Updated January 19, 2006
CONTENTS SUMMARY MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS United States and Lebanon Overview Lebanon: Demography and Politics Political Profile Sectarianism Political Structure and Power Sharing The Civil War and Taif Reforms Political Upheaval of 2005 Assassination of Former Prime Minister Resolution 1595 The Mehlis Report Resolution 1636 Possible Credibility Issue More Violence The Mehlis Follow-On Report Resolution 1644 Further Developments Elections of 2005 and Aftermath Recent or Current Foreign Presence in Lebanon Syria Israel U.S.-Lebanese Relations U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon Role of Congress Recent and Current U.S. Assistance to Lebanon
The United States and Lebanon continue to enjoy good relations. Prominent current issues between the United States and Lebanon include progress toward a Lebanon-Israel peace treaty, U.S. aid to Lebanon, and Lebanon's capacity to stop Hizballah militia attacks on Israel. The United States supports Lebanon's independence and favored the end of Israeli and Syrian occupation of parts of Lebanon. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon on May 23, 2000, and Syria completed withdrawing its forces on April 26, 2005.
A large Lebanese-American community follows U.S.-Lebanon relations closely. Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan said the United States had "vital" interests in Lebanon, but others might describe U.S. interests in Lebanon as less than vital. At the invitation of the Lebanese government, the United States intervened in Lebanon to defend Lebanese sovereignty in 1958 and 1982. In a Beirut terror bombing in October 1983, 241 U.S. armed forces personnel died. From 1987 until July 1997, the United States banned travel to
Lebanon because of the threat of kidnaping and dangers from the ongoing civil war. Lebanon is rebuilding after the 1975-1990 civil war. Syrian armed forces, invited into Lebanon in 1976 to prevent a Muslim attack on the Christians, continued to occupy the northern and eastern parts of the country until April 2005. Israeli forces invaded southern Lebanon in 1982 and occupied a 9-mile-wide strip along the Israel-Lebanon border until May 2000.
Lebanon's government is based in part on a 1943 agreement that called for a Maronite Christian President, a Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, and a Shi'ite Muslim Speaker of the National Assembly, and stipulated that the National Assembly seats and civil service jobs be distributed according to a ratio of 6 Christians to 5 Muslims. On August 21, 1990, the Lebanon National Assembly adopted the "Taif" reforms (named after the Saudi Arabian city where they were negotiated). The parliament was increased to 128 to be divided evenly between Christians and Muslim-Druze, presidential authority was decreased, and the Speaker's and the Prime Minister's authority was increased. President Ilyas Hirawi signed the constitutional amendment implementing the reforms on September 21, 1990.
Since the civil war, Lebanon has held elections for the National Assembly in 1992, 1996, 2000, and, most recently, 2005. The National Assembly elected Emile Lahoud President on October 15, 1998, and extended his term for three years by a constitutional amendment in September 2004. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who opposed Lahoud's extension, sparked a political crisis, realignments in Lebanon's domestic politics, and withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Since June 2005, an independent U.N. commission has been investigating the circumstances of Hariri's assassination, amid allegations of Syrian involvement, directly or through pro-Syrian Lebanese officials.
Other CRS reports on Lebanon include CRS Issue Brief IB92075, Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues, by Alfred B. Prados.
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
On December 12, 2005, the U.N. commission investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri submitted a report elaborating on its findings as covered in the initial report submitted on October 19. Statements by two of the suspects interviewed by the commission indicated that all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon had been burned, and a Syrian official told the commission that no material regarding the Hariri assassination had been found in Syrian archives. The report stated that "detailed information [from the additional statements and documents reviewed by the commission] points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aiming at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services."
On December 15, 2005, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1644, which among other things, extended the mandate of the commission by six months until June 15, 2006. The original chairman of the Commission, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, resigned in early January 2006 and was replaced by Serge Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor serving with the International Criminal Court.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
United States and Lebanon
The United States and Lebanon have traditionally enjoyed good relations, rooted in long-standing contacts and interaction beginning well before Lebanon's emergence as a modern state. Factors contributing to this relationship include a large Lebanese-American community (a majority of Arab-Americans are of Lebanese origin); the pro-Western orientation of many Lebanese, particularly during the Cold War; cultural ties exemplified by the presence of U.S. universities in Lebanon; Lebanon's position as a partial buffer between Israel and its principal Arab adversary, namely Syria; Lebanon's democratic and partially Christian antecedents; and Lebanon's historic role as an interlocutor for the United States within the Arab world.
Two U.S. presidents have described Lebanon as of vital interest to the United States, President Eisenhower in 1958 and President Reagan in 1983. (Public Papers of the Presidents, 1958, pp. 550-551; Public Papers of the Presidents, 1983, vol. II, p. 1501.) Both statements were made in the context of brief U.S. military deployments to Lebanon to help Lebanese authorities counter rebellions supported by radical Arab states with ties to the former Soviet Union. Some would agree that a friendly and independent Lebanon in a strategic but unstable region is vital to U.S. interests. But others might disagree, pointing to the absence of such tangible interests as military bases, oil fields, international waterways, military or industrial strength, or major trading ties. In a broader sense, a ruinous 15-year civil war that created turmoil in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990 and that periodically threatened to spill over into adjacent areas of the Middle East illustrated the dangers to U.S. interests posed by instability in this small country.
Lebanon: Demography and Politics
Sectarianism. Lebanon, with a population of 3.8 million, has the most religiously diverse society in the Middle East, comprising 17 recognized religious sects. "Confessionalism," or the distribution of governmental posts by religious sect, is a longstanding feature of Lebanese political life, despite frequent calls to abolish it. Because of political sensitivities related to power sharing among the various communities, no census has been taken in Lebanon since 1932, when Lebanon was under a French mandate. According to current estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency as of 2005, Muslim groups comprise 59.7% of the population while Christian groups comprise 39.0%, with another 1.3% of assorted religious affiliations. A more detailed but less recent estimate by an expert on the geography and demography of the Middle East gives the following breakdown: (1)
Lebanese groups have developed political parties along religious, geographical, ethnic, and ideological lines and are often associated with prestigious families. Christian groups, especially Maronites, tend to be strong advocates of Lebanese independence and opposed to Syrian and other external influences. Christian parties include the Phalange led by the …