Syrian Foreign Policy and State/Resistance Dynamics in Lebanon


Department of Political Studies and Public Administration
American University of Beirut
New York, New York, USA

By analyzing the behavior of the major actors during Israel's "Peace for Galilee" and "Grapes of Wrath" operations in Lebanon, this article explains how Syria foils Israeli policy objectives there. The research proposition investigated is that Syria's policy owes its success to Damascus' capacity to manage rather than to resolve serious conflicts between the Lebanese government and the resistance movement (Hizballah). This prevents their quarrels from spilling over into the national arena as a result of Israeli provocation.

It is argued that it is the Lebanese parties' strict adherence to unwritten rules governing their behavior during Tel Aviv's military operations that has rendered and will continue to render Israel's use of force in Lebanon self- defeating. The analysis indicates why, under the prevailing circumstances, several options presently being explored by the Israelis are unlikely to resolve their problem in Lebanon, and suggests that a rapid return to the negotiating table should he encouraged by the United States.

Israel's "Grapes of Wrath" campaign against Lebanon in April 1996 left over 150 people dead and caused millions of dollars' worth of damage. Grapes of Wrath was strikingly similar to Israel's Operation Accountability, against the same target in July 1993. In fact, statements by Israeli government officials and spokesmen revealed that the two campaigns pursued the same goals and used the same strategies. Both operations unleashed massive destruction in South Lebanon in order to pressure the Syria-backed Lebanese government to halt Hizballah's attacks on northern Galilee. The broader objective of the two Israeli actions was to drive a wedge between Syria and Lebanon at a time when Damascus counted on foreign policy coordination with the Lebanese government to achieve its regional objectives.

Neither Israeli operation was successful. Despite Syria's inability to confront its enemy directly with any chance of success, it twice demonstrated its importance in regional affairs by manipulating resources at hand in Lebanon from the sidelines. These setbacks have forced Tel Aviv to begin serious consideration of withdrawing from Israeli-declared security zone in southern Lebanon that has become a killing field for its troops.

The critical importance of Syrian-Israeli maneuvers in Lebanon for peace in the Middle East, and the need to understand how states of different power capabilities bargain in conflict situations compel a deeper awareness of the components and dynamics of Syrian foreign policy in Lebanon. This study explains how changes after 1984 allowed Syria to develop a two-track resistance policy designed to counter Israeli strategies in Lebanon. The research proposition is that the policy devised owes its success to Syria's capacity to manage successfully rather than to resolve serious conflicts between the Lebanese government and the resistance so that they do not spill over into the national arena, as Israeli strategists would like to see happen. It is argued that it is the Lebanese parties' strict adherence to unwritten "rules" governing their behavior during Israeli military operations, rather than any damage inflicted on Israeli forces or civilians by the resistance, that has rendered and will continue to render Israeli force in Lebanon self-defeating.

Syrian Interests in Lebanon

As a confrontation state in the Arab-Israeli struggle, Syria regards Lebanon as both a problem and a strategic asset, and it has adopted policies to deal with both instances. In the first case, Damascus wants to prevent Israeli penetration of its soft underbelly by extending its influence inside the small neighboring state of Lebanon. That country's internecine conflict made this relatively easy to accomplish. In fact, Syria and Israel both have tried to exploit Lebanon's sectarian tensions, which were exacerbated by the unequal distribution of political power favoring the Maronite Christian community. Lebanon's domestic conflict was also closely intertwined with the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the Muslim sector closely identified with the Palestinian cause, whereas the Christians feared an erosion of their authority and the suppression of their identify if the Muslims were able to redress the internal balance of power in their favor. The rise of a mainly Muslim Palestinian resistance from the refugee camps in Lebanon in the late 1960s and its catalytic effect on the Lebanese opposition encouraged Christian military preparations and the community's swing toward Israel. These growing confessional tensions made it possible for the regime of Hafiz al-Asad to add Lebanese Muslim and leftist groups to the roster of Palestinian organizations that enjoyed its support. Damascus could thus assert its influence over the loose collection of Palestinian and leftist groups that began to oppose the Lebanese government and the Maronite Christian militias and that also cooperated in operations against Israel from southern Lebanon. The dependency of the militias operating on Lebanese soil contributed to the development of indirect confrontation between Israel and Syria. Manipulation of their respective Lebanese surrogates permitted both parties to contain their own conflict within tacitly agreed bounds.1

An exception occurred in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon to crush the Palestinian resistance that had been launching attacks against the Galilee from bases in southern Lebanon. As Israeli forces moved north, it became clear that Tel Aviv also sought to suppress pro-Syria Lebanese forces and politically outflank Damascus by imposing a government amenable to a peace treaty with Israel. Although a review of the Israeli initiative and Syria's reaction to it is beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth noting that there were far fewer military engagements between Syrian and Israeli forces than there might have been had both parties not wished to limit confrontation.

This study concludes that Operation Peace for Galilee failed to achieve its political objectives mainly because of Syria's firm rejection and public repudiation of a U.S.-brokered peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon. Syria also initiated major changes in the system of indirect confrontation that had hitherto defined Israeli-Syrian relations in Lebanon. For instance, having lost the political battle, in the autumn of 1983 Israeli troops began withdrawing from the areas they had occupied, leaving Syria to cope with the civil war raging in and around Beirut. In so doing, the Israelis effectively abandoned the Christian forces they had backed in the civil war. These Christian groups were later exhausted by military setbacks at the hands of the Syrians and their allies as well as by internecine quarrels. Furthermore, a political crisis over presidential succession in 1988 resulted in opposing governments seated in the Christian and Muslim sectors of the capital. This situation offered Syria legal coverage for its growing intervention in Lebanese affairs when the Selim al-Hoss cabinet in mainly Muslim West Beirut called on Damascus to send troops to pacify the heavily armed militias that were causing chaos in that part of the capital. After tight security had been imposed, Syrian troops stayed to preserve it.

