Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah: The Unholy Alliance and Its War on Lebanon

Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah: The Unholy Alliance and Its War on Lebanon

by Marius Deeb


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In a detailed sequel to Marius Deeb’s authoritative Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process, he demonstrates how the coalition of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah has used assassination, terrorism, and force against the peaceful and liberal democratic Cedar Revolution, trying to undermine its success in pushing the Syrian Army out of Lebanon and in winning the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2009.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817916657
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press
Publication date: 08/01/2013
Series: Hoover Institution Press Publications
Edition description: 1
Pages: 84
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Marius Deeb has a doctorate from Oxford University and teaches Middle Eastern politics at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

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Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah: The Unholy Alliance and Its War on Lebanon

By Marius Deeb

Hoover Institution Press

Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8179-1666-4



The first terrorist operation by Hezbollah directed against the United States was the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1983, that killed 49 people and wounded over a hundred. This was followed by the simultaneous suicide bombing of the American and French contingents of the MNF on October 23, 1983, that killed 241 U.S. Marines and wounded 70 others, as well as killing 58 French soldiers and wounding 15 others. The president of the American University of Beirut, Malcolm Kerr, a distinguished Arabist born in Lebanon to a family of American educators dedicated to the welfare of the region, was assassinated on campus by Hezbollah on January 18, 1984. President Amine Gemayel, who was elected in September 1982 succeeding his assassinated brother Bachir, came under tremendous pressure from President Assad, who used Shi'ite and Druze militias to abrogate the Lebanese-Israeli Accord signed on May 17, 1983. As a consequence of the military and terrorist campaign pursued by Syria, the MNF evacuated Lebanon by the end of March 1984. The Lebanese government canceled the Lebanese-Israeli Accord on March 5, 1984, and the campaign of taking American and French nationals as hostages commenced with the kidnapping of the CIA bureau chief in Beirut, William Buckley, on March 16, 1984, who was tortured and killed. Other major terrorist operations against the United States by Hezbollah working for Syria and Iran included the suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex on September 20, 1984, killing twenty-three people and wounding sixteen others. And second was the kidnapping of the U.S. observer with the United Nations in southern Lebanon, Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins, on February 17, 1988, who was murdered in July 1989. The hostage taking continued for over seven years, ending with the release of the last hostage, Terry Anderson, on December 4, 1991. Hezbollah was the major organization used by Syria and Iran to take hostages, killing or releasing them as Syria and Iran deemed necessary. Taking hostages and the terrorism directed against France and the United States prevented Gemayel from getting any help from the international community to withstand Syria's terrorist war on Lebanon.

An interim prime minister, Michel Aoun, the commander of Lebanon's army, who was appointed to succeed President Amine Gemayel in September 1988, declared a war of liberation from Syrian domination on March 14, 1989. Aoun had overwhelming support among the Lebanese people and support from some major Arab countries and France, but the United States needed President Assad as an ally against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War and gave a green light to Syria to mount a military campaign to dislodge Aoun from the Lebanese presidential palace on October 13, 1990. Thus Lebanon came under total Syrian domination and lost its independence and sovereignty for the next fifteen years.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991, Assad had no choice but to join the peace process that involved negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the United States. As discussed in my work Syria's Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process (see bibliographical essay at the end), Syria had no intention of making peace with Israel, and Hezbollah was ever ready to provoke a war with Israel whenever the Israeli negotiators became more forthcoming in their quest for peace with Syria. This was the case in July 1993 when Israel launched its Operation Accountability, and again in April 1996 when it mounted a military campaign called "The Grapes of Wrath." In both cases, Hezbollah acted on behalf of Syria and Iran to provoke these wars so that Israel would appear to be making war and not seeking peace. Two major terrorist operations were perpetrated during the same period by the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis and were related to what was happening in Lebanon and the peace process. Allegedly in retaliation for the killing of the leader of Hezbollah, Abbas al-Musawi, on February 16, 1992, a terrorist operation destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992, resulting in the death of 20 people and the wounding of 240. When Shimon Peres claimed that Israel had a long arm, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, proudly retorted: "I thought our holy fighters have already taught him whose arm is longer when they reached the Israelis in Argentina." When Israel kidnapped a top security Hezbollah officer, Mustafa Dirani, on May 21, 1994, the deputy secretary general of Hezbollah threatened that "the strongest blow ever will be dealt to the enemy [Israel] soon." On July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber targeted the building of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, killing some 100 people and wounding 230.

When Israel decided to dismantle its security zone in southern Lebanon in May 2000, President Assad panicked because this meant that there was no longer any reason for Hezbollah to continue to fight Israel across the Lebanese-Israeli border. The Syrian president contrived a pretext for Hezbollah by claiming that a small piece of land called Shib'a Farms, which is part of the Golan Heights, is Lebanese territory. Ironically, the Israeli withdrawal from the security zone that neither Hezbollah nor its Syrian master wanted became a day for celebrating the "Liberation of Lebanon" from Israeli occupation. In reality, Hezbollah and its Syrian master had delayed the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon for seventeen years, and all the death and destruction brought about by the conflicts and wars that Hezbollah provoked were contrived and unnecessary.



