April 21, 2021
Since having its boundaries drawn by France after the First World War, Lebanon has struggled to
define its national identity. Its population then included Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shi’a
Carla E. Humud
Muslim communities of roughly comparable size, and with competing visions for the country.
Analyst in Middle Eastern
Seeking to avoid sectarian conflict, Lebanese leaders created a confessional system that allocated
power among the country’s religious sects according to their percentage of the population. Since

then, Lebanon’s demographics and political dynamics have shifted, exacerbating tension among
groups. Sectarian divisions have stoked violence, such as during the 1975-1990 civil war, as well

as political gridlock on issues that require dividing power, such as government formation.
These dynamics are intensified by external actors—including Syria and Iran—that maintain influence in Lebanon by backing
Hezbollah and its political allies. Other states, such as Saudi Arabia, have backed Sunni communities as part of a broader
effort to curtail Iran’s regional influence. The United States has sought to bolster forces that could serve as a counterweight to
Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon, providing more than $2 billion in military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces
(LAF) since 2006, with the aim of creating a national force strong enough to counter nonstate actors like Hezbollah and
secure the country’s borders against extremist groups operating in neighboring Syria, including those affiliated with Al
Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Hezbollah, an armed group, political party, and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, plays a major role in
Lebanon’s relationships with its two neighbors: Syria and Israel. Despite Lebanon’s official policy of disassociation from
regional conflicts, Hezbollah forces have fought in Syria since 2013 to preserve the government of Syrian president Bashar al
Asad, and have sporadically clashed with Israeli forces along Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah also plays an influential
role in Lebanon’s domestic politics; the group is a key member of the March 8 political bloc that holds a majority in
parliament and in successive Lebanese governments. The question of how best to marginalize Hezbollah without provoking
civil conflict among Lebanese sectarian political forces has remained a key challenge for U.S. policymakers.
Humanitarian Crisis. As of 2021 there were roughly 855,000 Syrian refugees registered with the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon, in addition to an existing population of nearly 175,000 Palestinian refugees living in
Lebanon. Lebanon (a country of roughly 4.3 million citizens in 2010) has the highest per capita refugee population in the
world, with refugees constituting an estimated 21.8% of the total population. The refugee influx has strained Lebanon’s
public services and host communities, and some government officials describe refugees as a threat to the country’s security.
The United States has provided more than $2.7 billion in humanitarian assistance in Lebanon since FY2012.
Protests, Political Upheaval. In 2019, a large scale protest movement broke out throughout Lebanon, with protestors from
across the political spectrum and from all sectarian communities demanding political and economic reform, leading to the
resignation of the government led by Saad Hariri. A new government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab lasted less than
eight months, resigning after a massive August 2020 explosion at the port of Beirut. In October 20204, President Aoun
reappointed Hariri as prime minister. To date, Hariri has been unable to overcome political rivalries and form a government.
Former Prime Minister Diab and his cabinet continue to serve in a caretaker capacity with limited authorities.
Economic Crisis. Lebanon faces what arguably is the worst economic crisis in its history—stemming from a confluence of
debt, fiscal, banking, and currency crises. The World Bank has been critical of Lebanon’s policy response, stating that,
“policy inaction is sowing the seeds of an economic and social catastrophe for Lebanon.” Analysts have warned that further
economic deterioration could trigger a security breakdown.
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Historical Background ..................................................................................................................... 1
Issues for Congress .......................................................................................................................... 4
Politics ............................................................................................................................................. 5
The Confessional System .......................................................................................................... 5
Political Coalitions: March 8 and March 14 ....................................................................... 6
2016-2020: Multiple Governments Collapse ............................................................................ 6
2021: Status of Government Formation .................................................................................... 8
Protest Movement ..................................................................................................................... 9
Protests in Tripoli .............................................................................................................. 10
Security ........................................................................................................................................... 11
Domestic Security .................................................................................................................... 11
Beirut Port Explosion ......................................................................................................... 11
Special Tribunal for Lebanon ............................................................................................ 13
Domestic Sunni Extremism .............................................................................................. 14
Border Challenges ................................................................................................................... 15
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon ........................................................................ 15
Eastern Mediterranean Energy Resources and Disputed Boundaries ............................... 18
Hezbollah ....................................................................................................................................... 19
Clashes with Israel .................................................................................................................. 19
Historical Background ...................................................................................................... 19
2006 Hezbollah-Israel War ............................................................................................... 20
Domestic Politics .................................................................................................................... 21
Intervention in Syria ................................................................................................................ 22
Public Health and COVID-19 ....................................................................................................... 22
Refugees and Lebanese Policy ...................................................................................................... 24
Lebanon’s Policy Towards Syrian Refugees ..................................................................... 25
Implications of Economic Collapse and COVID-19 for Refugees ................................... 27
Return of Refugees to Syria .............................................................................................. 27

Economy and Fiscal Issues ............................................................................................................ 28
Economic Crisis ................................................................................................................ 29
U.S. Policy ..................................................................................................................................... 30
Current Funding ...................................................................................................................... 30
Conditionality on Aid to Lebanon ..................................................................................... 31
FY2021 Appropriations .................................................................................................... 31

Economic Aid .......................................................................................................................... 31
Military Aid ............................................................................................................................. 32
End-Use Concerns ............................................................................................................ 33
Humanitarian Aid .................................................................................................................... 34
U.S. Humanitarian Funding .............................................................................................. 34
International Humanitarian Funding ................................................................................. 34
Humanitarian Aid and the Lebanese Government ............................................................ 35
U.S. Sanctions ......................................................................................................................... 36
U.S. Sanctions on Hezbollah ............................................................................................ 36
U.S. Sanctions on Lebanese Politicians ............................................................................ 36

Outlook .......................................................................................................................................... 37
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Figure 1. Lebanon at a Glance ......................................................................................................... 1
Figure 2. Lebanon’s Political Coalitions ......................................................................................... 7
Figure 3. Beirut Port Explosion ..................................................................................................... 12
Figure 4. Lebanon-Israel Offshore Blocks .................................................................................... 18
Figure 5. COVID-19 Cases in Lebanon ........................................................................................ 24

Table 1. Select U.S. Foreign Assistance Funding for Lebanon-Related Programs ....................... 30

Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 38

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Historical Background
Prior to World War I, the territories comprising modern-day Lebanon were governed as separate
administrative regions of the Ottoman Empire. After the war ended and the Ottoman Empire
collapsed, Britain and France divided the empire’s Arab provinces into zones of influence under
the terms of the 1916 Sykes Picot agreement. The area constituting modern-day Lebanon was
granted to France, and in 1920, French authorities announced the creation of the state of Greater
Lebanon.1 To form this new entity, French authorities combined the Maronite Christian enclave of
Mount Lebanon—semiautonomous under Ottoman rule—with the coastal cities of Beirut, Tripoli,
Sidon, and Tyre and their surrounding districts. These latter districts were (with the exception of
Beirut) primarily Muslim and had been administered by the Ottomans as part of the vilayet
(province) of Syria.
Figure 1. Lebanon at a Glance

Population: 5,261,372 (2021 est.)
Religion: Muslim 61% (30.6% Sunni, 30.5% Shi’a), Christian 33.7%, Druze 5.2%, relatively small numbers of Jews,
Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, and Mormons. Note: 18 religious sects recognized
Land: (Area) 10,400 sq km, about one-third the size of Maryland; (Borders) Israel, 81 km; Syria, 403 km
GDP: (PPP, growth rate, per capita) $99.7 billion (2019 est.), 1.5% (2017 est.) $14,552 (2019 est.)
Budget: (spending, deficit, 2017 est.) $15.38 billion, -6.9% of GDP
Public Debt: (2017 est.) 146.8% of GDP
Source: Created by CRS using ESRI, Google Maps, and Good Shepherd Engineering and Computing. CIA, The
World Factbook data, March 3, 2021.

1 In 1923, the League of Nations formalized French mandate authority over the territory constituting present-day
Lebanon and Syria.
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These administrative divisions created the boundaries of the modern Lebanese state; historians
note that “Lebanon, in the frontiers defined on 1 September 1920, had never existed before in
history.”2 The new Muslim residents of Greater Lebanon—many with long-established economic
links to the Syrian interior—opposed the move, and some called for integration with Syria as part
of a broader postwar Arab nationalist movement. Meanwhile, many Maronite Christians—some
of whom also self-identified as ethnically distinct from their Arab neighbors—sought a Christian
state under French protection. The resulting debate over Lebanese identity would shape the new
country’s politics for decades to come.
Independence. In 1943, Lebanon gained independence from France. Lebanese leaders agreed to
an informal National Pact, in which each of the country’s officially recognized religious groups
were to be represented in government in direct relation to their share of the population, based on
the 1932 census. The presidency was to be reserved for a Maronite Christian (the largest single
denomination at that time), the prime minister post for a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of
parliament for a Shi’a. Lebanon has not held a census since 1932, amid fears (largely among
Christians) that any demographic changes revealed by a new census—such as a Christian
population that was no longer the majority—would upset the political status quo.3
Civil War. In the decades that followed independence, Lebanon’s sectarian balance remained a
point of friction between communities. Christian dominance in Lebanon was challenged by a
number of events, including the influx of (primarily Sunni Muslim) Palestinian refugees as a
result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the mobilization of Lebanon’s Shi’a Muslim community—
which had been politically and economically marginalized. These and other factors would lead
the country into a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990 and killed an estimated 150,000 people.
While the war pitted sectarian communities against one another, there was also significant
fighting within communities.
Foreign Intervention. The civil war drew in a number of external actors, including Syria, Israel,
Iran, and the United States. Syrian military forces intervened in the conflict in 1976, and
remained in Lebanon for another 29 years. Israel sent military forces into Lebanon in 1978 and
1982, and conducted several subsequent airstrikes. In 1978, the U.N. Security Council established
the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to supervise the withdrawal of Israeli
forces from southern Lebanon, which was not complete until 2000.4 In the early 1980s, an
emerging militant group that would become Hezbollah, backed by Iran, began to contest Israel’s
military presence in heavily Shi’a southern Lebanon. The United States deployed forces to
Lebanon in 1982 as part of a multinational peacekeeping force, but withdrew its forces after the
1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, which killed 241 U.S. personnel.
Taif Accords. In 1989, the parties signed the Taif Accords, beginning a process that would bring
the war to a close the following year. The agreement adjusted and formalized Lebanon’s