Syria formally consolidated its influence in Lebanon through the Document of National Accord negotiated under international auspices and signed by Lebanese deputies meeting in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in 1989. The accord stipulated political reforms that favored Muslim interests, acknowledged Syria's special relationship with Lebanon, and provided a timetable for the withdrawal of Syrian troops to the Bekaa Valley. Negotiations between Beirut and Damascus were to determine the timing of their ultimate departure from Lebanese territory. The election of a government amenable to signing a Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination between Lebanon and Syria in May 1991 further strengthened the links between the two countries through joint councils that would elaborate and oversee implementation of policies regulating economic, political, and military affairs. Lebanon's continued pro-Syria drift was evident in the results of the 1992 parliamentary elections, which brought many of Damascus's allies to power. This made it clear that Syria had achieved major policy goals in Lebanon, making it very difficult, although not impossible, for Israel to outflank and isolate Syria by signing a separate peace treaty with Beirut.

Indirect confrontation between Israel and Syria in southern Lebanon was reenergized in the wake of Operation Peace for Galilee. By 1985 Israeli troops had completely withdrawn from Lebanon except for a nine-kilometer wide, Israeli defined security zone on the Lebanese side of the international frontier. A Christian militia, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), supported by a minimal number of Israeli soldiers, was deployed there to ward off any resistance that might replace the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the area. Nevertheless, the rapid growth of the Islamic resistance, made possible through both generous support from Iran and Syria's green light, soon outstripped the SLA's capacity to deal with them effectively. This new situation modified the system of indirect confrontation that had formerly prevailed. Because of Hizballah's military capabilities, Syria was able to distance itself from the hostilities while Israeli soldiers were drawn into combat with the resistance and wounded and killed in ever-increasing numbers. The southern arena thus continued to provide Syria with a staging ground for offensive schemes that carried minimal risk of a direct confrontation with Israel while causing Tel Aviv constant damage short of war. In the 1990s Hizballah's resistance activities were a means of reminding Israel of the importance of coming to terms with Syria over the Golan Heights while the closely linked Syrian and Lebanese governments remained on the sidelines. Considering Beirut the weak point in Syrian policy, the Israelis tried to exploit its tense relations with Hizballah, the active partner in the arrangement. The causes of these tensions are discussed below.

Beirut's Priority-Extending Control Over the South

Israel well understands the frictions between a government seeking to recoup state authority after years of impotence at the hands of powerful militias and an armed resistance conducting independent military activities in the country. Besides Lebanon's close cooperation with Syria, other factors, too, place the government in this position, the most obvious of which is that the small, recently reformed Lebanese army is no match for Israel's superior war machine. Additionally, an Israeli confrontation with Lebanon's conventional forces would drag Syria into open conflict, a situation all parties wish to avoid. Thus, if pressure is to be kept on the occupying force to withdraw from southern Lebanon, the Lebanese government must abandon normal state prerogatives and assume an openly supportive position toward the group most capable of doing the job-the resistance.

But a relatively inactive role in the south is nothing new for the Lebanese state. It is, in fact, a legacy of the 1967 Cairo Accord, which sanctioned Fatah's use of Lebanese territory for its battle with the Israelis. During the 1970s the fedayeen turned the south into a virtually autonomous battle zone, often facetiously called "Fatahland." The civil war contributed to the Lebanese state's inability to play an effective role in the south. At the time of the PLO evacuation from Lebanon in 1982, the Lebanese army was engaged in a ferocious battle with pro-Syria forces in the north and was in no position to recoup governmental authority. As a result, the vacuum left along Lebanon's southern border was filled by Hizballah fighters, a development that allowed the game of indirect confrontation between Syria and Israel to resume.

The postwar Lebanese regime inherited an ongoing resistance that had eluded control of the central authorities since it had been established almost a decade earlier. Dealing almost exclusively with Iran and Syria in tactical and logistical matters and fiercely opposed to Lebanese governing circles during the civil war years, for most of its existence Hizballah had had no reason to build a working relationship with Beirut.

Further complicating any government initiative to influence resistance activities was the fact that Hizballah's popular support had grown over the years as a result of its operations in the south. This was demonstrated by Hizballah's victory in the 1992 parliamentary elections, when the Party of God won all but two of the seats it contested and achieved the largest party bloc in the Lebanese parliament. Thus when the Lebanese government is confronted with massive population dislocation and destruction as a result of hostilities between Israel and Hizballah, which it can neither predict nor forestall, it activates the official prerogatives that remain, and pursues the interest of the state. This entails ending the violence in the south by bringing diplomatic pressures on Israel to end its occupation. By campaigning for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 425 stipulating withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, it hopes to end the freewheeling activities of the last of Lebanon's operating militias. It also hopes to initiate talks with Damascus about removal of Syrian troops from Lebanese soil. In other words, while taking draconian measures to avoid a run-in between the Lebanese army and Israeli forces in the south and staying out of Hizballah's way, the government is nevertheless pursuing a goal diametrically opposed to that of the resistance. The state's basic aim is to end the violence in the south, whereas the raison d'être of the resistance is to fight the occupiers and their surrogates. This is why Israeli strategists believe that officialdom's shaky solidarity with the Islamic guerrillas can be exploited if the cost of allegiance is made unacceptable through massive retaliation.