In the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, and the death of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in June 2000, the Maronite Catholic Church, in the person of its Patriarch Sfair, issued a memorandum on September 20, 2000, about the suffering of the Lebanese people and, in particular, the Christians under Syrian domination. Sfair pointed out that parliamentary elections since 1992 had been rigged and most elected deputies did not represent the will of the Lebanese people. Syria had selected the members of the Lebanese cabinet, the top civil servants, and even members of the judiciary. The Syrian occupiers were violating the terms of the National Pact of 1943 that affirms: "Neither East nor West, that is, neither France would stay in Lebanon, nor Syria would stay in Lebanon." According to Patriarch Sfair, Lebanon should regain its independence and sovereignty by ending Syrian occupation. Sfair's message found immediate resonance among the Christian communities, and a group of twenty-nine prominent politicians and intellectuals met on April 30, 2001, in the town of Qornet Shehwan, the seat of the Maronite Catholic Bishop of Mount Lebanon, and issued a statement in support of the ideas that Sfair had expressed in his memorandum. This declaration set the stage for the momentous event that happened four years later, that is, the Cedar Revolution.

In early August 2001, Patriarch Sfair embarked on a journey to the southern part of Mount Lebanon, visiting the regions of al-Shouf and Jizzin and, on the way back, the region of Aley. The aim of this journey was the reconciliation between the two religious communities, the Maronites and the Druze, who founded Lebanon in the early eighteenth century. In this journey of uniting the Maronite and Druze communities, Patriarch Sfair was in effect re-founding Lebanon based on its historical roots. An enthusiastic welcome had greeted Patriarch Sfair as he traveled through the towns and villages of these regions. Throngs of people received him, accompanied with music, dancing, and fireworks. In both Christian and Druze villages, roses were strewn and rice was thrown on his path. Statements of welcome and praise of Sfair's mission of "unity and love" were written on various placards that were displayed on the roads leading to the towns and villages that he had visited. One placard read, "The glory of Lebanon has been given to him." Another placard read, "Welcome to the Conscience of Lebanon." Patriarch Sfair visited Deir el Qamar, Mount Lebanon's principal town, where he presided over a mass in the town's cathedral and visited al-Mukhtara, the seat of the feudal Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, where a huge crowd of almost 20 thousand people turned out to greet him. Jumblatt welcomed the patriarch and declared that "the war in Mount Lebanon has gone and will never return; together we shall protect Mount Lebanon and together we shall protect Lebanon."

The immediate reaction to this successful journey by Patriarch Sfair was the arrest of many supporters of the two leading Christian political movements: the Free National Current, led by General Michel Aoun (exiled from 1990 until 2005); and the Lebanese Forces Party, led by Samir Geagea (imprisoned from 1994 until 2005). These arrests were completely unjustified, leading to a convening of a congress, on August 16, 2001, by political parties and movements, trade unions, and professional organizations covering the spectrum of ideologies in what the five hundred participants called "In Defense of Liberties and Democracy." Although the participants included many Christians and Druze, including Amine Gemayel and Walid Jumblatt, and members of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, it also had prominent Sunnis and Shi'ites belonging to the political and professional elite, including supporters of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, the preeminent political figure among the Sunnis.



As more Lebanese leaders felt stronger in challenging Syrian domination, the chances of using Syria's favorite weapon, terrorism, increased. As early as April 2003, the Lebanese journalist Fares Khashan, who had been close to Prime Minister Hariri, was warned by a well-informed top security official that if the prime minister continues to be at loggerheads with Syrian officials, especially on the issue of extending the term of the incumbent Lebanese president, Émile Lahoud, "he will be assassinated by a suicide bomber." Khashan passed this information to the prime minister immediately after the TV station al-Mustaqbal, which was owned by Hariri, was destroyed in a rocket attack on June 14, 2003. Consequently, Hariri met the Syrian president, who was accompanied by the head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Rustum Ghazaleh, and his predecessor, Ghazi Kanaan. The Syrian message to Hariri was clear: he should exert all his efforts to stop the media campaign against the extension of the term of Lebanese President Lahoud, try to change the policies advocated by the prestigious al-Nahar newspaper, stop sending messengers to Patriarch Sfair, stop receiving members of the Christian Qornet Shehwan Gathering, and cease "conspiring" with the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

The campaign to prevent the amendment to the Lebanese constitution to make it possible for Lahoud to have an extension of three years for his term in office became the rallying focus for the anti-Syrian opposition. Two important actions taken by France and the United States had empowered the anti-Syrian opposition. First was President George W. Bush signing into law the bill passed by the Congress, "The Syria Accountability and the Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act," on December 12, 2003. Second was the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1559, sponsored by the United States and France, passing on September 2, 2004. The resolution called for free presidential elections, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon, and the disarming of militias.