2 Fawwaz Traboulsi, A History of Modern Lebanon (London: Pluto Press, 2007), p. 75.
3 Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, estimates that Lebanon’s population is 67.6% Muslim (31.9% Sunni,
31% Shi’a) and 32.4% Christian (with Maronite Catholics being the largest Christian group, followed by Greek
Orthodox). Druze are estimated to comprise 4.5% of the population. See U.S. Department of State, “Lebanon,”
International Religious Freedom Report for 2019. The 1932 census found that Christians comprised 58% of the
population; some studies argue that the rules that determined who could be counted in the census were designed to
produce a Christian majority. See Rania Maktabi, “The Lebanese Census of 1932 Revisited. Who are the Lebanese?”
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 1999.
See also, Amos Barshad, “The World’s Most Dangerous Census,” The Nation, October 17, 2019; “Lebanon: Census
and sensibility,” The Economist, November 5, 2016.
4 UNIFIL forces remain deployed in southern Lebanon, comprising 10,596 troops drawn from 45 countries.
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link to page 11 Lebanon

confessional system (see “Politics,” below), further entrenching what arguably was an unstable
power dynamic between different sectarian groups at the national level. The political rifts created
by this system allowed Syria to present itself as the arbiter between rivals, and pursue its own
interests inside Lebanon in the wake of the war. The participation of Syrian troops in Operation
Desert Storm to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, as well as Syria’s engagement in peace talks with
Israel, reportedly facilitated what some analysts described as the tacit acceptance by the United
States of Syria’s continuing role in Lebanon.5 The Taif Accords also called for all Lebanese
militias to be dismantled, and most were reincorporated into the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Hezbollah refused to disarm—claiming that its militia forces were legitimately engaged in
resistance to the Israeli military presence in southern Lebanon.
Hariri Assassination. In February 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri—a
prominent anti-Syria Sunni politician—was assassinated in a car bombing in downtown Beirut.6
The attack galvanized Lebanese society against the Syrian military presence in the country and
triggered a series of street protests known as the “Cedar Revolution.” Under pressure, Syria
withdrew its forces from Lebanon in the subsequent months, although Damascus continued to
influence domestic Lebanese politics. The Hariri assassination reshaped Lebanese politics into the
two major blocks known today: March 8 and March 14, which represented pro-Syria and anti-
Syria segments of the political spectrum, respectively (see Figure 2). In 2007 the U.N. Security
Council established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to investigate the assassination. In
2020 the STL issued its verdict, convicting one Hezbollah operative; he remains at large.
2006 Hezbollah-Israel War. In July 2006, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers along the
border, sparking a 34-day war. The Israeli air campaign and ground operation aimed at degrading
Hezbollah resulted in widespread damage to Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, killing roughly
1,190 Lebanese, and displacing a quarter of Lebanon’s population.7 In turn, Hezbollah launched
thousands of rockets into Israel, killing 163 Israelis.8 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701
brokered a cease-fire between the two sides and expanded the mandate of UNIFIL.
2008 Doha Agreement. In late 2006, a move by the Lebanese government to endorse the STL led
Hezbollah and its Shi’a political ally Amal to withdraw from the government, triggering an 18-
month political crisis. In May 2008, a cabinet decision to shut down Hezbollah’s private
telecommunications network—which the group reportedly viewed as critical to its ability to fight
Israel—led Hezbollah fighters to seize control of parts of Beirut. The resulting sectarian violence
raised questions regarding Lebanon’s risk for renewed civil war, as well as concerns about the
willingness of Hezbollah to deploy its militia force in response to a decision by Lebanon’s
civilian government. Qatar helped broker a political settlement between rival Lebanese factions,
which was signed on May 21, 2008, and became known as the Doha Agreement.
War in Syria. In 2011, unrest broke out in neighboring Syria. Hezbollah moved to support the
Asad regime, eventually mobilizing to fight inside Syria. Meanwhile, prominent Lebanese Sunni
leaders sided with the Sunni rebels. As rebel forces fighting along the Lebanese border were
defeated by the Syrian military—with Hezbollah assistance—rebels fell back, some into
Lebanon. Syrian refugees also began to flood into the country. Beginning in 2013, a wave of

5 See for example, Paul E. Salem, “Superpowers and Small States: an Overview of American Lebanese Relations,”
Beirut Review, 5, 1993; Joseph Bahout, “The Unraveling of Lebanon’s Taif Agreement: Limits of Sect-Based Power
Sharing,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2016.
6 For additional details, see Ronen Bergman, “The Hezbollah Connection,” New York Times Magazine, February 15,
7 Human Rights Watch, Why They Died: Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War, September 5, 2007.
8 Human Rights Watch, Civilians under Assault: Hezbollah’s Rocket Attacks on Israel in the 2006 War, August 2007.
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retaliatory attacks targeting Shi’a communities and Hezbollah strongholds inside Lebanon
threatened to destabilize the domestic political balance as each side accused the other of backing
terrorism. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Hezbollah have both worked to contain border
attacks by Syria-based groups linked to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
2019 Protest Movement. In October 2019, a mass protest movement unifying disparate
sectarian, geographic, and socioeconomic sectors of Lebanese society around demands for
political and economic reform resulted in the resignation of the Lebanese government.
Issues for Congress
U.S. policy in Lebanon over the past decade has sought to limit threats posed by Hezbollah both
within Lebanon and to Israel, bolster Lebanon’s ability to protect its borders, and build state
capacity to deal with the influx of Syrian refugees. Iranian influence in Lebanon via Hezbollah,
the potential for renewed armed conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, and Lebanon’s internal
political dynamics complicate the provision of U.S. assistance. Lebanon continues to be an arena
for conflict between regional states, as local actors aligned with Syria and Iran vie for power
against those that seek support from Saudi Arabia, which backs Sunni elements in Lebanon, and
the United States.
As Congress reviews aid to Lebanon, Members continue to debate the best ways to meet U.S.
policy objectives:
Weakening Hezbollah and building state capacity. The United States has sought to weaken
Hezbollah without provoking a direct confrontation that could undermine Lebanon’s stability.
Both Obama and Trump Administration officials argued that Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon
can be addressed by strengthening Lebanon’s legitimate security institutions, including the LAF.9
Members have expressed a range of views regarding U.S. security assistance to Lebanon, with
some describing the LAF as a counterweight to Hezbollah and others arguing that U.S. policy has
failed because Hezbollah continues to amass weapons and remains a powerful force inside
Lebanon.10 The Biden Administration has not signaled any major changes to U.S. support for the
LAF. In early 2021, both CENTCOM Commander Gen. McKenzie and SOCCENT Commander
Rear Admiral Bradley visited Lebanon and met with senior LAF leaders, reaffirming the strong
U.S. partnership with the Lebanese force.11
Defending Lebanon’s borders. Beginning in late 2012, Lebanon faced a wave of attacks from
Syria-based groups, some of which sought to gain a foothold in Lebanon. U.S. policymakers have
sought to ensure that the Lebanese Armed Forces have the tools they need to defend Lebanon’s
borders against encroachment by the Islamic State and other armed nonstate groups. While the
LAF in 2017 recaptured border towns that previously had served as a base for Islamic State and
Al Qaeda-linked fighters, as of 2021 the LAF continue to pursue IS militants in the border area.12

9 U.S. Department of State, “Daily Press Briefing by Spokesperson John Kirby,” March 8, 2016; U.S. Department of
State, “Background Briefing: Updating on Secretary Tillerson's Trip to Amman, Jordan; Ankara, Turkey; Beirut,
Lebanon; Cairo, Egypt; and Kuwait City, Kuwait,” press release, February 14, 2018.
10 U.S. Congress, Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and
Counterterrorism, Lebanon and Iraq Protests; Insights, Implications, and Objectives for U.S. Policy, hearing, 116th
Cong., 1st sess., December 4, 2019, S. Hrg. 116-225 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2020).
11 U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, “United States Central Command Commander Visits Lebanon,” March 15, 2021; U.S.
Embassy in Lebanon, “U.S. Support for the LAF Highlighted by Visit of Rear Admiral Bradley,” February 12, 2021.
12 “Lebanon army arrests 18 Lebanese, Syrians linked to Islamic State: statement,” Reuters, February 1, 2021.
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Assisting Syrian refugees. The influx of over a million Syrian refugees since 2011 placed
significant pressure on Lebanese public services and host communities. The United States has
provided over $2.7 billion in humanitarian assistance in response to the situation in Lebanon
since FY2012,13 much of it designed to lessen the impact of the refugee surge on host
Strengthening government institutions. U.S. economic aid to Lebanon aims to strengthen
Lebanese institutions and their capacity to provide essential public services. Slow economic
growth and high levels of public debt have limited government spending on basic public services,
and this gap has been filled in part by sectarian patronage networks, including some affiliated
with Hezbollah. U.S. programs to improve education, increase service provision, and foster
economic growth are intended to make communities less vulnerable to recruitment by extremist
Encouraging reform. While seeking to bolster the capacity and legitimacy of state institutions in
Lebanon, Trump Administration officials also criticized “decades of mismanagement, corruption,
and the repeated failure of Lebanese leaders to put aside their parochial interest and undertake
meaningful, sustained reforms,” sentiments echoed by the Biden Administration.14 U.S. officials
have warned that Hezbollah exploits corruption to advance its own interests in Lebanon, and
stated that the United States is prepared to offer additional assistance to the Lebanese government
“when we see Lebanese leaders committed to real change.”15
The Confessional System
Lebanon’s population includes Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shi’a Muslim communities of
roughly comparable size.16 In what is referred to as Lebanon’s confessional system, political posts
are divided among the country’s various religious groups, or “confessions,” in proportions
designed to reflect each group’s share of the population—although no formal census has been
conducted in the country since 1932. The presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the
prime minister post for a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament for a Shi’a Muslim. The
128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament are divided evenly among Christians and Muslims, and
Lebanese electoral law has traditionally allocated each seat within an electoral district to a
specific religious community. Lebanon’s confessional system—shaped by the 1943 National Pact
and adjusted and formalized by the 1989 Taif Accords—was designed to encourage consensus
among the country’s sectarian communities, particularly in the wake of Lebanon’s civil war.
However, the need for cooperation between rival political blocs on major issues is widely viewed
as contributing to political gridlock.