Resistance as Islamic Obligation and Road to Power

The Israelis estimate, correctly it appears, that Hizballah would strongly oppose any governmental restrictions on the resistance and that this would seriously disturb Syria's security arrangements in Lebanon. Why have Hizballah operatives, more than any other Lebanese, embraced military means to oust the Israelis and their surrogates in southern Lebanon? In an open letter to one of the Beirut daily newspapers in 1985, the then-clandestine group that called itself the Party of God announced that its major goal was armed struggle against the enemies of Islam, a sacred obligation for all Muslims. These enemies were cited as Israel and its allies, the United States, and Lebanon's mainstream Maronite Christians.2

Hizballah's religious orthodoxy and willingness to pursue Israel from within Lebanese territory drew support from Iranian leaders desiring more influence in shaping the course of regional events. With Iran's aid, Hizballah trained and equipped recruits in Lebanon's remote Bekaa Valley who were willing to undertake self-sacrifice in southern Lebanon for a greater cause.3

The arrangements between Hizballah and Iran to oppose Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon were facilitated by the Asad regime because they furthered its strategy of indirect confrontation with the Israelis with no loss of Syrian influence in Lebanon. Weapons deliveries to Hizballah from Iran are only possible with Syria's consent, since shipments must pass through Syrian ports and cross the Syrian border to reach the Bekaa Valley, where Damascus's troops are heavily concentrated.

With these logistical problems solved, Hizballah's guerrillas carried out Islamic obligations by waging a war of attrition against the Israelis and the SLA, causing them continuous deaths and casualties. These acts elevated the Party of God on the national political stage to the point where it was able to rely on its record of armed struggle in the south to gain votes in the 1992 parliamentary elections.4

A preelection survey by a Lebanese daily newspaper of some 1,500 individuals of different sects and areas of Lebanon predicted the success of this strategy. The survey found that 67 percent of the Sunnis, 79 percent of the Druze, and 75 percent of the Shiites sampled regarded resistance candidates favorably, while 57 percent of the Greek Orthodox Christians and 35 percent of the Maronites were also of this opinion.5 A year later another survey carried out among Shiites during Israel's Operation Accountability showed that respondents of all social strata and levels of religiosity were among Hizballah's adherents and that the Party of God enjoyed more support among those sampled than did its political rivals. 6 With their struggle against Israel such a vital factor in the Party of God's growing political strength, it is clear why the Islamists would be reluctant to submit their military operations to government control or to welcome a negotiated peace with Israel that would effectively bring them to an end.

Incipient Tensions Between the State and the Resistance

Hizballah's military exploits have not, however, mobilized unqualified support for the Islamists. Apart from raising fears among government officials that the resistance might draw unbearable military responses from Israel, the Party of God has been criticized for capitalizing on the struggle against Israel for its own aggrandizement. Political rivals such as Nabih Birri, speaker of the house and leader of the other, more secular, Shiite party, Amal, have particularly resented the political mileage that Hizballah has gained from its military achievements. Birri, who regards the south as his own political domain, disagrees with Hizballah on the basic soundness of armed resistance in the south and would like to see the Lebanese army deployed there. In the past, such policy differences precipitated several violent clashes between Amal and Hizballah, requiring Syrian mediation. In the chamber where Birri presides and Hizballah's representatives form part of the opposition, the speaker of the house takes every opportunity to push the state's position on ending the Israeli occupation.

Another factor that creates tension between the government and Hizballah concerns the political ends toward which the party's ascent may be leading. In a country where power is apportioned according to the size of the various sects, the growing popularity of Islamic fundamentalists within the Shiite community - probably Lebanon's largest confessional group - raises apprehensions that Hizballah's agenda might include the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon. On the other hand, those who either accept at face value the assurances of Hizballah leaders that their organization would never use force to accomplish Islamic goals in Lebanon7 or trust that the Syrians would veto any attempt to radically change the Lebanese system, are still uneasy with the Party of God's conservative social views and straightlaced approach to aspects of Lebanese life held in high esteem by Muslims and Christians alike.

It thus appears that Hizballah is not much liked in some circles, although most Lebanese respect the party for its unshakable pursuit of the Israelis. The reservoir of public support that the Party of God enjoys might therefore dissipate if its tactics in the south draw Israeli responses that jeopardize citizens' security.

The Israelis have twice launched operations designed to agitate the shaky mariage de convenance between the Lebanese state and the resistance. The question now is how Syria has countered this strategy and prevented state/resistance antagonisms from erupting during crisis periods.

The Imperatives and Rules of Syria's
Two-Track Resistance Policy

A review of the actions of the Lebanese government and the resistance during Operation Accountability in 1993 will identify patterns of behavior that can help clarify this question. Operation Accountability was launched on July 25, 1993, several weeks after Hizballah guerrillas had begun rocketing northern Israel. Speaking on Israeli radio, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described the objective of the massive attack as follows: "The Lebanese Government has to decide whether Hizballah represents it or not. If it does, then the whole of Lebanon is at a state of war with Israel and this also means that Hizballah seeks the destruction of all of Lebanon. The Lebanese Government will then have to cooperate with us in silencing Hizballah and ending its activities."8

Beirut however, did not cooperate. Instead the Lebanese government pursued diplomatic efforts to end the conflict and limited its actions on the ground to assisting displaced people fleeing the south. Throughout the period of conflict the central authorities made no attempt to discourage Hizballah's incessant shelling of the Galilee panhandle. The local press did report carping among cabinet members as to how much resistance Lebanon could tolerate, given the damage that Israeli gunners, helicopters, and airplanes were perpetrating.

