For the first time since the 1960s, the Lebanese Army has reached the borders of its country. Why did it take so long for a country to assert its sovereignty?
Successive enemy regimes of the Syrian Baathist entity (an artificial hodge-podge of hostile religious and ethnic communities cobbled together by the French and the British after World War I) were bent on undermining its smaller, yet democratic, prosperous, and peaceful neighbor Lebanon. While Lebanon saw peaceful transfers of political power between the 1930s and the late 1970s, Syria was beset by instability, bloody military coup d'états and assassinations among the heterogeneous and incompatible ethnic and religious groups. The Baathist doctrine of forcibly imposing an artificial national Arab identity on groups that otherwise claimed religious and/or other national identities (Christians, Sunnis, Alawites, Shiites, Armenians, Circassians, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Druze, etc.) required an iron-hand dictatorship that eventually succeeded in 1970 with the advent of the Assad dynasty, itself from the minority Alawite community.
Starting immediately after the independence of Lebanon from France in 1943, Syria continuously violated Lebanese sovereignty by invading, claiming territories, killing Lebanese soldiers and gendarmes, dispatching terrorist groups ranging from Palestinian guerillas to Syrian and Arab-Muslim ultra-nationalists and international terror groups like the Reg Brigades of Europe and Japan. Successive Syrian regimes co-opted many Lebanese parties and politicians who played Trojan horses and puppets on their behalf. It all climaxed in the early 1970s when Syria assembled the Palestinian terror groups, Baathist Lebanese proxies, Syrian ultra-nationalist militants, the Sunni leadership and the Lebanese Druze Leader Kamal Jumblatt into a paramilitary group which spent most of the next two decades warring against the Lebanese State and the Lebanese Army, and challenging the political charter (known as the National Pact) that the Lebanese had agreed upon in the 1930s as their political modus vivendi.
The Palestinian-Syrian War against Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s saw the defeat of the Lebanese State and the collapse of the Lebanese Army. In 1990, the last free Lebanese government fell to a final Syrian invasion and takeover. During the 1980s, the Syrian regime allied itself as well with the newly hatched Islamic theocracy in Iran and together they created the militant Shiite group Hezbollah whose task was to supplant the terrorist Palestinians (who had left in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of 1982) and continue undermining the Lebanese State.
After another decade of Syrian-manned political assassinations from the late 1990s through the mid 2000s, the Syrian army was finally evicted from Lebanon by a concerted uprising by the Lebanese people and an international community that, after supporting the Syrian regime's rape of Lebanon for close to 35 years, now finally understood the toxicity and terrorist nature of the Syrian Assad regime.
To this day, Syria - even as it withdrew its army from the country, and even as it is disintegrating into the plethora of incompatible ethnic and religious groups - continues to try and undermine Lebanon, essentially via groups like Hezbolla, Amal, the Marada, and the Free Patriotic Movement of Lebanese President Michel Aoun whose own ascent to office was in fact engineered by Hezbollah.
Lebanon itself suffers from constitutive ailments. The historical modern birth of the nation in the 1860s was an achievement against the then-occupying Ottoman Turkish empire. The autonomous Mount Lebanon entity was snatched from the tentacles of the barbaric Turks and began instituting a political model of coexistence and power-sharing between the Christians and the Druze. The semi-independent Mount Lebanon prospered peacefully for 55 years until World War I saw a return of the Ottoman occupation during the 1914-1918 war years. After the defeat of the Ottomans and the vanishing of their empire, the Lebanese Maronite Church saw an opportunity - based on greed and ideological arguments not unlike those of the Zionist movement vis-à-vis Palestine - to expand the borders of Mount Lebanon, estimating it worthwhile to take the risk of absorbing a large Muslim population whose backwardness the Christians of Lebanon could count on to ward off any attempt at a Muslim power grab. Against the advice of successive French governments during the French mandate of the 1920s-1940s, the Maronite Church managed in the end to annex those large Muslim areas and populations from the Syrian entity to the State of Mount Lebanon and create the Greater Lebanon we know today. To this day, large segments of the Lebanese Muslim population continue to harbor ill-feelings toward the country that is theirs today, namely Lebanon, and express preference for a Syrian and/or Arab identity. At every opportunity they could exploit, Lebanese Muslims, Shiite and Sunnis alike, tried to subvert the Lebanese political system to their own advantage with the ultimate and openly stated objective of annexing Lebanon to Syria.