13 USAID, “Lebanon – Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #1, FY2021,” December 30, 2020.
14 Testimony of David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in U.S. Congress, Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, U.S. Policy in a Changing Middle East, hearing, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., September 24, 2020; U.S.
Embassy in Lebanon, “Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale’s Statement after Meeting with Speaker Nabih
Berri,” April 14, 2021.
15 Ibid.
16 See footnote 6.
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Political Coalitions: March 8 and March 14
Lebanese President Michel Aoun was elected in 2016 by Lebanon’s parliament for a six-year
term. Aoun is affiliated with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which along with
Hezbollah and the Shi’a Amal Movement represent the major components of the March 8
political coalition. Parliamentary elections in 2018 gave the coalition, which advocates friendly
ties with Iran and Syria, a simple majority (68 out of 128 seats). The coalition’s political rival,
known as March 14, opposes Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon, and instead seeks closer
ties with regional Sunni-majority states such as Saudi Arabia, as well as with France and the
United States. The March 14 coalition includes the Future Movement (Sunni), the Lebanese
Forces, and Kataeb (both Christian).
March 8 Majority Challenges to U.S. Engagement
To date, each government formed under the Aoun administration has had a March 8 majority,
reflecting the coalition’s majority in parliament. Nevertheless, March 14 has held key seats in
most governments, at times including the post of prime minister. The March 8 character of
successive Lebanese governments has complicated U.S. engagement, due to the role of Hezbollah
within the coalition. However, while Hezbollah is the most challenging member of March 8 in the
U.S. view, it is not the largest component of the coalition. The largest component of March 8 is
the Free Patriotic Movement (which holds 19 seats in Parliament compared to Hezbollah’s 13).
U.S. officials meet with non-Hezbollah elements of March 8, including the FPM and Amal.
2016-2020: Multiple Governments Collapse
President Aoun’s term in office has been marked by political instability and turmoil.
Governments under Aoun’s tenure include:
Hariri Government (December 2016 – May 2018). Following his election, President Aoun
appointed Saad Hariri as prime minister. This was Hariri’s second term as prime minister (he
previously served from 2009 to 2011 under President Michel Suleiman). Hariri temporarily
resigned in November 2017 during a visit to Saudi Arabia, a move widely viewed as orchestrated
by Riyadh.17 Hariri withdrew his resignation a month later, upon his return to Lebanon. His
government was considered resigned following the May 2018 parliamentary elections.
Hariri Government (January 2019 – October 2019). In May 2018, President Aoun re-
appointed Saad Hariri as prime minister. Hariri formed the new government in late January 2019,
after more than eight months of political deadlock. The 30-member Hariri cabinet was majority
March 8, reflecting the results of the 2018 legislative elections, but parties that were expected to
align with March 14 held 11 seats. In October 2019, Hariri resigned amid mass protests.
Diab Government (January 2020 – August 2020). In January 2020, President Aoun appointed
Hassan Diab as prime minister. The 20-member Diab cabinet was the first since 2005 composed
of parties from a single political bloc (March 8). On August 10, Diab resigned in the wake of the
August 4 explosion at the port of Beirut.
Adib Government (resigned before formation). On August 28, President Aoun appointed
Lebanon’s Ambassador to Germany, Mustapha Adib, as prime minister-designate. Adib resigned

17 Anne Barnard and Maria Abi-Habib, “Why Saad Hariri had that strange sojourn in Saudi Arabia,” New York Times,
December 24, 2017.
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less than a month later, after failing to resolve a demand by Amal and Hezbollah that the Finance
Ministry—one of Lebanon’s four “sovereign ministries”—remain in Shi’a control.
Figure 2. Lebanon’s Political Coalitions
Reflects those parties with the largest number of seats in Parliament

Sovereign Ministries and Government Formation
Lebanon's four "sovereign ministries" (Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Finance) are not formally allotted to a
specific sect, but customarily have been divided among the country's largest sectarian groups: Maronite Christian,
Sunni, Shi'a, and Orthodox Christian. In recent years, the Defense Ministry has been held by an Orthodox
Christian, the Interior Ministry by a Sunni, the Foreign Affairs Ministry by a Maronite Christian, and the Finance
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Ministry by a Shi’a. Amal and Hezbollah have opposed proposals to rotate the sovereign ministries among the
sects, pushing instead to retain the Finance Ministry under Shi’a control.
2021: Status of Government Formation
In October 2020, Aoun reappointed Saad Hariri as prime minister-designate. As of April, 2021,
Hariri has been unable to form a new government, despite agreeing to a key demand by
Hezbollah and Amal that would keep the Finance Ministry under Shi’a control for one additional
appointment only.18 In December 2020, President Aoun rejected a proposed cabinet lineup
presented by Hariri, stating that it was “unbalanced.” Hariri countered that Aoun had rejected the
proposal because he seeks a blocking third of cabinet seats (see below).
As of April, 2021, government formation appears stalled due to disagreements between Hariri
(March 14) and FPM leader Gebran Bassil (March 8). Bassil is the son-in-law and senior advisor
to President Aoun, and is thought to exert significant influence over the 87-year-old president.19
Points of contention include:
The blocking third. Hariri has claimed that Bassil and Aoun seek a blocking
third of seats in the cabinet for the FPM, which effectively would give the FPM
veto power over government decisions.20 Aoun has acknowledged that he seeks
six ministers but stated that, “this is the representation quota and not the blocking
quota,” in a reference to what is known as the “president’s share” of cabinet
seats.21 (See textbox below for an overview of the blocking third and the
president’s share.)
Christian representation.22 Hariri has said that the delay in government
formation stems from a demand by Aoun and Bassil to name all the Christian
ministers in the new cabinet.23 Bassil and others have stated that other sects have
been permitted to name their ministers and that Christians should have the same
rights—adding that government formation will occur when unified standards are
applied.24 Aoun has stated that “It is natural for the President of the Republic to
name the Christian ministers.”25
Observers have expressed wide-ranging views on additional factors that may be delaying
government formation. Some analysts argue that Aoun’s efforts to shape government formation
are rooted in his desire to facilitate the election of his son-in-law Bassil as president when Aoun’s

18 Hussein Dakroub, “Hopes rise for swift Cabinet formation,” Daily Star, October 26, 2020.
19 “Who is Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil?” Reuters, November 6, 2020.
20 Hussein Dakroub, “Hariri says Aoun’s veto power demand blocking Cabinet formation,” Daily Star, February 15,
21 “Hariri Says Aoun Remarks a Bid to Turn Political Dispute Sectarian,” Naharnet, January 29, 2021.
22 Lebanese cabinets traditionally contain an equal number of Christian and Muslim ministers, per the country’s
confessional system. The Taif Accords, which ended Lebanon’s civil war, requires an equal distribution of Christian
and Muslim seats in parliament, as well as in “top-level jobs,” which traditionally have included cabinet posts.
Lebanon’s constitution states that in the “transitory period” before political sectarianism is eliminated, “The sects are
fairly represented in the formation of the Cabinet.”
23 Houshig Kaymakamian, “Unified criteria can usher in govt soon: Bassil,” Daily Star, December 18, 2020.
24 Georgi Azar, “How a public spat between Aoun and Hariri reveals the deeper political rift preventing cabinet’s
formation,” L’Orient Today, March 23, 2021.
25 “Hariri Says Aoun Remarks a Bid to Turn Political Dispute Sectarian,” Naharnet, January 29, 2021.
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term expires in 2022.26 Sources close to Aoun have argued that Hariri is awaiting Saudi approval
to form a government.27 Other analysts have suggested that government formation in Lebanon
will remain stalled until there is greater clarity on the outcome of U.S.-Iran negotiations.28 Iran
and Saudi Arabia are longstanding power brokers in Lebanon, exercising significant influence
over March 8 and March 14, respectively.
Government Formation Process
The resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister triggers the resignation of the Lebanese government (the cabinet).
Until a new cabinet is formed, the outgoing government remains in a caretaker status, with reduced authorities.
Lebanon’s constitution describes the government formation process:
Required Steps. To appoint a new prime minister, the president must schedule binding consultations with
parliamentary blocs, which cast votes for a candidate (must be a Sunni per Lebanon’s confessional system). The
candidate with the most votes is appointed prime minister-designate. The president then charges the prime
minister-designate with forming a government (selecting ministers to form a new cabinet). The prime minister
holds nonbinding consultations with parliamentary blocs to negotiate the distribution of ministerial portfolios. The
prime minister-designate presents his cabinet line-up to the president; if the cabinet is approved, the two leaders
issue a joint decree forming the new government. The new cabinet then submits a statement of general policy to
the Parliament for a vote of confidence.
Delays. Numerous factors can delay government formation. Reaching consensus between the president and
prime minister can be a lengthy process; Lebanon’s confessional requirement that the president be a Christian and
the Prime Minister be a Sunni can result in the two leaders representing rival political coalitions (the largest
Christian and Sunni political parties—the FPM and the Future Movement—are affiliated with March 8 and March
14, respectively). Government formation in Lebanon has often been stalled by issues including:

The blocking third. Parties have at times sought a blocking one-third plus one of cabinet seats, in order to
obtain a de-facto veto over cabinet decisions that require a two-thirds majority.29 Whoever holds the
blocking third can paralyze the work of government—by ordering ministers to boycott cabinet sessions, thus
denying the quorum needed to convene, or by withdrawing ministers entirely and triggering the collapse of
the government (which is considered resigned if it loses more than one-third of its members).30

The president’s share. There is precedent for granting a share of cabinet seats to the president, who in
some cases may lack an independent power base, particularly if he is a military officer rather than a career
politician.31 President Aoun is a military officer but also the founder of the FPM, now headed by his son-in-
law, Gibran Bassil.
Protest Movement
In October 2019, a proposed government tax on internet-enabled voice calls (through services
such as WhatsApp) triggered a nationwide mass protest movement that resulted in the resignation
of then-prime minister Hariri and the collapse of the Lebanese government. The protests,
described as some of the largest in Lebanon’s history, reflected broader dissatisfaction with what