During the hostilities the Lebanese public showed somewhat mixed reactions toward the resistance's performance, and there were no spontaneous or government-organized demonstrations of solidarity. In fact, when Hizballah tried to mobilize a rally in Beirut, the government refused it a license. Furthermore, the United States persuaded Lebanon not to bring the issue to the Security Council, arguing that a bitter debate might prejudice Secretary of State Warren Christopher's forthcoming visit to the Middle East to try to restart the stalled peace negotiations. Religious leaders met at the seat of the Maronite Christian patriarchate to express support for the resistance only after a cease-fire had been achieved. However, although the media reported an "undisclosed government position calling for restrictions on the resistance in order to synchronize its actions with government policy,"9 neither the public nor members of the government openly demanded restrictions on Hizballah's resistance activities during the hostilities. Operation Accountability therefore not only failed to exploit state/ resistance tensions, but it also gave Damascus a key role in mediating the ceasefire with the United States. At the same time, Israel and Hizballah verbally agreed that in the future neither would deliberately target the other's civilian population.

The actions of the Lebanese government and the resistance during Operation Accountability indicate that each pursued its own goals, efficiently using appropriate and distinctive resources. It can thus be suggested that Syria was able to defeat Israel's strategy of exploiting tensions between the Lebanese state and the resistance, not by smoothing them over or resolving them but simply by channeling them to achieve its policy goals. The Lebanese actors were both fully backed by Damascus, yet their behavior toward one another was apparently so closely regulated that any impingement on the other's sphere of influence, or any misunderstanding was prevented. Implicit in this scenario are the following "rules" established for Hizballah and the Lebanese government: (1) Hizballah is to pursue armed resistance in the security zone while the Lebanese government resists by taking responsibility for civilians outside the combat areas where the state enjoys full sovereignty. (2) Furthermore, each party is given all rights by Damascus to exploit any political, military, or social means necessary to arrive at its own goals vis-à-vis the Israeli presence or Israeli actions in Lebanon, and each receives total Syrian support. (3) Neither party is required to coordinate its activities concerning the Israelis with the other, because two separate tracks of resistance are vital to Damascus's plan. (4) The latent conflict between Hizballah and the Lebanese government is probably kept within bounds by a strict understanding that neither party can use force at the expense of the other's goals. (5) Furthermore, Damascus's "rules" seem to preclude the use of external actors to promote their cause or derogate the other's with the Syrians. For instance, knowledgeable sources indicate that Hizballah cannot use Iran to provide more effective influence with Syria at the expense of the state's goals, nor can the Lebanese government use an external actor-France, for instance-to plead its case against Hizballah. (6) Finally, only if the two parties reach total impasse in any dispute would Syria, and Syria alone, step in and arbitrate.

These hypothetical guidelines can be applied in our investigation of the inner workings of the state/resistance dynamics triggered by Israel's most recent military operation in Lebanon.

The Dynamics of Syria's Two-Track Policy

Hizballah's Sphere of Influence and Actions

Until April 8, 1996, Hizballah stood by its 1993 agreement with the Israelis to limit attacks to the security zone. Then, claiming that the Israelis had broken their word, Islamic guerrillas began firing rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for a roadside blast that killed a teenager and wounded three outside the agreed combat area. Several days later, in a replay of Operation Accountability, the Israelis launched their Grapes of Wrath campaign, warning the Lebanese government of widespread destruction if Hizballah were not brought to heel. It was obvious, however, that a far wider game had been set in motion, one that had been anticipated since that February day when sixty-four Israeli civilians died in Israel as a result of two Hamas attacks. Following the twin blasts, a joint Israeli-American antiterrorism campaign was launched to boost Prime Minister Peres's security image. Since a victory for Peres in upcoming Israeli elections was considered essential for continuation of the peace process, President Bill Clinton reassured the Israeli public of a strong U.S. commitment to Israel's security. It was therefore widely believed in Lebanon that sometime before the June elections Peres would demonstrate his resolve to fight terrorism by military activity in the south.

Hafiz al-Asad, on the other hand, was reportedly angered by Israel's abrupt and unilateral suspension of the peace negotiations with Syria after the Hamas attacks.10 The Syrian leader was also alert to possible Israeli moves in southern Lebanon and to opportunities to further embarrass Peres at this critical juncture in his career. The circumstances were ripe for the type of indirect confrontation between Syria and Israel that had been going on for years in southern Lebanon. This time, however, the Labor government's overarching objective was to prove to the Israeli public that its candidate "would not sit with arms crossed as Hizballah attacked innocent civilians," while Syria's intent was again to deliver the message, in Asad's words, that "there can be no security for Israel while Arab land is occupied."

