By: Courtney Bliler
As the three-year old civil war in Syria rages on with relatively little hope for a resolution, Lebanon has become an ever larger theater in which Middle Eastern geopolitical alliances and conflicts have been played out.
Geographically, Lebanon has only two neighboring countries—Syria and Israel. However, both countries have been embroiled in exhaustive and constantly brewing conflicts with Lebanon. The Arab League in 1976 established a predominantly Syrian Arab Deterrent Force, which occupied Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 after sectarian tensions, the breakdown of the confessional political system, and the emergence of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.  While the Taif Agreement in 1989 officially ended the civil war, the withdrawal of Syrian forces was completed only after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The assassination has been traced to the Iran-backed Shi’ite fundamentalist organization Hezbollah, which has long been supported by Syrian Presidents Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad. During the Syrian Civil War, Hezbollah and Iran have supported Assad’s Alawite Shi’ite regime in Syria, while battling Syrian rebels and fundamentalist organizations like al-Qaeda supported by Saudi Arabia. In addition, Sunni extremist groups, especially al-Qaeda, have undertaken attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon. On February 19, two bombings killed 4 and wounded over 100 people in a Shi’ite district of Beirut. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the bombings as retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war on the side of the Assad regime. 
To the south, Israel has exchanged long-standing hostilities with Lebanon. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in order to oust the PLO, which had its headquarters in Lebanon since it was forced out of Jordan in the events of 1970’s Black September. In July 2006, a Hezbollah attack that killed three and captured two Israeli soldiers escalated into the 2006 Lebanon War when Israel responded with air strikes into Beirut.  Many Western diplomats placed blame on Syria and Hezbollah for the violence, while Kofi Annan stated that “Hezbollah’s actions…hold an entire nation [Lebanon] hostage.”  While a UN-negotiated ceasefire was officially declared in August 2006, Hezbollah has continued to increase its military power within Lebanon and tensions between Lebanon and Israel continue to simmer.
These hostilities undergird much of the Middle Eastern geopolitics that are being played out within Lebanon today. As a result of the Syrian civil war, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that there are approximately 898, 271 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with an additional 46,126 awaiting registration with UNHCR.  The Lebanese government estimates a similar value of around 1 million Syrian refugees, slightly over half of which are males and females under the age of 18. Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States, Antoine Chedid, stated in February 2014 that Syrian refugees now make up almost one-third of the total population on Lebanon, which stands at about 4 million. This intake of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has resulted in increasingly fierce competition over food, water, and health and education services despite the potential for a growing population to create local economies in the long term.  The continuing influx of refugees from Syria will place a heavy economic and social burden on Lebanon, as annual GDP growth rates have declined from 9.3% in 2008 to 1.4% in 2012.  The possible integration of Syrian refugees into the Lebanese population could also have future implications for the confessional balance of power that mitigates religious tensions within the country.
The alliance between the Alawite Shi’ite Assad regime in Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah has triggered Israel’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, to the detriment of Lebanese-Israeli relations. On February 24, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israeli warplanes have initiated raids near the Syrian-Lebanese border in order to stem the flow of missiles from the Syrian government to Hezbollah.  Israel has neither admitted nor denied the strike, and Hezbollah has retorted that it will “choose the time and place to respond” against Israel. Israel has ordered the Lebanese government to prevent any reprisals that may be taken by Hezbollah in response to Israel’s raid.  Israel has pointed out that the new Lebanese cabinet, headed by Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Tammam Salam and formed in mid-February, contains members from Hezbollah, in addition to members in other parts of Lebanon’s political spectrum.  Thus, Israel views Lebanon as responsible for any actions undertaken by Hezbollah, whether against Israel or in support of the Assad regime, despite Syria’s past occupation of Lebanon and the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from the influx of Syrian refugees.
In light of the growing conflict brewing in Lebanon, it is important that Lebanese think tanks and civil society organizations place growing emphasis on security, both internally and internationally. Lebanon, however, has a scarce number of think tanks that focus on security. An op-ed from the Carnegie Middle East Center, published originally by Al-Jazeera, has described Lebanon as “host to several stakeholders in the Syrian conflict” and “a microcosm of regional political dynamics,”  but Lebanese security-focused think tanks must expand their thematic concentration and publications to reflect these changing power dynamics in the region.
The Center for Strategic Studies Research and Documentation (CSSRD) is concerned with geopolitical and strategic issues that threaten the Arab regional order. However, many of the think tank’s studies have focused on security and strategic issues with regard to Israel, rather than Syria or any other specific Arab countries. CSSRD’s mission states that its research focuses on three main regional areas: the Arab-Israeli struggle, the Arab order at large, and non-Arab Islamic neighbors like Turkey and Iran. 
The Carnegie Middle East Center, ranked the 20th-best think tank in the world (excluding US think tanks) , the 37th-best think tank including US think tanks, and 4th-best in the MENA Region according to TTCSP’s 2013 Go-To Think Tank Index, has provided insightful opinion pieces and research on developments in Lebanon, including the newly formed cabinet, the prospect of upcoming elections, and bombing attacks that threaten to destabilize the country. 
The Lebanese Security Sector Reform Assistance Programme, part of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), targets Parliament, committees, government, civil society, and armed, police, and security forces to deliver needed security to the Lebanese people, but there have been no publications since 2009 and no events held since 2010, well before the outbreak of the conflict in Syria. 
The Center for Lebanese Studies (CLS) calls the Lebanese situation one of “neither war nor post-conflict,” but focuses on reconciliation and the psychological and physical memory of past wars and strife in Lebanon. However, CLS does not conduct extensive research on fundamental security sector issues and conflicts. 
In order to preserve Lebanese security amid mounting tensions with Israel and Syria, Lebanese think tanks should compile in-depth research on how regional geopolitics have impacted domestic political, economic, and security developments in Lebanon. With national elections slated for 2014, and considering that the current cabinet was established this past month after 10 months of elusive negotiations, Lebanon faces serious risks of destabilizing domestic division if dynamics between Syria, Israel, and Lebanon deteriorate to the point of greater regional conflict. Lebanon’s future is not only intertwined almost inextricably with events in Syria, but is a microcosm of Middle Eastern geopolitics that, without policy recommendations on Lebanese security and research on regional dynamics as related to recent conflicts with Syria and Israel, may escalate into a web of even more destructive regional conflict.
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