Lebanon




Updated November 13, 2020
Lebanon
Lebanon, a country of 5.5 million people, faces the worst
Figure 1. Lebanon
economic crisis in its history amid ongoing political unrest,
the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and
an August 2020 explosion that severely damaged the port of
Beirut and surrounding densely populated areas. Lebanon
hosts the largest number of refugees in the world per capita
(over 1 million, mostly Syrians), which has raised social
tensions and strained public services. U.S. policy toward
Lebanon has focused on countering the influence of Iran
and Hezbollah, and on bolstering the Lebanese state—while
calling for reforms to counter corruption and
mismanagement. The United States also has worked to
broker talks between Lebanon and Israel aimed at
delineating the countries’ shared maritime border; an issue
complicated by potential undiscovered natural oil and gas
reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Government
Lebanon’s confessional political system divides power
among its three largest religious communities (Maronite
Christian, Sunni, Shi’a), to which it allocates the posts of
president, prime minister, and parliamentary speaker,

respectively. Lebanese President Michel Aoun was elected
Source: Created by CRS using ESRI, Google Maps, and Good
in 2016 by Lebanon’s parliament for a six-year term. Aoun
Shepherd Engineering and Computing.
is affiliated with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement
(FPM), which along with Hezbollah and the Shi’a Amal
Beirut Port Explosion and Investigation
Movement comprise the major components of the March 8
On August 4, 2020, a massive explosion at the port of
political bloc. Parliamentary elections in 2018 gave the
Beirut killed over 190 people, and injured and displaced
bloc, which advocates friendly ties with Iran and Syria, a
thousands. Lebanese officials linked the explosion to 2,750
simple majority (68 out of 128 seats). The United States has
tons of ammonium nitrate that had been confiscated from a
maintained ties with March 8’s political rival, known as the
disabled cargo ship in 2014 and stored in a warehouse at the
March 14 bloc, which includes the Future Movement
port. According to the government, the initial cause of the
(Sunni), the Lebanese Forces, and Kataeb (both Christian).
explosion was a welding accident at the port, but many
Political Instability
Lebanese blamed the blast on government negligence and
mismanagement. Reports have highlighted pervasive
In October 2019, a nationwide mass protest movement
corruption and smuggling at the port, reportedly linked to
prompted the resignation of then-Prime Minister Saad
all of Lebanon’s major political parties. Authorities named
Hariri. A subsequent government led by Hassan Diab
a military judge to lead the investigation into the cause of
resigned after eight months, following the Beirut port
the blast; some Lebanese have questioned his independence
explosion. Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib
from political elites. U.S. and French investigations have
resigned a month after his appointment, after Hezbollah and
not reached a firm conclusion on what caused the blast.
Amal blocked his efforts to form a Cabinet.
Hezbollah
Hariri Seeks to Form New Government
Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist
In October 2020, President Aoun re-nominated Saad Hariri
Organization (FTO), operates in Lebanon as a militia force,
as prime minister designate. Hariri seeks to form a
“government of specialists” that can negotiate an economic
a political party, and a provider of social services. It is
closely linked to Iran, which provides it with significant
relief package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
funding and has used it as a proxy or allied force to threaten
Hariri reportedly has agreed to allow the Finance Ministry
Israel. While Israel withdrew in 2000 from areas of
to remain in Shi’a control, a key demand of Amal and
southern Lebanon it had occupied since 1982, Hezbollah
Hezbollah, and a sticking point in prior negotiations.
has used the remaining Israeli presence in disputed areas in
Lebanon's four “sovereign ministries” (Defense, Interior,
the Lebanon-Syria-Israel triborder region to justify its
Foreign Affairs, and Finance) are not formally allotted to a
ongoing conflict with Israel and its continued existence as
specific sect, but customarily have been divided among the
country’s
an armed militia alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces
largest sectarian groups: Maronite Christian,
Sunni, Shi’a, and Orthodox Christian.
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Lebanon
(LAF). In 2006, Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war
U.S. Policy
that killed over 1,200 people, mostly Lebanese.
U.S. policy in Lebanon aims to counter the influence of
Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, secure Lebanon’s border against
Hezbollah has participated in Lebanese elections since
1992. The group entered the cabinet for the first time in
the flow of weapons and militant groups, and preserve
2005, and has held 1 to 3 seats in each Lebanese
domestic stability. In pursuit of these goals, the United
government formed since then. Hezbollah held two
States has sought to strengthen the LAF, generating debate
ministerial seats (Health and Industry) in the Diab cabinet.
within Congress between those who view the LAF as key to
countering Hezbollah and those who argue that U.S.
U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
assistance to the LAF risks falling into the hands of U.S.
In 1978, UNIFIL deployed to the Lebanon-Israel-Syria tri-
adversaries. The United States has also used targeted
border area to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from
economic sanctions to isolate and degrade Hezbollah.
southern Lebanon and assist the Lebanese government in
U.S. Aid to Lebanon
expanding its authority there. Following the 2006 Israel-
The United States is the largest provider of development,
Hezbollah war, UNIFIL’s mandate was expanded via
humanitarian, and security assistance to Lebanon. Congress
UNSCR 1701 to include assisting the Lebanese government
places several certification requirements on U.S. assistance
in establishing “an area free of any armed personnel, assets
funds for Lebanon annually in an effort to prevent their
and weapons other than those of the Government of
misuse or the transfer of U.S. equipment to Hezbollah. The
Lebanon and UNIFIL” between the Blue Line [a 120 km
United States has provided more than $2 billion worth of
line between the two states used to confirm the Israeli
assistance and materiel to the LAF since 2006. The United
withdrawal] and the Litani River. UNIFIL describes this
States has provided $19 million in emergency humanitarian
zone as its area of operations. UNSCR 1701 calls upon
assistance to Lebanon since the August 4 blast. These funds
Lebanon to secure its borders and requests that UNIFIL
are separate from $41.6 million in supplemental USAID
“assist the government of Lebanon at its request.”
and State Department funding for Lebanon’s COVID-19
COVID-19
response. U.S. officials have emphasized that aid is routed
through international and nongovernmental organizations.
Local transmission of COVID-19 continues to surge, and
Table 1. U.S. Bilateral Aid to Lebanon
Lebanese authorities have announced a full lockdown on
al ocations by year of appropriation, current U.S. $ in mil ions
November 14. From August to November, the rate of new
reported cases per day grew from several hundred to over
FY17
FY18
FY19
FY20
FY21
2,000, according to the World Health Organization.
actual actual actual enacted request