From the day of the Braachit blast until the conclusion of a cease-fire agreement on April 26, the resistance relentlessly fired Katyusha rockets into northern Israel despite efforts by the Israeli defense forces to silence the highly mobile guerrilla units. The machinelike quality of Hizballah's operations and its hard line in press releases and interviews gave the impression that the resistance's embrace of the principle of jihad would make it impossible to stop it, no matter what the consequences for Lebanon. Comments by Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and by Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faroukh al-Sharaa, about the Party of God's determination to take the battle inside Israel reinforced the impression of Hizballah's unflinching pursuit of its goal. When Hariri was asked by a member of the foreign press why the Lebanese government could not stop Hizballah's attacks, he responded, "If the Israelis with their war machine can't do it, how do you expect us to?" Similarly, in response to an appeal from Warren Christopher for Syria's intercession to persuade Hizballah to consider a truce, Sharaa reportedly told the American secretary of state that Hizballah flatly rejected a cease-fire and that at that point Syria was simply unable to persuade them to accept one.11 The implication was that the resistance was a force unto itself beyond the control of either Beirut or Damascus.

Hizballah officials bolstered this impression by issuing strong policy statements on the cease-fire terms that they would or would not accept. It was reported that the Party of God was not willing to respond to mediation on any basis other than the July 1993 understanding, nor would it sign any written agreement with the "Zionist enemy." A U.S.-French proposal was flatly rejected by the Islamists because, they claimed, the United States was not qualified to mediate, given its unambiguous support for the Israeli military operation.12 When asked in an interview about the government's position vis-à-vis such uncompromising statements by an organization that lacked any authority to speak for the state, Prime Minister Hariri avoided the question, merely commenting, "We will do our best to arrange a ceasefire."13

Hariri also made it clear that strong public support for the resistance made it difficult to curb its actions. When asked how he explained his government's hands-off policy toward the resistance when their continuous rocketing was causing massive destruction in his country, Hariri wryly remarked that any Lebanese official who tried to stop it would be risking political suicide. 14

Presenting the Hizballah fighters as a intrepid, autonomous force with a mission so important that it would compromise those who interfered with its operations elevated Syria's value as the player that could eventually persuade the Party of God to accept a truce. At the same time, it demonstrated how Damascus could inflict damage on Israel without direct confrontation.

The State's Field of Operations and Tasks

The crux of Syria's resistance policy was the Lebanese government's capacity to deal with Israeli punishment without cracking under pressure to rein in Hizballah and end Tel Aviv's assault. Much of the Hariri administration's ability to carry out this task rested on the extent to which it could inspire strong public allegiance to its noncombative, supportive form of resistance. It could then credibly portray Hizballah's actions as only one part of the national resistance that it, the state, was directing. This meant that members of the administration would have to work as a team, utilizing all of the state's resources to cope with the emergency.

During this latest Israeli assault the state acted in a way similar to the way it had during the previous attack except that its efforts had apparently improved with practice. Government activities were also covered more extensively by the local press, which had been induced to hold off all criticism during the crisis. The widest possible coverage was given to government, diplomatic, and social assistance activities as well as to the plight of the displaced and to demonstrations of public and private support for the national resistance. The press was apparently galvanized into taking this line by a proposal from the Parliamentary Committee of Defense and National Security that a state of emergency be declared-which would include the media.

This publicity had an important effect on Lebanese public opinion, because it drew the ordinary citizen into the heart of the state's efforts to repulse the Israeli attack, thus helping the government to shape a supportive national consensus. Detailed press and television coverage of all of Prime Minister Hariri's almost nonstop shuffles to regional and European capitals to present Lebanon's case during Operation Grapes of Wrath repeatedly exposed the Lebanese audience to their government's version of the events.

During these visits Hariri strictly adhered to the state's line while treading cautiously with regard to Hizballah. When questioned about the Party of God's domination of the struggle against Israeli occupation, the prime minister retorted that the Islamists were not the only ones resisting--all Lebanon was resisting. The only way to end the violence in the south and terminate resistance activities along Lebanon's southern border, he observed, was for Israel to adhere to UN Security Council Resolution 425 and withdraw from Lebanon. Hariri assured his press interlocutors that when Israeli forces did withdraw from the security zone, the Lebanese army, not the Syrians, would be responsible for security there.15

Hariri also scrupulously avoided questions intended to draw him out about Hizballah's policies or ultimate intentions. When asked at a press conference in Paris whether or not Hizballah sought to destroy Israel, Hariri simply closed that line of questioning by tersely remarking, I don't want to discuss Hizballah's political agenda." After watching the replay of this interview an acquaintance of the author who had often criticized the government in the past remarked that this was the first time the Lebanese had seen their government beat the Israelis at the propaganda game.

President Elias Hrawi's decision to deliver personally a complaint to the UN Security Council about Israel's attacks was another example of the way state prerogatives were maximized to turn the diplomatic tables on Tel Aviv. Successful efforts to secure international reconstruction assistance also improved the government's rating in the eyes of a national constituency accustomed to Israeli gains and Arab--especially Lebanese-losses.

The chaotic situation in 1993, with refugees frantically seeking places to squat in Beirut's mainly Shiite southern suburbs, was avoided in 1996 thanks to the coordinated activities of several ministries and state agencies. Government officials helped to install thousands of displaced families in public schools and centers throughout Mount Lebanon. Medical care, bedding, and regular food deliveries were organized. At the same time, the state's Southern Bureau (Majlis al-Janub), which had been set up earlier to assist the south's recovery, used Lebanese soldiers to distribute donated goods to the displaced. The Lebanese army operated as a corps of engineers, constructing temporary bypass routes and even a bridge, when main roads linking the south with the rest of the country were cut off because of Israeli bombardments. Army and civil defense units visited southern villages under fire to help evacuate the sick and wounded to regional clinics. Extensive daylong television coverage of these activities showed the government effectively managing a social crisis that would have daunted the most functional Western government. This positive message generated a strong sense of solidarity among citizens and crystallized a national resistance. People throughout the country began to pitch into the war effort without regard to the confessional lines that generally divide Lebanese society.

