Syria's Role In Lebanon
Damascus has a long and bloody history of intervention in Lebanon,
and has made no secret of its hope to make its weaker neighbor part of
Syria. Since the creation of
contemporary Lebanon in 1920, most Syrians have never accepted modern
Lebanon as a sovereign and independent state. The outbreak of the
Lebanese Civil War in 1975 gave Damascus the opportunity to act on its
belief that Lebanon and Syria are one.
Syria moved troops into Lebanon before receiving the Arab
League's approval. Damascus intervened in April 1976 after
Lebanese Druze warlord Kemal Jumblatt refused Syrian President Hafez
Assad's demand for a cease-fire in the war. Jumblatt's refusal to stop
his forces' attacks upon Lebanese Christians gave Assad the pretext he
needed to intervene.
In June 1976, the Arab League Secretariat convened a meeting at
which Syria, Libya, Saudi
Arabia and the Sudan agreed to
send troops to "enforce peace." Assad sent more Syrian
troops into the country, while the others sent only token forces. The
Arab League's "endorsement," in short, constituted nothing
more than the recognition of a fait accompli.
By 1978, Damascus had switched sides, and was supporting a leftist
coalition of Palestinians, Druze and Muslims against the Christians.
Eventually, Syrian troops occupied two-thirds of Lebanon. Syria's
deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries in Lebanon, and its
policy of allowing the PLO and other terrorist groups to attack Israel
from there, helped trigger the 1982 Lebanon War.
During the first week of Israel's "Operation
Peace for Galilee," in June 1982, Syrian troops engaged in
battles with Israeli forces. The Israelis destroyed or damaged 18 of
the 19 Syrian missile batteries and, in one day, shot down 29 Syrian
MiG fighters without the loss of a single plane. Syria and Israel
carefully avoided confrontations for the remainder of the war.
Nevertheless, Syria found other ways to hurt Israel. In 1982,
Syrian agents murdered President-elect Bashir Gemayel, who wanted
peace with Israel. Two years later, Syria forced President Amin
Gemayel, Bashir's brother, to renege on a peace treaty he signed with
Israel a year earlier.
Attacks on the West
Syria's activities were aimed not only at Israel, but also the
West. In April 1983, Hizbullah
terrorists, operating from Syrian-controlled territory, bombed the
U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 49 and wounding 120. Six months later,
terrorists drove two trucks carrying explosives into the U.S. Marine
and French military barracks near Beirut, killing 241 Americans and 56
In 1985, Hizbullah
operatives began kidnapping Westerners off the streets of Beirut and
other Lebanese cities. From the beginning, it was clear the Syrians
and their Iranian collaborators could order the release of the Western
hostages any time. For example, when a Frenchman was kidnapped in
August 1991, the Syrians demanded that he be freed. Within days, he
was. Most of the hostages were held in the Bekaa Valley or the suburbs
of Beirut. Both areas are controlled by Syria.
From 198588, Amal Shiite militiamen, closely aligned with Syria,
killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in attacks on refugee camps.
In October 1990, with the West's attention focused on Kuwait,
Syrian troops stormed the Beirut stronghold of Christian insurgent
Gen. Michel Aoun. Besides battle deaths, approximately 700 persons
were massacred. With that blitzkrieg, Damascus wiped out the only
remaining threat to its hegemony in Lebanon.
On May 22, 1991, Lebanese President Elias Hrawi traveled to
Damascus to sign a "Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and
Coordination" with Syrian President Hafez Assad. The agreement
states that Syria will ensure Lebanon's "sovereignty and
independence," even though Damascus is being allowed to keep its
occupation army in that country.
A hint of Syria's real intentions came from Defense Minister
Mustafa Tlas several weeks before the treaty's signing. Tlas predicted
that unity would be achieved between the two countries "soon, or
at least in our generation" (al-Hayat, May 9, 1991).
In addition to sanctioning terrorist activities in Lebanon, Syria
is heavily involved in the narcotics trade in the Bekaa Valley. The
U.S. State Department has repeatedly criticized Syria for failing to
enforce anti-narcotics controls and cooperate with American drug
Despite Syria's involvement in peace talks with Israel, President
Assad continued to support terrorism. Asked about his support for
terrorist organizations like Hizbullah,
Assad responded that they were really "patriots and militants who
fight for the liberty and independence of their country...such people
cannot be called terrorists" (Washington Post, July 31,
1991). Since his father's death in 2000, Assad's son and successor,
Bahsar, has given no indication his views are any different.