Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975-76 Civil War

Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975-76 Civil War

Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975-76 Civil War

Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975-76 Civil War

Synopsis

Conflict and intervention in the Middle East are not uncommon occurrences. Yet when civil strife erupted in Lebanon in 1975, the events that followed were unusual indeed. Unlike most patterns of intervention, Syria displayed remarkable tactical flexibility by first intervening on behalf of the rebels, its traditional allies, then shifting its allegiance mid-war to the Lebanese incumbents. Also, whereas most intervention scenarios end with a process of decommitment, Syria eventually occupied parts of Lebanon to become an enduring military entity there. Delving into primary Syrian and Lebanese sources, Weinberger unravels the history, competing factions, religion, politics, and culture of the region and presents an intriguing and complex portrait of intervention by a regional power.

Excerpt

A decade after its initial intervention in Lebanon's civil strife, Syria remains deeply embroiled in its neighbor's dilemmas. This costly engagement stemmed from long-standing ties between the two countries, nourished by Syria's regional leadership ambitions. Yet the goal of restoring stability to Lebanon remains elusive, while the frustration of ongoing occupation bedevils both Lebanese and Syrians.

Despite its distinctive characteristics, this case is highly revealing about the dynamics of intervention in general. Many factors favored Syria over other great and small power interveners elsewhere in the globe. Syria was intimately acquainted with its neighbor's political system and society. A multiplicity and diversity of contacts spanning the Lebanese political spectrum yielded manifold channels of influence. By the eve of its intervention in the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-76, the paramountcy of Syrian influence over that of any other external actor was widely acknowledged by Lebanese. Moreover, Syria's bilateral ties with domestic Lebanese parties were augmented by its predominant influence over Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon.

Yet despite the advantages of intimacy and influence in the Lebanese arena, Syria fell into the same trap as most interveners in miscalculating the potential costs of its commitment. President Hafiz al-Asad and his advisers were unable to assess correctly the balance of forces between the parties into Lebanon's civil strife. They also erred in overestimating Syria's leverage over its traditional allies in Lebanon. As a consequence of both miscalculations, Syria's expectation that Lebanese stability could be restored through a finite, measured commitment proved invalid. Despite impressive tactical flexibility, Syria was caught in a dynamic of . . .

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