26 Michael Young, “Why Lebanon just can’t seem to form a government,” The National, January 27, 2021.
27 Georgi Azar, “How a public spat between Aoun and Hariri reveals the deeper political rift preventing cabinet’s
formation,” L’Orient Today, March 23, 2021.
28 Marc Daou, “Lebanon’s political class ‘squabbling over a field of ruins’ as economic crisis rages,” France 24, March
18, 2021.
29 Decisions that require a two-thirds vote are listed in the Lebanese constitution and include: the declaration of a state
of emergency, issues of war and peace, general mobilization, international agreements and treaties, the state’s general
budget, long-term development plans, dissolving parliament, and laws pertaining to elections, citizenship, and personal
30 For example, Hezbollah and its allies forced the collapse of the Lebanese government in 2011, by withdrawing their
ministers from the cabinet.
31 Hassan Al-Qishawi, “Lebanon on the edge,” Al Ahram Weekly, September 5, 2018.
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protestors described as government corruption, ineptitude, and economic mismanagement.32
Demonstrators, who represented a broad economic, political, and sectarian cross-section of
Lebanese society, emphasized that the protests were primarily driven by the state’s failure to
provide sufficient access to basic goods and services, including jobs, education, water, electricity,
and garbage disposal.33
The movement targeted Lebanon’s political elites—including unprecedented public criticism of
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah—and called for political leaders to be replaced by
technocrats. Hassan Diab, who replaced Hariri as prime minister in December 2019, appointed a
new government of non-career politicians, but these ministers were largely seen as affiliated with
traditional political parties and lacking independence.34 The prospect of forming a government of
ministers that would significantly sideline Lebanon’s traditional political elite—many of whom
have been in power since the end of the country’s civil war—remains controversial and appears
to be one of several factors that have delayed government formation.
Protests—although diminished by COVID-related restrictions on public gatherings—continued
throughout 2020, exacerbated by deteriorating economic conditions. In some cases, protests
targeted financial institutions, reflecting popular frustration with restrictive financial measures
that critics saw as disproportionately affecting the country’s middle and working classes.35 The
August 2020 blast at the port of Beirut, popularly widely seen as resulting from gross government
negligence, also reinvigorated protests; a subsequent declaration of a state of emergency granted
the Lebanese Armed Forces and other security services enhanced powers to restore and maintain
It remains to be seen whether the protest movement can overcome internal divisions and evolve
into an organized political force capable of challenging the country’s long-entrenched political
elites. Lebanon is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in 2022, but it is unclear whether the
protest movement, which remains leaderless, can effectively compete within Lebanon’s
patronage-based political system.
As of 2021, Lebanon has seen renewed political protests over economic conditions. The city of
Tripoli emerged as a flashpoint (see below), but protestors have blocked major highways
throughout Lebanon, including areas of Beirut.
Protests in Tripoli
In early 2021, violent protests broke out in the northern port city of Tripoli—Lebanon’s second
largest city and its most impoverished. Protests appeared to reflect popular discontent with
deteriorating economic conditions and with perceived state neglect.37 They also seem to have
reflected frustration with lockdowns related to COVID-19, which have left many unable to
financially support their families. In February 2021, a military court charged 35 protestors with

32 Helen Sullivan, “The Making of Lebanon’s October Revolution,” New Yorker, October 29, 2019.
33 “Lebanon scraps WhatsApp fee amid violent protests,” Reuters, October 17, 2019; Kareem Chehayeb and Abby
Sewell, “Why Protesters in Lebanon Are Taking to the Streets,” Foreign Policy, November 2, 2019.
34 Paul Salem, “Lebanese oligarchs approve technocratic shadow government,” Middle East Institute, January 21, 2020.
35 Timour Azhari, “Banks targeted in Lebanon's 'night of the Molotov',” Al Jazeera, April 29, 2020.
36 Kareem Chehayeb and Megan Specia, “Lebanon’s Parliament Confirms State of Emergency, Extending Army
Power,” New York Times, August 13, 2020.
37 Aya Iskandarani, “Lebanon: Why are people in Tripoli protesting?” The National, February 1, 2021.
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terrorism—the first time protestors have been indicted on terrorism charges since the beginning
of the protest movement in October 2019.38
Lebanon faces numerous security challenges from a combination of internal and external sources.
Some of these stem from the conflict in neighboring Syria, while others are rooted in long-
standing social divisions and the marginalization of some sectors of Lebanese society.
Domestic Security
Beirut Port Explosion
On August 4, 2020, a massive explosion at the port of Beirut killed over 190 people, and injured
and displaced thousands more. Preliminary reports suggested that the blast may have been caused
by a welding accident at a warehouse, resulting in a fire and the detonation of 2,750 tons of
ammonium nitrate, which had been stored alongside fireworks and kerosene.39 In December,
caretaker Prime Minister Diab stated that an American FBI investigation into the blast had found
that “only 500 tons” of ammonium nitrate had exploded at the port, and suggested that the
remaining 2,200 tons may be missing.40
The blast, which has been described as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded,
destroyed thousands of homes in surrounding residential areas in addition to large sectors of the
port.41 A Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment issued by the World Bank in cooperation with the
United Nations and the European Union estimated that the blast caused $3.8 - $4.6 billion in
physical damages, as well as $2.9 - $3.5 billion in economic losses.42 The blast triggered
widespread outrage among Lebanese, some of whom blamed the explosion on “gross criminal
negligence” on the part of government leaders.43 The ammonium nitrate had languished in a
warehouse at the port since 2014, when it was confiscated from a Russian cargo ship, and
multiple customs and security officials had warned successive governments of the risks posed by
the stockpile.44
Corruption at the Port of Beirut. The blast focused attention on the Port of Beirut, which some
Lebanese analysts have described as among the most corrupt of Lebanon’s state institutions.45
Illicit activity at the port flourished during Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), when the collapse of

38 Juliette Jabra, “Lebanon charges 35 Tripoli protesters with terrorism: lawyer,” Daily Star, February 22, 2021.
39 Liz Sly, Loveday Morris, and Suzan Haidamous, “Fears Beirut port chemicals would be stolen may have contributed
to blast,” Washington Post, August 30, 2020; Ben Hubbard et al., “How a massive bomb came together in Beirut’s
port,” New York Times, September 9, 2020.
40 “FBI found Beirut blast caused by 500 tonnes of fertilizer: Diab,” Daily Star, December 29, 2020.
41 “How powerful was the Beirut blast?” Reuters, August 14, 2020.
42 World Bank, “Beirut Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) — August 2020,” August 31, 2020.
43 “Special report on anti-corruption in Lebanon,” Executive Magazine, August 20, 2020.
44 Sly, “Fears Beirut port chemicals would be stolen may have contributed to blast;” Hubbard et al., “How a massive
bomb came together in Beirut’s port.”
45 “Dockside dealings: smuggling, bribery and tax evasion at Beirut’s port,” AFP, September 16, 2020.
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central government authority led to the takeover of Lebanon’s state-run ports by various militia
groups, which used the ports to move weapons, fighters, and narcotics.46
Figure 3. Beirut Port Explosion
August 4, 2020

Source: Gaby Salem/Esn, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.
Notes: A screenshot from video shot at the moment of the explosion, @SalemGaby, posted August 8, 2020.
After the war, Lebanon’s militias (with the exception of Hezbollah) mostly demobilized, and
former militia leaders transitioned into politics, becoming political party leaders. Management of
the port was handed over to a temporary committee representing Lebanon’s major political
parties, which continues to manage port operations.47 Media reports describe a system whereby
political party leaders install loyalists in key jobs at the port as part of a broader patronage
network that allows them to bypass customs inspections and import taxes.48 Customs tax evasion
is a major issue at the port, with some experts estimating that the state loses up to $1.5 billion
each year due to the evasion of customs duties.49 All major parties—including the FPM, the

46 For details see Central Intelligence Agency, “Lebanon’s Ports: Gateways for Instability and Terrorism,” declassified
research paper, GI 87-10013, February 1987, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-
47 Hubbard et al., “How a massive bomb came together in Beirut’s port.”
48 Ibid.
49 Ibid.
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Future Movement, the Amal Movement, and Hezbollah—reportedly profit from corrupt networks
within the port.50
Blast Investigation. Lebanese authorities appointed military judge Fadi Sawwan to lead the
investigation into the cause of the blast.51 After charging mostly low-level port, customs, and
security officials, Sawwan in December 2020 charged caretaker Prime Minister Diab with
criminal negligence in the blast, along with three former ministers.52 In December, Sawwan
suspended his investigation after two of the ministers charged requested that the case be
transferred to another judge.53 In late February, Lebanon’s Court of Cassation removed Sawwan
from the case. Lebanon’s Higher Judicial Council named the head of Beirut’s criminal court,
Tarek Bitar, to replace Sawwan.
Special Tribunal for Lebanon54
In 2005, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al Hariri was killed in a car bombing in Beirut. In
2007, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1757 established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)
as an independent judicial organization to conduct independent investigations and criminal
proceedings into the killing of Hariri and related attacks. The STL has worked from its
headquarters in the Netherlands since 2009, and reportedly has cost nearly $970 million.55 It is
funded jointly by Lebanon (49%) and voluntary international contributions (51%).56
The trial started in January 2014 and closing arguments concluded in September 2018. The trial
drew on evidence from 297 witnesses; its transcript amounted to more than 93,900 pages. The
case was built primarily using geolocation from cell phone records, and the evidence for
conviction was almost exclusively circumstantial, making it difficult for the Chamber to prove
guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.57
The STL indicted four Hezbollah members (Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein
Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra), all of whom were tried in absentia. Warrants for their
arrest remain outstanding; their whereabouts are unknown. A fifth and higher-ranking member of
Hezbollah, Mustafa Badreddine, was dropped from the indictment after he was allegedly killed in
Syria in 2016. The Lebanese government has never attempted to arrest the individuals; Hezbollah
leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed never to turn over the individuals, and threatened to “cut off the
hands” of anyone who attempted to arrest them.58
In a judgement delivered on August 18, 2020, the Trial Chamber unanimously found Salim Jamil
Ayyash guilty beyond reasonable doubt as a co-perpetrator of: “conspiracy aimed at committing a
terrorist act; committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device; intentional homicide of

50 “Dockside dealings: smuggling, bribery and tax evasion at Beirut’s port,” AFP, September 16, 2020.
51 “Fadi Sawan: the man leading the Beirut explosion investigation,” Al Jazeera, August 21, 2020.
52 Aside from Diab, the ministers charged were: former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former minister of
transportation and public works Ghazi Zaitar, and former minister of transportation and public works Youssef Finianos.
Khalil and Zaitar are members of Amal, and Finianos is a member of the Marada Movement.
53 “Lead judge suspends Beirut blast probe,” Daily Star, December 17, 2020.
54 Prepared by CRS Research Assistant Sarah Collins.
55 Liz Sly, “Lebanon Tribunal Implicates Hezbollah in 2005 Killing of Rafiq al-Hariri,” Washington Post, August 18,
56 Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Eleventh Annual Report (2019-2020), March 2020.
57 Special Tribunal for Lebanon, “Summary of Judgment,” STL-11-01/T/TC, August 18, 2020.
58 Ronen Bergman, “The Hezbollah Connection,” New York Times Magazine, February 15, 2015.
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Mr Rafik Hariri with premeditation by using explosive materials; intentional homicide of
additional 21 persons with premeditation by using explosive materials; and attempted intentional
homicide of 226 persons with premeditation by using explosive materials.” The Chamber found
the three other defendants not guilty. In December 2020, Ayyash was sentenced in absentia to five
terms of life imprisonment.
The Chamber also found that while “Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr
Hariri, and some of his political allies; There is no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any
involvement in Mr Hariri’s murder and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement in it.”59
U.S. officials welcomed Ayyash’s conviction, but also stated that, “Hizballah operatives do not
The United Nations has extended the mandate of the STL through March 2023, while the tribunal
processes the appeal filed on behalf of Ayyash on 12 January 2021, as well as the “Connected
Case” (STL-18-10) in which Ayyash has been indicted on charges relating to three attacks against
three other Lebanese politicians in October 2004, June 2005, and July 2005 respectively.61
Domestic Sunni Extremism
Since the start of the Syria conflict in 2011, some existing Sunni extremist groups in Lebanon
who had previously targeted Israel refocused on Hezbollah and Shi’a communities, presumably in
response to Hezbollah’s support for the Asad government. The Al Qaeda-linked Abdallah Azzam
Brigades (AAB), formed in 2009, initially targeted Israel with rocket attacks. The group began
targeting Hezbollah in 2013 and is believed to be responsible for a series of bombings in
Hezbollah-controlled areas of Beirut, including a November 2013 attack against the Iranian
Embassy that killed 23 and wounded more than 140.62
In addition to the AAB, U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) operating in
Lebanon include Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC), Asbat al-Ansar, Fatah al-
Islam, Fatah al-Intifada, Jund al-Sham, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).63 These groups
operate primarily out of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. Due to an agreement between
the Lebanese government and the late Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasser
Arafat, Lebanese forces generally do not enter Palestinian camps in Lebanon, instead maintaining
checkpoints outside them. These camps operate as self-governed entities, and maintain their own
security and militia forces outside of government control.64