With the collapse of Syria, and an acknowledgement by the Lebanese Sunnis that Syria's Assad is really their enemy, and that the Syrian Arab identity is no longer an option for their own political survival, Lebanon's Sunnis made an about-face in their political outlook and discovered that Lebanon could be their ultimate national identity. Together with the increasing isolation of Hezbollah as a result of its fighting in the Syrian civil war, these factors weakened the Syrian regime enough to allow those truly patriotic elements of the Lebanese State - primarily the Lebanese Armed Forces - to muster the little strength they now had, with the help of the international community, to begin asserting State sovereignty over Lebanese territories that Syria had long denied it, both in the South along the Israeli border, and also north and east along the Syrian border. Whereas for the past 50 years, no Lebanese soldier was able to set foot along the Syrian-Lebanese or the Israeli-Lebanese border, the victory achieved these past few days by the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) against ISIS took the troops to the Syrian-Lebanese border for the first time in as many years.
The victory of the LAF in defeating ISIS debunks the Syrian stooge and Hezbollah-lover President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, who continuously claims that his own army, from whose ranks he hailed as a former soldier and general, is incapable of defending the country, thus providing the Iranian militia of Hezbollah with the fig leaf to protect its illegal existence as a parallel private and foreign-beholden army along side the Lebanese Army.
What should happen now?
For one, the Lebanese Army must NOT, under any circumstance, be asked to withdraw from the border area. Instead, the LAF must expand their control of the border along the entire length of the Syrian-Lebanese border and all the way to the southern tri-border between Israel, Lebanon and Syria where disputed territories have long provided justifications for both the Syrian Baathist and Israeli Zionist enemies of Lebanon to intervene and undermine the stability of the country. In this task, the LAF are also legally entitled by UN resolution 1701 to assistance from the UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) in securing ALL the country's borders.
This will inevitably cause tensions, if not outright war, between the LAF and Hezbollah since the latter has long used the porous and abandoned border area as a conduit for smuggling weapons, mercenaries and everything else into Lebanon.
Whether President Aoun, whose love affair with Hezbllah has surpassed his pretense to patriotism, chooses to continue supporting the existence of an illegal Iranian militia on his country's soil, remains to be seen. Aoun has essentially allied himself with Hezbollah to secure a path to power. This tactic has worked. But the real question is whether he will use this power to assert the sovereignty of his nation or whether he will remain on the leash of Iran and Syria and their proxies. Again, any volte-face by Aoun against Hezbollah will put his own life in danger. It happened with Rafik Hariri who supported Hezbollah for 15 years, only to be blown to shreds by Hezbollah itself the moment Hariri began charting his own path forward.
Two, this is an opportunity to begin delineating the border between Lebanon and Syria, which the latter has refused to do since the 1940s on the grounds that this would be tantamount to a formal recognition by Syria of the existence of an independent Lebanon. Just as Syria refused for decades to exchange embassies between the two countries. In the 1960s, the late leader Raymond Edde's called repeatedly for the UN to control all of Lebanon's borders. He was met with accusations of treason against the "Arab" cause, and he ultimately was chased out of the country into a Parisian exile where he died in 2001.
A delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border would settle once for all the lie of the Shebaa Farms now occupied by Israel. The Farms belong to Lebanon, but Syria grabbed them in 1956 after killing two Lebanese gendarmes. Israel then seized them from Syria in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Hezbollah uses this as an argument that its own "resistance" against the Israeli occupation must continue because Lebanese territory is still occupied by Israel. But Syria refuses to officially cede the Farms back to Lebanon, and Israel says that as long as it seized them from Syria, it will return them only to Syria in some hypothetical future negotiations.
This is a momentous time. Some 75 years after its independence, Lebanon has not been able to control its borders and assert itself once and for all as a sovereign nation not beholden to anyone's interests save its own. The liberation of the rugged mountainous border area from Daesh and the access of the Lebanese Armed Forces to the border proper gives the Lebanese State its first opportunity to assert its sovereignty against the ill-will of the Syrian enemy regime and its poodles on the domestic front. Will President Aoun allow his own army to expand this control to the entire border and risk alienating his allies of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran? Or will he remain a puppet in their hands, providing them with the pretexts to continue their meddling and occupation, and their rape of the country's sovereignty?