The Israelis contributed to Lebanon's mobilization when their airplane bombers struck two electricity transformers in the heart of the Christian suburb of the capital on April 14 and 15. Speaking on the second day of the raids, Uri Lubrani, coordinator of Israeli activities in Lebanon, warned that the Lebanese government's "adoption of Hizballah" would lead to the destruction of the country's economic and security accomplishments and that the damage that Hizballah's shelling caused in Israel would be answered in kind anywhere in Lebanon.16 The effect of the raids, however, was the reverse of what Israeli strategists wanted. Instead of using the attacks to criticize the government's tolerance of the resistance and pushing for suppression of Hizballah's operations in the south, Christian leaders expressed outrage at Israeli aggression and rallied to the national effort. An unprecedented and heavily attended meeting of "national solidarity with the south" was called in Ashraffiyah, the center of Beirut's Christian sector.

The Israeli's attack on the UN base at Qana on April 18, which killed 98 and wounded 101 Lebanese villagers who had sought refuge there, brought national outrage to a peak. This tragedy, the turning point of Operation Grapes of Wrath, was taken in hand by the Lebanese government with the massive participation of the media and used to drive home the brutal results of the Israeli campaign as well as the sacrifice of national martyrs who had resisted by refusing to leave their area. A national day of mourning was declared on April 22, and after hostilities had ceased, an emotional state funeral was held at Qana where the dead were buried in rows of simple tombs.

On April 25 Israel was condemned by the UN General Assembly and asked to cease its operations in Lebanon immediately. A day later a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hizballah was announced simultaneously in Jerusalem by Christopher and Peres, and in Beirut by Hariri and French Foreign Minister Hervé de Charette. The final toll for Operation Grapes of Wrath was 165 Lebanese killed, 401 wounded, 23,500 shells fired, and 600 air raids in sixteen days. 17

Policy Payoff for Syria

The fact that Israel's use of force in Lebanon missed its political mark by a wide margin humiliated the Peres government and gave the U.S. government the embarrassing task of seeking Syrian assistance to arrange a cease-fire that would let Tel Aviv off the hook. Grapes of Wrath also opened the door to a French initiative that disturbed U.S. hegemony in the region, an outcome that greatly pleased Damascus.

Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's conduct during his visit to Lebanon during the first week of April apparently convinced Syria that France was ready to forgo, or at least play down, its historic partiality toward Lebanon's Christians in favor of a policy that would not upset Lebanon's political status quo. Chirac was not invited to Syria after his stay in Beirut, which would have been a logical step considering the purpose of his tour and France's former mandatory role in that country. This was construed by political observers as a signal from Damascus that Paris's regional thrust was opportune, but Syria's Lebanon policy was not a subject for discussion. Any intervention by France on behalf of the Lebanese government in that sense was unwelcome.

In addition to costly setbacks for Israel and the United States, the centrality of Syrian involvement in international efforts to manage the Israel/resistance conflict was evident in the mechanics of the cease-fire negotiations. No fewer than seven foreign ministers were present in the Syrian capital toward the end of April while Asad conducted bilateral and trilateral consultations with them at his own pace and convenience. Although representatives of both the Lebanese government and Hizballah were available in the Syrian capital, as was Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, they were not brought into the cycle of high-level meetings but were kept abreast of developments and consulted by Syrian Foreign Minister Faroukh al-Sharaa. It was thus made clear once again that Syria was in command of the situation in Lebanon, and that Asad's plans could be discounted only at the expense of those concerned.

The negotiations also reaped rewards for both Lebanese actors. Hizballah achieved the reaffirmation of the 1993 agreement it sought as well as international recognition as a resistance organization rather than a terrorist group. The Lebanese state, on the other hand, acquired equal membership status on a committee to monitor the cease-fire that included representatives of France, the United States, Syria, and Israel. This was headlined by the Beirut press as a breakthrough for Lebanon that gained it international credibility.18 From the Syrian point of view, Lebanon's presence on the cease-fire surveillance committee and widespread affirmation of Hizballah's right to resist Israeli occupation meant that both actors were well positioned to play their individual resistance roles again if necessary. In the meantime, Damascus remained the only committee member with enough influence over Hizballah to "reason" with the Islamists should their cooperation in calming Lebanon's southern front be needed in the future.

Strategic gains on the part of Syria and its allies, it should be remembered, were mainly the result of the containment of intense competition between the Lebanese actors. It is not surprising, therefore, that almost immediately after the cease-fire and the arrangement between Israel and Hizballah came into effect, a much-publicized quarrel broke out between Prime Minister Hariri and Hizballah officials. Hariri accused the Party of God of trying to monopolize and politicize the resistance, while Shaykh Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Hizballah, retorted that no one was barred from joining the resistance in its struggle to end Israeli occupation of the south.19

The state and the resistance also squabbled over who had the right to assist the displaced and allocate reconstruction funds. This friction arose because Hizballah contested Damascus's "rule" that the state has sole responsibility for citizens north of the security zone. Acting for the state by channeling government assistance to southerners was the Party of God's rival, Nabih Birri's party, Amal. Although citizens were requested to reject indemnities from any agency other than the state's Southern Bureau (which answers to Birri), by the end of June Hizballah's engineering and contracting group, Jihad al-Bina'a (Reconstruction Campaign), announced that it had already rehabilitated more than 2,800 structures damaged by the Israelis in 106 locations in the south and would be undertaking reconstruction in the Bekaa and Beirut shortly.20