59 Special Tribunal for Lebanon, “Summary of Judgment,” STL-11-01/T/TC, August 18, 2020, p.15.
60 Press Statement by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, “Special Tribunal for Lebanon Verdict,” August 18,
61 Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Twelfth Annual Report (2020-2021), March 8, 2021.
62 U.S. Department of State, “Chapter 5. Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2017,
September 19, 2018.
63 U.S. Department of State, “Chapter 5. Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, June
24, 2020.
64 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019: Lebanon.
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link to page 5 link to page 5 Lebanon

Border Challenges
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
Since 1978, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been deployed in the
Lebanon-Israel-Syria triborder area.65 The United States has supported UNIFIL financially and
diplomatically, with the aim of bolstering and expanding the authority of the LAF in areas of
Lebanon historically dominated by Hezbollah.
UNIFIL’s initial mandate was to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon,
restore peace and security, and assist the Lebanese government in restoring its authority in
southern Lebanon (a traditionally Shi’a area that became a Hezbollah stronghold in the 1980s). In
May 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon. The following month, the United
Nations identified a 120 km interim boundary line between Lebanon and Israel to use as a
reference for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces. The Line of Withdrawal,
commonly known as the Blue Line, is not an international border demarcation between the two
Following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, UNIFIL’s mandate was expanded via UNSCR 1701
(2006) to include monitoring the cessation of hostilities between the two sides, accompanying and
supporting the LAF as they deployed throughout southern Lebanon, and helping to ensure
humanitarian access to civilian populations. UNSCR 1701 authorized UNIFIL to assist the
Lebanese government in the establishment of “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and
weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL” between the Blue Line
and the Litani River, which UNIFIL defines as its area of operations (See UNIFIL Zone, Figure
.66 UNSCR 1701 also calls upon the government of Lebanon to secure its borders and requests
UNIFIL “to assist the Government of Lebanon at its request.”
UNIFIL is headquartered in the Lebanese town of Naqoura. Its leadership rotates among troop-
contributing states; since 2018 UNIFIL has been led by Major General Stefano Del Col (Italy). As
of March 2021, UNIFIL maintains 10,535 troops drawn from 45 countries.67 It also has a civilian
staff of roughly 900. U.S. personnel do not participate in UNIFIL, although U.S. funding
contributions to U.N. peacekeeping programs support the mission. The United States also
provides security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces that is aimed at supporting Lebanese
government efforts to implement UNSCR 1701. UNIFIL’s mandate falls under Chapter VI of the
U.N. Charter, which allows for the use of force primarily in self-defense, rather than Chapter VII,
which would enable enforcement by military means.68
According to UNIFIL, “Any unauthorized crossing of the Blue Line by land or by air from any
side constitutes a violation of Security Council resolution 1701.”69 Since 2007, UNIFIL has
worked with Lebanese and Israeli authorities to mark the Blue Line on the ground via 272 blue
barrels, a contested process that remains unfinished.70 UNIFIL continues to monitor violations of

65 The formal boundaries dividing the three countries remain disputed.
66 UNIFIL, “FAQs,” last updated September 6, 2019, available at http://unifil.unmissions.org/faqs.
67 UNIFIL, “UNIFIL Troop-Contributing Countries,” March 24, 2021, available at https://unifil.unmissions.org/unifil-
68 UNIFIL, “FAQs,” last updated September 6, 2019, available at http://unifil.unmissions.org/faqs.
69 Ibid.
70 Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, “It’s time to talk about the Blue Line: Constructive re-engagement is key to stability,”
Daily Star, March 5, 2021.
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UNSCR 1701, and the U.N. Secretary-General reports regularly to the U.N. Security Council on
the implementation of UNSCR 1701.71 These reports have listed violations by Hezbollah—such
as the construction of underground tunnels that cross the Blue Line—as well as violations by
Israel—such as regular incursions into Lebanese airspace.
Maritime Task Force. Since the discovery in 2009 of large offshore gas fields in the
Mediterranean, unresolved issues over the demarcation of Lebanon’s land border with Israel have
translated into disputes over maritime boundaries, and in 2011 Lebanese authorities called on the
U.N. to establish a maritime equivalent of the Blue Line. U.N. officials stated that UNIFIL does
not have the authority to establish a maritime boundary.72 However, UNIFIL has maintained a
Maritime Task Force (MTF) since 2006, which operates along the entire length of the Lebanese
coastline and assists the Lebanese Navy in preventing the entry of unauthorized arms or other
materials to Lebanon. The MTF was initially composed of six ships, one each from Bangladesh,
Brazil, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, and Turkey, and was commanded by Brazil from 2011 to
2020. In December 2020, Brazil withdrew from the MTF; Germany subsequently assumed
command of the force.
Debates Over UNIFIL’s Mandate
Beginning in 2017, the Security Council’s annual reauthorization of UNIFIL’s mandate grew
increasingly contentious, as the United States and Israel sought changes to the organization’s
mandate that were opposed by the Lebanese government and by countries that contribute troops
Most countries—including the United States—have described UNIFIL as a stabilizing presence in
southern Lebanon. Hezbollah strikes across the Blue Line have significantly decreased since
UNSCR 1701 (2006) increased UNIFIL’s troop ceiling from 2,000 to 15,000.73 A former U.S.
Ambassador to Lebanon has noted that “UNIFIL’s value in constraining Hezbollah comes down
to its size. Through sheer numbers, it essentially saturates the south. Even if it can evade UNIFIL
scrutiny at times, as the tunnels show, Hezbollah does not have the almost complete freedom of
movement in the south that it enjoyed under “old” UNIFIL.74 Currently, UNIFIL deploys
approximately 10,535 troops in a 1060 square km zone (roughly a third the size of Rhode Island).
Trump Administration officials argued that UNIFIL “patrols and checkpoints are of plainly
limited use when offending parties can simply hide weapons and tunnel entrances on so-called
‘private property.’”75 The United States and Israel have accused Hezbollah of hiding weapons in
violation of UNSCR 1701, and have pushed for the addition of language to UNIFIL’s mandate
that would allow UNIFIL to access and search private property for illicit Hezbollah weapons
stockpiles. Trump Administration officials criticized the government of Lebanon for not

71 See United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Security Council
resolution 1701 (2006),
issued every four months, available at https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/content/reports-
72 United Nations Security Council, Fifteenth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security
Council Resolution 1701 (2006),
S/2011/91, February 28, 2011.
73 Jeffrey Feltman, “Debating UN peacekeeping in Lebanon,” Brookings Institution, June 20, 2020.
74 Ibid.
75 Ambassador Kelly Craft, Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, “Remarks at a UN
Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Lebanon (via VTC),” May 4, 2020.
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facilitating UNIFIL access to key sites, such as the Lebanese origin points of Hezbollah
underground tunnels that cross into Israel.76
Lebanon, as well as some countries that contribute troops to UNIFIL, have called for UNIFIL’s
mandate to be renewed without modification.77 French officials have emphasized that UNIFIL “is
not a chapter VII operation” under the U.N. Charter, and thus is limited in its ability to use
military force to implement its mandate. Other former U.S. officials have noted that states
contributing troops to UNIFIL may seek to avoid a scenario that would require them to disarm
Hezbollah by force.78 Since 1978, 321 UNIFIL personnel have been killed by various parties, the
most of any U.N. peacekeeping mission.79
In response to U.S. pressure, some additional provisions have been added to annual resolutions
reauthorizing UNIFIL’s mandate. In 2017, U.S. officials successfully advocated for language
requiring UNIFIL to notify the Security Council whenever it encountered roadblocks or other
obstacles; these incidents are now noted in regular U.N. Secretary General reports on the
implementation of UNSCR 1701. In 2019, the Security Council approved U.S.-proposed
language calling for the U.N. Secretary General to assess the effectiveness of UNIFIL; the
resulting report highlighted several structural weaknesses. In August 2020 the Security Council
voted to reauthorize UNIFIL via UNSCR 2530 (2020) but also reduced UNIFIL’s maximum
force strength from 15,000 to 13,000 troops. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft stated,
“The reduction of the ceiling from 15,000 troops to 13,000 is an important step toward right-
sizing a mission that has for years been over-resourced given the limits on its freedom of
movement and access.”80
The Trump Administration’s approach to UNIFIL differed from that of the Obama
Administration, which, while recognizing UNIFIL’s flaws, generally did not seek to change the
force’s mandate. In 2009, Susan Rice, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations,
testified that,
UNIFIL is currently limited to a Chapter 6 mandate [...] The strengthening of the mandate
is an interest that I understand many good people on the Hill share. We certainly are
sympathetic to it, but I don’t think as a practical matter than we will be able to muster the
support in the Security Council that would be necessary to substantially strengthen the
mandate [...] We, frankly, think that all of the problems you have described and that others
have described notwithstanding, on balance the role that UNIFIL is playing adds value
rather than the opposite, even as we with it would be able to do more.81

76 Ibid.
77 “US to face off with France over peacekeeper mission to Lebanon,” The National, March 4, 2020.
78 Jeffrey Feltman, “Debating UN peacekeeping in Lebanon,” Brookings Institution, June 20, 2020.
79 United Nations Peacekeeping, “Fatalities,” last updated February 28, 2021, available at
80 Ambassador Kelly Craft, Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, “Explanation of Vote
on the Resolution to Renew UNIFIL,” August 28, 2020.
81 Testimony of Ambassador Susan Rice, Permanent Representative of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, U.S.
Congress, House Foreign Relations Committee, New Challenges for International Peacekeeping Operations, hearing
11th Congress, 1st sess., July 29, 2009, H. Hrg. 111-49 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2009).
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Eastern Mediterranean
Figure 4. Lebanon-Israel Offshore Blocks
Energy Resources and
Disputed Boundaries

In 2010, the U.S. Geological
Survey estimated that there are
considerable undiscovered oil and
gas resources in the Levant Basin,
an area that encompasses coastal
areas of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the
Gaza Strip, Egypt and adjacent
offshore waters.82 A 2018 report by
Lebanon’s Bank Audi estimated
that Lebanon could generate over
$200 billion in revenues from
offshore gas exploration, with the
potential to significantly reduce the

country’s debt to GDP ratio.83
Source: Middle East Economic Survey (MEES).

