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CRS — Lebanon: Background and U.S. Policy

December 12, 2012

Lebanon: Background and U.S. Policy (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Lebanon’s small geographic size and population belie the important role it has long played in the security, stability, and economy of the Levant and the broader Middle East. Congress and the executive branch have recognized Lebanon’s status as a venue for regional strategic competition and have engaged diplomatically, financially, and at times, militarily to influence events there. For most of its independent existence, Lebanon has been torn by periodic civil conflict and political battles between rival religious sects and ideological groups. External military intervention, occupation, and interference have exacerbated Lebanon’s political struggles in recent decades.

Lebanon is an important factor in U.S. calculations regarding regional security, particularly vis-avis Israel and Iran. Congressional concerns have focused on the prominent role that Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite militia, political party, and U.S.-designated terrorist organization, continues to play in Lebanese politics and regional security. Congress has appropriated over $1 billion since the end of the brief Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 to support U.S. policies designed to extend Lebanese security forces’ control over the country and promote economic growth.

The civil war in neighboring Syria threatens to destabilize Lebanon. Over 110,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon and reports suggest that regional supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al Asad are using Lebanon as a transit point and staging ground in a wider regional conflict. The assassination of a leading Lebanese security official on October 19, 2012, has renewed accusations by some Lebanese observers of Syrian sponsorship of attacks against Lebanese leaders. The attack sparked civil unrest and calls by Lebanese opposition parties for the resignation of the current cabinet, which is controlled by pro-Asad forces. The question of how best to marginalize Hezbollah and other potentially anti-U.S. Lebanese actors without provoking civil conflict among divided Lebanese sectarian political forces remains the underlying challenge for U.S. policy makers. In the wake of the October assassination, the Obama Administration has endorsed calls for leadership change prior to planned May 2013 parliamentary elections. On October 31, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones visited Lebanon and met with Lebanese officials to encourage that “a peaceful transition be formulated without creating a political vacuum.”

This report provides an overview of Lebanon and current issues of U.S. interest. It provides background information, analyzes recent developments and key legislative debates, and tracks legislation, U.S. assistance, and recent congressional action. It will be updated to reflect major events or policy changes.

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