The controversy over how much and what kind of resistance had won the day and who should assist the southerners soon settled down to normally stiff relations between Hizballah and the government as attacks against the Israelis in the security zone began again. By the end of June 1996, only two months after the cease-fire had taken effect, Islamic guerrillas had already killed nine Israelis and wounded twenty-one. Dire consequences "that would not spare Lebanese civilians," or "that would surprise the Islamists," were threatened by spokesmen of the new Israeli government after each attack. Yet, as resistance attacks inside the security zone continued during July, the new Israeli administration began exploring the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in exchange for security guarantees for northern Israel. This "Lebanon first" policy, if successful, would make the resistance redundant and isolate Syria. Predictably, Damascus and Beirut immediately rejected this initiative, reiterating the need for Israel's unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon as stipulated by UN Security Council Resolution 425.

Conclusions and Implications

This study shows how a state incapable of directly confronting a more powerful adversary can demonstrate damage capability by marshaling external resources in unconventional ways. A combination of factors permitted Syria to advance its own interests against those of Israel by manipulating complex circumstances in Lebanon from the sidelines. On the Syrian side, these factors included its capacity quickly to fill the resistance gap left by the PLO in southern Lebanon using Iranian assistance, and its gradual extension of military and political hegemony over Lebanon. For Israel, on the other hand, faulty projections of the unfolding situation in Lebanon produced strategic errors that Damascus was able to exploit at little cost. In light of the hostility that Syria and Iran had demonstrated toward it, Israel made another grave miscalculation when it established its highly vulnerable security zone, which strategists believed could be effectively held by a surrogate force and a handful of Israeli soldiers. As things turned out, the Israelis could not rely on the SLA to neutralize Hizballah for them, and Tel Aviv's soldiers were again drawn into the Lebanese quagmire while Syrian troops watched from the sidelines.

Nevertheless, a potentially exploitable breech in Syria's strategy appeared in 1990 as Beirut's interest in defending its own national borders and ending violent confrontations within Lebanese territory put the postwar administration on a collision course with the freewheeling resistance in the south. This study has shown how Damascus was able to channel this conflict to meet its policy goals through the elaboration of a two-track resistance strategy. This strategy succeeded because each of the Lebanese parties played its mutually exclusive role to the hilt, mobilized all, resources available, and found a means of distinguishing itself in the eyes of the Lebanese public. At the same time, observing red lines laid down by Damascus, each avoided attempts to draw it into the other actor's sphere of influence, while rebuffing efforts to incite dissension between it and the other prong of the resistance. The smooth operation of this strategy, together with an effective media campaign, allowed a new resistance dynamic to emerge in Lebanon, one that could not be shaken by Tel Aviv's military provocations.

The question arises as to whether the policy Syria used to exploit Israel's weaknesses will serve Damascus as well in the recently established surveillance committee as it has in the field. Since Lebanon and Syria have equal weight in committee activities, could Israel drive a wedge between the partners here? Since the authority of Lebanon's postwar regime still rests firmly on Syrian foundations, there seems little possibility of this happening. Coordination to date of foreign policy between Beirut and Damascus is as tight as ever when the surveillance committee meets. More germane are questions on how Syria will use the new group to advance its interests in the contest with Israel over the Golan Heights.

It is clear that while the watch group's presence in southern Lebanon may expose Israel's targeting of Lebanese civilians and impede Hizballah targeting of northern Israel settlements, it cannot do so without enhancing Syria's role as key power broker. In other words, the committee is a plus for Syria's foreign policy. Furthermore, the presence of Syrian, Lebanese, and Western observers on the committee exposes Israel's "hot pursuit" or targeting of Hizballah fighters (whose homes and points of organization are usually in towns and villages outside the security zone) to international pressure. According to the April 26 understanding, civilians on both sides of the border must be spared retaliatory attacks. Soon after the surveillance committee began operations, members were seized with complaints that the Israelis broke the agreement on three separate occasions, causing the death of five and injury of twenty-three Lebanese civilians. Hizballah, on the other hand, has limited its attacks to military personnel within the security zone. In all three incidents the committee found for the plaintiff, Lebanon, but took no action against Israel. The difficulty of verification as well as the fact that future clashes might give France opportunities to broaden its role in Arab-Israeli affairs through its participation in the surveillance group, it is likely that the surveillance committee will eventually be allowed to fade away.21

The situation in southern Lebanon therefore is back at square one. Beirut and Damascus rest on their position that negotiations with Israel over the protection of its Lebanese allies and the Galilee settlers after withdrawal can only be tackled as part of a comprehensive peace settlement. On the other hand, the Benyamin Netanyahu government has underlined its tough stand on the Golan Heights by authorizing construction of new housing units there. It has also warned that besides the resistance, "other military units on Lebanese soil" will not be spared if Israeli settlements are again attacked from southern Lebanon. This convinces Lebanese officials as well as ordinary citizens that further violence is on the way-violence that may engulf the Syrian army.