Notes: Boundaries and locations are approximate and not
Despite Lebanon’s significant need
necessarily authoritative.
for additional revenue, long-
standing border disputes between Lebanon and Israel have slowed exploration of offshore gas
fields. The two states hold differing views of the correct delineation points for their joint maritime
boundary relative to the Israel-Lebanon 1949 Armistice Line that serves as the de facto land
border between the two countries.84 Lebanon, objecting to a 2011 Israeli-Cypriot agreement that
draws a specific maritime border delineation point relative to the 1949 Israel-Lebanon Armistice
Line, claims roughly 330 square miles of waters that overlap with areas claimed by Israel.
In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first offshore oil and gas exploration agreement for two
blocks, including one disputed in part by Israel. A consortium of Total (France), Eni (Italy), and
Novatek (Russia) was awarded two licenses to explore blocks 4 and 9. Israel has disputed part of
Block 9. Total completed a drilling exploration in April 2020, but found no evidence of a gas
reservoir in Block 4.85 A second round of offshore licensing originally scheduled for January 2020
was postponed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and collapse of oil and gas prices worldwide.
A June 2020 announcement that Israel would begin developing Block 72 (which partially
overlaps with Lebanon’s Block 9) caused backlash among Lebanese politicians, with President
Aoun decrying it as an “extremely dangerous” decision.86

82 U.S. Geological Survey, “Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Levant Basin Province, Eastern
Mediterranean,” Fact Sheet 2010-3014, March 2010.
83 “Audi: Lebanon’s share from gas over $200B,” Daily Star, February 8, 2018.
84 The Armistice Line is not the final agreed border between Lebanon and Israel, but coastal points on the line appear
likely to be incorporated into any future Lebanon-Israel border agreement. For additional details see Frederic Hof,
“Lebanon and Israel: Blue line tensions,” Atlantic Council, April 16, 2020.
85 “Drilling failed to verify commercial quantities of gas in Block 4: Ghajar,” Daily Star, April 27, 2020.
86 Ed Reed, “Lebanon issues warning on Israeli licence plans,” Energy Voice, June 30, 2020; Daniel Markind, “Does
Natural Gas Hold the Key to Peace in the Middle East?” Forbes, August 20, 2020.
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U.S.-Mediated Lebanon-Israel Talks Over Maritime Dispute Deadlocked
Successive U.S. administrations have sought to mediate between Lebanon and Israel on this issue,
which would allow both states to move forward with offshore oil and gas exploration in areas
currently disputed. Until 2020, the main issue was confined to the 860 square kilometers (330
square miles) of disputed territory claimed by both sides. In 2012, the United States proposed
what became known as the Hof Line, which would have divided the disputed area between
Lebanon and Israel in an approximate 55/45 respective split.87 However, the resignation of Prime
Minister Najib Mikati in early 2013 and the subsequent collapse of Lebanese government
forestalled additional talks.
In October 2020, Lebanon and Israel agreed to begin U.S.-mediated indirect negotiations
regarding their disputed maritime boundaries. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
welcomed the initiation of talks between the two countries—which have remained in a formal
state of war since the 1948-49 Arab Israeli conflict—stating that the United States had worked to
launch these discussions for nearly three years.88 Shortly after the announcement of U.S.-brokered
indirect negotiations, President Aoun stated that Lebanon’s maritime boundary should be “based
on the line that departs on land from the point of Raq Naqoura.”89 Analysts note this would place
an additional 552 square miles of sea into dispute, including part of Israel’s Karish gas field.90
Lebanese Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist movement, is Iran’s most significant non-state ally. Iran’s
support for Hezbollah, including providing thousands of rockets and short-range missiles, helps
Iran acquire leverage against key regional adversaries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. It also
facilitates Iran’s intervention on behalf of a key mutual ally, the Asad regime in Syria. The Asad
regime has been pivotal to Iran and Hezbollah by providing Iran a secure route to deliver
weapons to Hezbollah. Iran has supported Hezbollah by providing “hundreds of millions of
dollars” to the group and training “thousands” of Hezbollah fighters inside Iran.91 In 2018,
Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker estimated that
Iran was providing Hezbollah with more than $700 million per year.92 Since then, U.S. sanctions
reportedly have forced Iran to reduce payments to allied militia forces, including Hezbollah.93
Clashes with Israel
Historical Background
Hezbollah emerged in the early 1980s during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel
invaded Lebanon in 1978 and again in 1982, with the goal of pushing back (in 1978) or expelling

87 Frederic Hof, “Lebanon-Israel maritime talks need not start in a vacuum,” Financial Times, October 22, 2020.
88 U.S. Department of State, “Framework Agreement for Israel-Lebanon Maritime Discussions,” Secretary of State
Michael R. Pompeo, press statement, October 1, 2020.
89 “Aoun rejects Israeli accusations over maritime border,” Daily Star, November 20, 2020.
90 “US regrets Lebanon-Israel stalemate, offers mediation,” Daily Star, December 22, 2020.
91 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, “Iran,” June 24, 2020.
92 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker Speech before the Foundation for the Defense
of Democracies,” press release, June 5, 2018.
93 Ben Hubbard, “Iran’s Allies Feel the Pain of American Sanctions,” New York Times, March 28, 2019.
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(in 1982) the leadership and fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—which used
Lebanon as a base to wage a guerrilla war against Israel until the PLO relocated to Tunisia in
1982.94 In 1985 Israel withdrew from Beirut and its environs to southern Lebanon—a
predominantly Shi’a area. Shi’a leaders disagreed about how to respond to the Israeli occupation,
and many of those favoring a military response gradually coalesced into what would become
Hezbollah.95 The group launched attacks against Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and U.S. military
and diplomatic targets, portraying itself as the leaders of resistance to foreign military occupation.
In May 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon, but Hezbollah has used the
remaining Israeli presence in the Sheb’a Farms (see below) and other disputed areas in the
Lebanon-Syria-Israel triborder region to justify its ongoing conflict with Israel—and its continued
existence as an armed militia alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The Sheb’a Farms Dispute
When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, several small but sensitive territorial issues were left
unresolved, notably, a roughly 10-square-mile enclave at the southern edge of the Lebanese-Syrian border known
as the Sheb’a Farms. Israel did not evacuate this enclave, arguing that it is not Lebanese territory but rather is part
of the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967. Lebanon, supported by Syria, asserts that this territory
is part of Lebanon and should have been evacuated by Israel when the latter abandoned its self-declared security
zone in May 2000.
Ambiguity surrounding the demarcation of the Lebanese-Syria border has complicated the task of determining
ownership over the area. France, which held mandates for both Lebanon and Syria, did not define a formal
boundary between the two, although it did separate them by administrative divisions. Nor did Lebanon and Syria
establish a formal boundary after gaining independence from France in the aftermath of World War II—in part due
to the influence of some factions in both Syria and Lebanon who regarded the two as properly constituting a single
Advocates of a “Greater Syria" in particular were reluctant to establish diplomatic relations and boundaries,
fearing that such steps would imply formal recognition of the separate status of the two states. The U.N.
Secretary-General noted in May 2000 that “there seems to be no official record of a formal international boundary
agreement between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic.”96 Syria and Lebanon did not establish full diplomatic
relations until 2008.97
2006 Hezbollah-Israel War
Hezbollah’s last major clash with Israel occurred in 2006—a 34-day war that resulted in the
deaths of approximately 1,190 Lebanese and 163 Israelis,98 and the destruction of large parts of
Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure. The war began in July 2006, when Hezbollah captured two
members of the IDF along the Lebanese-Israeli border. Israel responded by carrying out air
strikes against suspected Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, and Hezbollah countered with rocket
attacks against cities and towns in northern Israel. Israel subsequently launched a full-scale
ground operation in Lebanon with the stated goal of establishing a security zone free of

94 According to various accounts, Israel’s 1982 invasion included additional goals of countering Syrian influence in
Lebanon and helping establish an Israel-friendly Maronite government there.
95 The Shi’a group Amal took a more nuanced view of the Israeli occupation, which it saw as breaking the dominance
of Palestinian militia groups operating in southern Lebanon.
96 United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council
resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978)
, S/2000/460, May 22, 2000.
97 Syrian Government, Presidential Decree No. 358, October 14, 2008.
98 See Amnesty International, “Amnesty International Report 2007 – Lebanon,” May 23, 2007 and Israel Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, “Israel-Hizbullah conflict: Victims of rocket attacks and IDF casualties,” July 12, 2006.
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Hezbollah militants. Hostilities ended following the issuance of U.N. Security Council Resolution
(UNSCR) 1701, which imposed a cease-fire.
In the years since the 2006 war, Israeli officials have sought to draw attention to Hezbollah’s
weapons buildup—including reported upgrades to the range and precision of its projectiles—and
its alleged use of Lebanese civilian areas as strongholds.99 Various sources have referenced
possible Iran-backed Hezbollah initiatives to build precision-weapons factories in Lebanon.100
Domestic Politics
Hezbollah was widely credited with forcing the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern
Lebanon in 2000, and this elevated the group into the primary political party among Lebanese
Shi’a.101 In addition, Hezbollah—like other Lebanese confessional groups—vies for the loyalties
of its constituents by operating a vast network of schools, clinics, youth programs, private
business, and local security. These services contribute significantly to the group’s popular support
base, and compounds the challenges of limiting Hezbollah’s influence.
Hezbollah has participated in elections since 1992, and it has achieved a modest but steady degree
of electoral success. Hezbollah entered the cabinet for the first time in 2005, and has held one to
three seats in each Lebanese government formed since then. Hezbollah candidates have also fared
well in municipal elections, winning seats in conjunction with allied Amal party representatives in
many areas of southern and eastern Lebanon.
In 2018, Lebanon held its first legislative elections in nine years in which parties allied with
Hezbollah increased their share of seats from roughly 44% to 53%. The political coalition known
as March 8 (see Figure 2), which includes Hezbollah, Amal, the FPM, and allied parties, won 68
seats.102 This is enough to secure a simple majority (65 out of 128 seats) in parliament, but falls
short of the two-thirds majority needed to push through major initiatives such as a revision to the
constitution. Hezbollah itself did not gain any additional seats.
Hezbollah has at times served as a destabilizing political force, despite its willingness to engage
in electoral politics. In 2008, Hezbollah-led fighters took over areas of Beirut after the March 14
government attempted to shut down the group’s private telecommunications network—which
Hezbollah leaders described as key to the group’s operations against Israel.103 Hezbollah has also
withdrawn its ministers from the cabinet to protest steps taken by the government (in 2008 when
the government sought to debate the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, and in 2011 to protest the
expected indictments of Hezbollah members for the Hariri assassination). On both occasions, the
withdrawal of Hezbollah and its political allies from the cabinet caused the government to
collapse. Hezbollah involvement has been suspected in various political assassinations—notably
that of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 (see “Special Tribunal for Lebanon”), and
more recently in the death of Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim in early 2021.104 At other times,

