do you suppose Obama would support a Lebanese or even Syrian intervention if it looked like the Muslim Brothehood looked like they would take over? He’s supported them in other places.

  • Posted by Kevin Bayona

    Ok, Labanon”s territorial integrity is important and the United States should do all it can to assist Lebanon in its war against Syrian intervention and Hezbollah’s cancerous affect on its political life.

    But intervention? I suppose a no-fly zone in the region would do much to help the cause, but I think active American support (money and arms) for pro-American leaders and moderate factions in Syria would be most effective in producing an outcome in the Syrian conflict that will benefit the United States, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, too!

  • Posted by Steve

    The people of Lebanon, a great many of whom are shiite, probably a plurality, have shown no great love or respect of the United States. I can see no reason to intervene on their behalf. Let them live with their chosen leaders, all of whom regullarly spout antiAmerican and antisemitic nonsense. The Lebanese are no friends of the United States.

  • Posted by Charles Kiinde

    Syria should keep-off Lebanon or be kept-off altogether by the international community. But the international community has a share of the blame; it has kept quiet for many decades while the Assad’s roamed about in Lebanon at will, killing and causing destruction.
    It’s time Syria and the Hezbollah were kept in check, the Lebanon-Israeli border to be patrolled by the UN Peace Keeping Troops and a unifying government be established in Beirut, notwithstanding the Lebanese National Pact.

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