As Israel's new prime minister weighs the costs of his country's traditional approach to its problems with Lebanon and Syria against the benefits of ceding territory for security, it would be well to heed the advice of Gideon Rafael, a founding member of the Israeli foreign ministry. Rafael recently observed that the negative results of Israel's use of force in Lebanon, the complexity of the situation in Lebanon, and "the way the recent conflict ended there," made it imperative to get direct negotiations between Tel Aviv and Damascus over their broader differences back on track. These negotiations, he added, should take into account Syria's special interest in Lebanon and also include the temporary situation in southern Lebanon.22

This study has provided evidence that amply supports the soundness of Rafael's recommendation. Using force against the Lebanese government has failed. A unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in exchange for security guarantees for northern Israel satisfies the Lebanese state's goals but neglects the fact that it is presently in no position to enter such negotiations without Syria's cooperation. Punishing Syria-inside or outside Lebanon-is not likely to soften Asad's stance, nor to shake his reliance on Beirut and the resistance to secure Syrian interests. Whatever leverage the United States possesses should therefore be used to get Syrians and Israelis back to the negotiating table as quickly as possible.


1. Itamar Rabinovich, in "Controlled Conflict in the Middle East: The SyrianIsraeli Rivalry in Lebanon," in Gabriel Ben-Dor and David B. Dewitt, eds., Conflict Management in the Middle East (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1987), pp. 97-111, discusses the arrangements worked out by Syria and Israel to control their conflict in Lebanon and their transformation. See also Yair Evron, War and Intervention in Lebanon: The Israeli- Syrian Deterrence Dialogue (London: Croom Helm, 1987), pp. 45-56. Back
2. Hizballah, "Nass al-Risala al-Maftuha allati wajahaha Hizballah il-l-Mustad'afin fi Lubnan wa-l-Alam" (Open letter concerning Hizballah's program in Lebanon and the world), Al-Safir, February 16, 1985, p. 1. See also Shimon Shapira, "The Origins of Hizballah," Jerusalem Quarterly 46 (1988):115-130. Back
3. For background on Hizballah's motivations and behavior, see R. Ramazani, "The Islamization of Lebanon?" in Revolutionary Iran: Challenge and Response in the Middle East (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 175-178, and M. Kramer, "Hizballah the Calculus of Jihad," in M. Marty and R. S. Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms and The State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). Back
4. A. N. Hamzeh, "Lebanon's Hizballah: From Islamic Revolution to Parliamentary Accommodation," Third World Quarterly 14, 2 (1993):329-332. Back
5. Judith P. Harik and Hilal Khashan, "Lebanon's Divisive Democracy: The Parliamentary Elections of 1992," Arab Studies Quarterly 15, 1 (Winter 1993):51. Back
6. Judith P. Harik, "Between Islam and the System: Sources and Implications of Popular Support for Lebanon's Hizballah," Journal of Conflict Resolution 40, 1 (March 1996):68-97. Back
7. See Sayyid M. Fadlallah, Hizballah's spiritual guide, "An Islamic Perspective on the Lebanese Experience," Middle East Insight 18 (1988):18-26. Back
8. Middle East Weekly Reporter, no. 3664, July 27, 1993, p. 8. Back
9. See, for instance, An-Nahar, July 28, 1993, p. 2. As-Safir, on p. 1, quoted Hizballah politburo chief Hussayn Khalil as saying, "There is great coordination between us and the government. Israel will not be able to drive a wedge into our domestic front." Back
10. For an analysis of Syria's bargaining strategy in these negotiations, see Muhammad Muslihm, "Dateline Damascus: Asad Is Ready," Foreign Policy 96 (Fall 1994):155-160. Back
11. An-Nahar, April 22, 1996, p. 2. Back
12. As-Safir, April 17, p. 9, April 22, 1996, p. 1. Back
13. Middle East Daily Reporter, vol. 132, no. 4349, April 19, 1996, p. 7. Back
14. Interview, CNN, April 22, 1996. Despite this public position there is evidence that the government seriously discussed curbing the resistance during the fighting. AnNahar reported on April 22 that this question was raised at a cabinet meeting chaired by President Elias Hrawi in the prime minister's absence. Hrawi reportedly remarked, "How can Hizballah's actions be contained with all of Iran's power behind them?" Another indication of the government's exasperation over its lack of control occurred when the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs cold-shouldered Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Kazem al-Khonsari, when he attempted to meet with them. This gesture was intended to show Beirut's annoyance with Iran's policy of dealing directly with Hizballah and treating the Lebanese government as if it did not exist. Back
15. Middle East Daily Reporter, vol. 132, no. 4350, April 22, 1996, p. 8. Back
16. as-Safir, April 16, 1996, p. 1. Back
17. Rosemary Hollis and Nadim Shehadeh, eds., Lebanon on Hold: Implications for Middle East Peace (London: Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1996), p. xii. Back
18. See, for instance, L'Orient-Le Jour, April 27, 1996, p. 1. Back
19. L'Orient-Le Jour, May 29, 1996, p. 5, and May 30, 1996, p. 3. Back
20. L'Orient-Le Jour, June 13, 1996, p. 2. Interview with Zuhayr Mansur, project engineer, Jihad al-Binaa. Back
21. Israeli behavior in south Lebanon came under further scrutiny on November 5, 1996, when the surveillance committee decided that Lebanese citizens could no longer be expelled from the security zone by Tel Aviv's forces there. Twenty-three civilians have been expelled and France, which upheld an appeal by Syria and Lebanon that two families be allowed to return, was charged with following up these cases. Back
22. L'Orient-Le Jour, June 13, 1996, p. 2. Back
23. "Israel at 48, Has Historic Business to Talk Over with Syria," International Herald Tribune, May 14, 1996, p. 7. Back

Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 20:249-265, 1997 Received 10 December 1996; accepted 16 January 1997 Address correspondence to Judith Harik, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, American University of Beirut-N.Y., 850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, USA

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