99 See, for example, Ben Hubbard and Ronen Bergman, “Who Warns Hezbollah That Israeli Strikes Are Coming?
Israel,” New York Times, April 23, 2020; Seth Jones, “War by Proxy: Iran's Growing Footprint in the Middle East,”
Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 11, 2019; Jonathan Spyer and Nicholas Blanford, “Update: Israel
raises alarm over advances by Hizbullah and Iran,” Jane's Intelligence Review, January 11, 2018.
100 Ben Caspit, “Hezbollah, Israel losing red lines,” Al-Monitor, September 4, 2019; Katherine Bauer, et al., “Iran's
Precision Missile Project Moves to Lebanon,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 2018.
101 Lina Khatib and Maxwell Gardiner, “Lebanon: Situation Report,” Carnegie Middle East Center, April 17, 2015.
102 “Official election results—How Lebanon’s next parliament will look,” Daily Star, May 8, 2018.
103 “Row over Hezbollah phone network,” Al Jazeera, May 9, 2008.
104 Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad, “Prominent Lebanese Critic of Hezbollah Is Killed,” New York Times, February 4,
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Hezbollah leaders have avoided conflict with other domestic actors, possibly in order to focus its
resources elsewhere—such as on activities in Syria.
Top Lebanese leaders have acknowledged that despite their differences with Hezbollah, they do
confer with the group on issues deemed to be critical to Lebanon’s security. Prime Minister Hariri
said in 2017 that although he disagrees with Hezbollah on politics, he saw it as necessary to
maintain “some kind of understanding” with the group in order to avoid civil conflict. 105
Intervention in Syria
Syria is important to Hezbollah because it serves as a key transshipment point for Iranian
weapons. Following Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, the group worked to rebuild its weapons
cache with Iranian assistance, a process facilitated or at minimum tolerated by the Syrian regime.
While Hezbollah’s relationship with Syria is more pragmatic than ideological, it is likely that
Hezbollah views the prospect of regime change in Damascus as a fundamental threat to its
interests—particularly if the change empowers Sunni groups allied with Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah played a key role in helping to suppress the Syrian uprising, in part by “advising the
Syrian Government and training its personnel in how to prosecute a counter insurgency.”106
Hezbollah fighters in Syria worked with the Syrian military to protect regime supply lines, and to
monitor and target rebel positions. They also facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran’s
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF).107 The involvement of Hezbollah
in the Syrian conflict evolved since 2011 from an advisory to an operational role, with forces
fighting alongside Syrian troops.108 In 2017, Nasrallah declared that “we have won the war (in
Syria)” and described the remaining fighting as “scattered battles.”109 According to the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights, an estimated 1,705 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria
between March 2011 and March 2021.110
Public Health and COVID-19111
Lebanon reported its first case of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) on February 21, 2020,
and total reported cases exceeded 1,000 on May 21, 2020 (see Figure 5). The first COVID-19-
related death was reported on March 11, 2020. COVID-19-related deaths surpassed 100 on
August 17. After December, cases rose sharply, with more cases reported in the first two months
of 2021 (194,779) than in all of 2020 (177,996); more people in Lebanon died from COVID-19 in
January 2021 (1,588) than in all of 2020 (1,443). In February 2021, Lebanon received its first
batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, funded in part by a $34 million financing arrangement with
the World Bank. After reports surfaced that Members of Parliament received the vaccine before
priority groups (healthcare workers and the elderly), the World Bank threatened to suspend

105 Susan Glasser, “Saad Hariri: The Full Transcript,” Politico, July 31, 2017.
106 U.S. Department of State, “Briefing on the designation of Hezbollah for supporting the Syrian regime,” press
release, August 10, 2012.
107 Ibid.
108 “In Syria’s Aleppo, Shiite militias point to Iran’s unparalleled influence,” Washington Post, November 20, 2016.
109 “Hezbollah declares Syria victory, Russia says much of country won back,” Reuters, September 12, 2017.
110 Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “Syrian Revolution 120 months on: 594,000 persons killed and millions of
Syrians displaced and injured,” March 14, 2021.
111 This section was prepared by Research Assistant Sarah Collins.
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support to the vaccination program; however, the rollout appears to have continued apace.112 As
of mid-April 2021, Lebanon had administered approximately 322,000 doses of the vaccine,
covering about 3% of the population.113
Lebanon was facing a healthcare challenges even before the outbreak of COVID-19. The
government, by not reimbursing public and private hospital expenditures in recent years, has
reportedly made it difficult for hospitals to purchase medical supplies and equipment, pay
salaries, and obtain sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). Sleiman Haroun, the head of
the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, reports that private hospitals have not been reimbursed $1.3
billion in dues since 2011.114 Hospitals and medical suppliers have also struggled to procure
supplies due to the collapse of the exchange rate (see “Economy and Fiscal Issues”). A “warning
strike” by private hospitals in November 2019 over the shortages led the government to agree to
provide 50% of the dollars needed to import medical supplies at the official exchange rate.115
Healthcare workers have raised concerns that the lack of PPE and ventilators, as well as layoffs of
hospital staff due to the economic crisis, has created unsafe working conditions for those treating
COVID-19 cases.116 The August 4 Beirut Port explosion exacerbated these underlying challenges:
6 major hospitals and 20 clinics sustained partial or heavy structural damage as a result of the
blast, placing additional burdens on remaining hospitals.117
The United States does not provide aid to Lebanon’s Health Ministry, which U.S. officials have
described as “run by Hezbollah.”118 (Hezbollah held the Health Ministry in both the outgoing
Diab government and in the Hariri government that preceded it). USAID has funded some U.S.-
affiliated medical institutions in Lebanon; following the Beirut Port blast, U.S. officials
announced that these institutions would receive an additional $4 million in U.S. funding.119

112 Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam, “World Bank threatens to cut Lebanon's vaccine aid over line-jumping,” Reuters,
February 23, 2021.
113 “Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World,” The New York Times, accessed April 18, 2021.
114 Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Hospital Crisis Endangering Health,” December 10, 2019.
115 Ibid.
116 Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: COVID-19 Worsens Medical Supply Crisis,” March 24, 2020.
117 UNOCHA, “Beirut Port Explosions Situation Report No. 4,” August 13, 2020.
118 “Schenker: No US aid to Health Ministry due to Hezbollah role,” The Daily Star, May 7, 2020.
119 USAID, “United States Provides Humanitarian Assistance in Response to Explosions in Lebanon,” Press Release,
August 7, 2020; USAID, “Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa's Travel to Beirut, Lebanon,” Press Release,
August 12, 2020.
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Figure 5. COVID-19 Cases in Lebanon
Confirmed cases as of April 21, 2021

Source: Created by CRS with data from World Health Organization, WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
, April 21, 2021.
Refugees and Lebanese Policy
Refugees from Syria
The outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011 led to a surge of Syrian refugee arrivals in Lebanon.
Initially, Lebanon maintained an open-border policy, permitting refugees to enter without a visa
and to renew their residency for a nominal fee. By 2014, Lebanon had the highest per capita
refugee population in the world, with refugees equaling one-quarter of the resident population.120
UNHCR suspended new registration of refugees in 2015, in response to the government’s
request, reducing visibility into Lebanon’s total refugee population. In late 2020, UNHCR
reported that about 865,500 Syrian refugees were registered in Lebanon but estimated that 1.5
million were present in the country.121
Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS). The Syria conflict displaced not only Syrian nationals,
but also an estimated 27,700 Palestinian refugees from twelve Palestinian refugee camps inside
Syria. PRS are not eligible for services provided by UNHCR, and must instead register with the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to
receive continued emergency support.

120 UNHCR, “Syrian refugees in Lebanon surpass 1 million,” April 3, 2014.
121 UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response: Lebanon,” Operational Portal, August 2020.
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Palestinian Refugees from Lebanon (PRL)
Palestinian refugees have been present in Lebanon for over 70 years, as a result of displacements
stemming from various Arab-Israeli wars. Like Syrian refugees, Palestinian refugees and their
Lebanese-born children cannot obtain Lebanese citizenship, even though many are the second or
third generation to be born inside Lebanon.122 In addition, the State Department notes that
A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian
refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in
most skilled professions, including medicine, law and engineering that require membership
in a professional association. Informal restrictions on work in other industries left many
refugees dependent upon UNRWA for education, healthcare and social services.123
In 2018, the United States discontinued its voluntary contributions to UNRWA. The United States
previously had been the largest donor, providing funding equal to roughly a third of UNRWA’s
annual budget in 2017.124 In April 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the Biden
Administration's plan to resume various forms of aid to the Palestinians that had been
discontinued under the Trump Administration, including $150 million in humanitarian assistance
for UNRWA.125 For additional details, see CRS Insight IN11649, U.S. Resumption of Foreign Aid
to the Palestinians
, by Jim Zanotti and Rhoda Margesson.
Lebanon’s Policy Towards Syrian Refugees
The long-standing presence of Palestinians in Lebanon arguably shaped the approach of Lebanese
authorities to the arrival of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese government has been unwilling to take
steps that could potentially enable Syrians to become a permanent refugee population akin to the
Palestinians—whose militarization in the 1970s was one of the drivers of Lebanon’s 15-year civil
war. Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its
1967 Protocol, which outline the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of States to
protect them. Lebanese officials have been critical of UNHCR financial assistance to refugees,
arguing that such assistance incentivizes Syrian refugees to remain in Lebanon.126
Since 2011, Lebanon has imposed numerous restrictions on Syrian refugees. These include:
Entry Restrictions. In 2014, the government enacted entry restrictions effectively closing the
border to PRS.127 In 2015, the Lebanese government began to implement new visa requirements
for all Syrians entering Lebanon. Under the new requirements, Syrians can only be admitted if
they are able to provide documentation proving that they fit into one of the seven approved
categories for entry, which do not specifically list fleeing political persecution or threats to their

