Lebanon: Background and U.S. Policy



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
regarding 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 Lebanon and beyond, including its recent armed intervention in
Syria. Congress has appropriated more than $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 is progressively destabilizing Lebanon. According to the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly one million predominantly Sunni Syrian
refugees have fled to Lebanon, equivalent to close to one quarter of Lebanon’s population.
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. Hezbollah has intervened in Syria in
support of Asad, and Sunni extremist groups based in Syria are cooperating with Lebanese and
Palestinian Sunni extremists in Lebanon to carry out retaliatory attacks against Hezbollah targets.

The U.S. intelligence community told Congress in its 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment that,
“Lebanon in 2014 probably will continue to experience sectarian violence among Lebanese and
terrorist attacks by Sunni extremists and Hezbollah, which are targeting each-others’ interests.
…Increased frequency and lethality of violence in Lebanon could erupt into sustained and
widespread fighting.
” In January 2014, the U.S. State Department warned against all travel to
Lebanon in light of growing terrorist threats.

The question of how best to marginalize Hezbollah and other anti-U.S. Lebanese actors without
provoking civil conflict among divided Lebanese sectarian political forces remains the underlying
challenge for U.S. policy makers. The ongoing political deadlock and the prospect of executive,
legislative, and security force leadership vacuums amplify this challenge.

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.

For more information on related issues, see CRS Report RL33487, Armed Conflict in Syria:
Overview and U.S. Response
, coordinated by Christopher M. Blanchard; CRS Report R43119,
Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response, by Rhoda Margesson and Susan G. Chesser; and,
CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.

To read the full report click here

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