Rafic Hariri was summoned to Damascus, where he met President Bashar Assad on August 26, 2004. The meeting lasted less than fifteen minutes, during which the Syrian ruler told him that a vote for the extension of Lahoud's term as president is like voting for Assad. Then he threatened that if Hariri thinks that, in cooperation with French President Jacques Chirac, he could push Syria out, he "will break Lebanon on his head." Hariri eventually decided to vote for the amendment of the Lebanese constitution, which led to the extension, on September 3, 2004, of President Lahoud's term for three years. His reasoning was that it was better to have the incumbent president for three more years than a new president of Lebanon chosen by Syria with the full term of six years. This was insufficient for Assad, for he wanted Hariri to stop coordinating with the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, with the Christian Qornet Shehwan Gathering, and with Patriarch Sfair. On October 1, 2004, the former minister, Marwan Hamadeh, who was close to Jumblatt, was a target of an unsuccessful assassination attack. Prime Minister Hariri decided to resign on October 21, 2004, and all attempts by Syria to persuade him to stay in power failed. This was an ominous sign. There was a precedent when the Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami, a political figure of great prestige and authority, resigned on May 4, 1987, and refused to go back on his resignation despite Syrian pressure to do so. On June 1, 1987, a bomb killed Karami while he was traveling on a military helicopter.

Hariri, as former prime minister, continued to campaign for the parliamentary elections, publicly stating that with his allies all over Lebanon he would win the elections and form a cabinet that would ask Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Hariri had made these statements openly, whether by addressing representatives of leading families in Beirut or talking to journalists and politicians at a favored café of his in downtown Beirut. On the same day, February 10, 2005, President Jacques Chirac contacted him with an urgent warning that he should leave Lebanon immediately, as he was in danger. Although Hariri was fully aware of being a target of assassination by the Syrians, he wanted to continue to campaign in Lebanon because he felt that he owed an obligation to his country. He believed that a statesman should campaign in person and not from afar, that is, not from Paris. Hariri was at times naïve when he met periodically and covertly with the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, hoping to reach an understanding with him during the parliamentary elections and in its aftermath, while Hezbollah was collaborating with Syria in plotting the terrorist operation that would kill Hariri.

The leaders of the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis have always believed that by using force and assassinations they can achieve their objectives. There were numerous terrorist operations against leading politicians, journalists, and clergymen in Lebanon and there was no response by the Lebanese people. Those who plotted the assassination of Hariri did not expect any lasting reaction. Over the preceding quarter-century, Lebanese leaders of every stripe had been struck down, and the edifice of Syrian power had held. This time around, it was different. On February 14, 2005, a suicide bomber targeted Hariri's motorcade close to the historic St. George's Hotel on the seafront in Beirut, killing Hariri and twenty-two others. After Hariri's funeral, "it was the Christians and the Druze ... who daily kept the flame of outrage alive." It took almost a month of daily anti-Syrian protests "for the Sunni community to go into the streets." This culminated in the massive demonstrations of 1.5 million protesters on March 14, 2005, ushering in what is known as the Cedar Revolution.



When 1.5 million people peacefully demonstrated in Beirut on March 14, 2005 — calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, for a free and democratic polity, and for the truth about the assassination of Hariri and all the other terrorist operations for the last three decades — an unprecedented phenomenon was born, heralding a new era for Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. The Cedar Revolution is the most important event that has taken place in the Middle East since the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in February 1979. Unlike the Iranian Revolution that demonized America, reinvented the suicide bomber, and opened the floodgates of terrorism, the Cedar Revolution was a nonviolent revolution with strong adherence to democratic principles and political pluralism, seeking the support of the West and emerging as an antidote to militant Islam and terrorism.

The first achievement of the Cedar Revolution was the withdrawal of the Syrian army and its overt intelligence apparatus from Lebanon on April 26, 2005. The pressure that was exerted by the United States was crucial in achieving this goal.


Excerpted from Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah: The Unholy Alliance and Its War on Lebanon by Marius Deeb. Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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Table of Contents


Foreword by Fouad Ajami,
Terrorism and Hostage Taking,
Patriarch Sfair: The Conscience of Lebanon,
The Anti-Syrian Opposition Movement Gathers Strength,
The Cedar Revolution,
The Unholy Alliance Versus the Cedar Revolution,
Hezbollah Provokes a War with Israel: July 12-August 14, 2006,
The International Special Tribunal for Lebanon,
A Growing Opposition to Hezbollah and Amal in the Shi'ite Community,
The Lebanese Army Defeats the Terrorist Organization Fatah al-Islam,
Hezbollah Uses Force against Saad al-Hariri and Walid Jumblatt in Beirut and Mount Lebanon,
The Parliamentary Elections of June 2009 and the Saad al-Hariri Cabinet,
The Indictment of Leading Hezbollah Members in the Assassination of Former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri,
The Revolution in Syria,
Iran and Hezbollah Are Actively Supporting the al-Assad Regime,
President al-Assad Continues His Terrorist War on Lebanon,
A Personal Note,
Bibliographical Essay,
About the Author,
About the Hoover Institution's Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order,

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