Hospitals have struggled to pay staff and secure imports of
ESF/ESDF
110.00 117.00
112.50
112.50
62.20
medical supplies, and face a shortage of medical personnel.
Economic Crisis
FMF
80.00 105.00
105.00
105.00
50.00
Lebanon in 2020 faces overlapping currency, debt, fiscal,
IMET
2.65
3.12
2.97
2.97
3.00
and banking crises. The Lebanese pound, pegged to the
dollar, has lost roughly 80% of its value in black-market
INCLE
10.00
10.00
10.00
10.00
6.20
trading since October 2019. The Economist Intelligence
NADR
5.76
10.82
11.82
11.82
11.76
Unit (EIU) estimates that inflation is over 50%, crossing the
threshold into hyperinflation. In March 2020, Lebanon
Total
208.41 245.94
242.29
242.29
133.16
defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time in its history;
Source: State Department Budget Justifications (FY2017-FY2021),
the country’s public debt (estimated at 155% of GDP) is
P.L. 116-94, and CRS calculations and rounding.
among the highest in the world. In June, the EIU forecast
U.S. Sanctions
that the economy will contract by 12% in 2020, while the
In July, Lebanon sought exemptions from the Caesar Syria
budget deficit widens to 14% of GDP.
Civilian Protection Act in order to import electricity and
In May 2020, the Lebanese government formally requested
agricultural products from Syria. In September, the United
a $10 billion loan from the IMF. However, talks between
States designated additional Lebanese officials and entities
the government and the IMF have stalled over questions
for support to Hezbollah. Some observers noted that the
regarding the exchange rate, government finances, and
sanctions coincided with increased Hezbollah and Amal
banking reforms. U.S. and European officials have
intransigence on government formation. In November, the
conditioned their support for an IMF program for Lebanon
United States designated former minister Gibran Bassil
on the implementation of structural reforms.
pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which implements the
Lebanon’s economic crisis has had a severe impact on the
Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
country’s population. Extreme poverty has tripled in the
Bassil heads the FPM, the largest Christian party in
past 12 months, from 8% to 23% of the population.
Lebanon, and the largest bloc in Parliament. Bassil also is
Unemployment has risen to 30%. In April 2020, the
the son-in-law of President Aoun and a political ally of
government estimated that poverty levels could hit 60% by
Hezbollah. Following the designation, Bassil laid out new
the end of 2020; the United Nations has cautioned that more
demands in ongoing negotiations on Cabinet formation.
than half of the population could face food shortages by the
CRS Research Assistant Sarah Collins contributed to this In
end of 2020. In September, Human Rights Watch officials
Focus.
noted that “Lebanese nationals are now joining Syrian
refugees on boats to flee Lebanon and seek asylum.”
Carla E. Humud, Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs
IF11617
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Lebanon


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