122 Citizenship in Lebanon is derived exclusively through the father. Thus, a child born to a Palestinian refugee mother
and a Lebanese father could obtain Lebanese citizenship. However, a Palestinian refugee father would transmit his
stateless status to his children, even if the mother was a Lebanese citizen.
123 U.S. Department of State, “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Lebanon,” March 2021.
124 For additional details, see CRS Insight IN10964, Decision to Stop U.S. Funding of UNRWA (for Palestinian
, by Jim Zanotti and Rhoda Margesson.
125 U.S. Department of State press release, “The United States Restores Assistance for the Palestinians,” April 7, 2021.
126 Patrick Wintour, “Thousands of Syrian refugees could be sent back, says Lebanese minister,” Guardian, June 15,
127 Amnesty International, Lebanon: Denied refuge: Palestinians from Syria seeking safety in Lebanon, July 1, 2014.
128 According to Amnesty International, “Category one is for tourism, shopping, business, landlords, and tenants;
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Legal Residency. By 2020, only 20% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon above the age of 15 had
legal residency,129despite a 2017 decision by the government of Lebanon to institute a waiver for
the annual residency renewal fee. The waiver, which reportedly has been unevenly implemented,
only applies to Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR prior to January 2015 and who had not
previously renewed their residency based on tourism, sponsorship, property ownership, or
tenancy.130 Lack of legal residency makes refugees subject to arrest, restricting their movement
and ability to work, which in turn exacerbates poverty levels.
Work Permits. Competition over lower-skilled jobs has been among the most-cited tension
factors in Lebanese-Syrian relations.131 In 2017, the Lebanese government agreed to grant Syrian
refugees work permits in three sectors (agriculture, construction, and cleaning). However,
recipients of work permits would become ineligible to receive UNHCR assistance.
Housing. The government has blocked the construction of refugee camps like those built to house
Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey, presumably to prevent Syrian refugees from remaining in
Lebanon permanently. As a result, most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have settled in urban areas,
including existing Palestinian refugee camps.132 In 2019, Lebanese authorities cracked down on
the use of concrete and hardened materials in refugee shelters, demolishing at least 20 shelters
and threatening the demolition of several thousand additional semi-permanent structures,
allegedly for non-compliance with housing codes.133
Deportation. In 2019, Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council issued a decision requiring the
deportation of anyone found to have entered Lebanon illegally after April 24, 2019. Lebanon’s
Directorate for General Security (DGS) reported that it had deported 2,731 individuals as of
September 2019.134 Deportations ceased in March 2020 due to COVID-related border closures,
and resumed in September 2020.135
In addition, humanitarian agencies organizations in early 2021 expressed concern about a new
policy issued by Lebanon’s Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, which requires humanitarian
organizations to submit the personal details of aid beneficiaries.136 The request was particularly
concerning because roughly 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon lack legal residency (see
above). The requirement was subsequently lifted for U.N. agencies, but remains in place for local

category two is for studying, category three is for transiting to a third country, category four is for those displaced;
category five for medical treatment; category six for an embassy appointment; and category seven for those entering
with a pledge of responsibility (a Lebanese sponsor).” See Amnesty International, Pushed to the Edge: Syrian Refugees
Face Increased Restrictions in Lebanon
, June 2015.
129 WFP, UNHCR, and UNICEF, “Inter-Agency Coordination Lebanon: Key Findings of the 2020 Vulnerability
Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” February 16, 2021.
130 UNHCR, Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, Annual Report 2019, January 26, 2021, p. 15.
131 UNDP and ARK, Regular Perception Surveys Throughout Lebanon: Wave VI, July 2019.
132 UNHCR, “Key Findings of the 2019 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” July 2020;
UNOCHA, “Humanitarian Bulletin: Lebanon,” Issue 30, (November 1, 2017- January 31, 2018).
133 U.S. Department of State, “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Lebanon,” March 2020; Human
Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Syrian Refugee Shelters Demolished,” July 5, 2019.
134 U.S. Department of State, “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Lebanon,” March 2021.
135 Ibid.
136 Abby Sewell, “Ministry’s demand for aid recipients’ personal details halts some humanitarian assistance programs
during lockdown,’ L’Orient Today, February 17, 2021.
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Implications of Economic Collapse and COVID-19 for Refugees
Despite monthly cash and food assistance provided by UNHCR and the World Food Programme
(WFP), most Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, a situation exacerbated by the rise in
cost of basic goods stemming from Lebanon’s economic crisis. In late 2020, UNHCR estimated
that 89% of Syrians in Lebanon lived below the extreme poverty line, up from 55% in 2019.137
As of 2021, refugees constitute a relatively small percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases in
Lebanon. As of February 2021, a total of 7,068 Palestinian refugees and 3,626 Syrian refugees
had tested positive for COVID-19, out of a total of 375,033 cases nationwide.138 However,
refugee access to health care and testing has been limited by curfews, restrictions on freedom of
movement that apply to refugees but not citizens,139 and uneven access to free testing for
symptomatic individuals.140 Syrian refugees lacking appropriate legal documentation may be less
likely to seek testing or treatment for COVID-19 symptoms out of fear of deportation.141
The country’s economic collapse and the impact of COVID-19 on jobs has severely limited
income-generating possibilities for refugees. UNHCR estimated that “nearly 90% of Syrians and
almost 80% of Palestinians either have lost their income-generating possibilities or have had their
salaries reduced since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak or even before.”142 More than two
thirds of Syrian refugee families reported having no working family members in May 2020,
compared to 44% in February 2020.143 Evictions are on the rise as families are increasingly
unable to make rent payments.
Return of Refugees to Syria
Since 2017, the LAF and the Directorate for General Security (DGS) have facilitated the return of
refugees to Syria. The State Department reported that the DGS coordinated with Syrian officials
to facilitate the return of roughly 16,000 Syrian refugees between 2017 and September 2019,
adding that UNHCR did not coordinate these returns but was present at departure points and
found no evidence that returns were involuntary among refugees they interviewed.144 Various
human rights groups questioned whether the returns were fully voluntary, citing a coercive
environment in Lebanon, with crackdowns on refugee housing, legal permits, and rising tensions
with host communities.145 DGS-facilitated returns were suspended following the closure of
Lebanon’s borders in March 2020, but UNHCR expected returns to resume in 2021.146

137 WFP, UNHCR, and UNICEF, “Inter-Agency Coordination Lebanon: Key Findings of the 2020 Vulnerability
Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon,” February 16, 2021.
138 UNOCHA, “COVID-19 response – Lebanon bi-monthly situation report,” March 19, 2021.
139 Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Refugees at Risk in COVID-19 Response,” April 2, 2020.
140 Diana Rayes and Kareem Chehayeb, “No funding and policy: Lebanon’s refugee population amid COVID-19 and
an economic crisis,” Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, July 23, 2020.
141 Alice Fordham, “Syrian Refugees In Lebanon Fear Deportation For Seeking Coronavirus Test Or Care,” NPR, April
6, 2020.
142 UNHCR, “In Focus: Rise in Evictions Due to Increased Economic Vulnerability,” July 2020.
143 Ibid.
144 U.S. Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Lebanon.
145 Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Refugees in Border Zone at Risk,” News Release, September 20, 2017; Amnesty
International, “Lebanon: Wave of hostility exposes hollowness of claims that Syrian refugee returns are voluntary,”
June 12, 2019.
146 UNHCR, “Lebanon,” Factsheet, January 2021.
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Some Lebanese officials have called for the return of refugees to areas under Syrian government
control, without waiting for a political settlement to end the conflict. In March 2021, caretaker
Prime Minister Diab called for the international community to support the Lebanese
government’s plan for the gradual return of Syrian refugees. Diab stated that the plan respects the
principle of non-refoulment, but also de-links refugee return from a political solution to the Syria
conflict.147 President Aoun also has emphasized that Lebanon “doesn’t have the luxury to wait for
a political solution as a pre-condition for the return of the displaced.”148 UNHCR has not
organized voluntary repatriation of refugees to Syria, however they have provided support to
refugees who wish to return.149
The main barriers to return cited by Syrian refugees included “the lack of sustainable safety and
security in Syria, housing, land and property issues, lack of access to services and livelihood
opportunities in areas of return.”150 A February 2020 International Crisis Group report found that
the thousands of individual returns since 2017 “are not indicative of any shift in conditions that
would make it safe for the majority of refugees to return anytime soon.”151
Economy and Fiscal Issues
Lebanon’s economy is service oriented (83% of GDP); primary growth sectors include banking
and tourism.152 The country faces a number of economic challenges, including high
unemployment and a debt to GDP ratio that is among the highest in the world (171%, 2019
est).153 Significant wealth and income inequality rooted in state politics have fueled popular
The war in neighboring Syria significantly affected Lebanon’s traditional growth sectors, and cut
off a primary market and transport corridor for export. Economic growth slowed from an average
of 8% between 2007 and 2009 to 1% to 2% since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and
the resulting refugee influx.155
Lebanon’s largest expenditures include servicing its debts, public sector salaries, and subsidies
(notably transfers to the state-run electricity sector). This significantly constrains government
spending on urgently needed infrastructure projects. The Lebanese government is unable to
consistently provide basic services such as electricity, water, and waste treatment, and the World
Bank noted in 2015 that the quality and availability of basic public services was significantly
worse in Lebanon than both regional and world averages.156 As a result, citizens rely on private

147 Statement of Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the 5th Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of
Syria and the Region,” National News Agency, March 30, 2021.
148 “Aoun to UNHCR Representative: Lebanon has reached stage of exhaustion due to the negative repercussions of
displacement,” National News Agency, March 30, 2021.
149 UNHCR, “Lebanon,” Factsheet, January 2021.
150 Government of Lebanon and the United Nations, “Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017-2020 (2020 update),” March
151 International Crisis Group, “Easing Syrian Refugees’ Plight in Lebanon,” Middle East Report #211, February 2020.
152 “Lebanon,” CIA World Factbook, March 3, 2021.
153 World Bank, Lebanon Economic Monitor, Fall 2020: The Deliberate Depression, November 1, 2020.
154 Nisreen Salti, “No Country for Poor Men: How Lebanon’s Debt Has Exacerbated Inequality,” Carnegie Middle East
Center, September 17, 2019.
155 “Lebanon,” CIA World Factbook, December 20, 2016.
156 World Bank, Lebanon Economic Monitor, Fall 2015: The Great Capture, November 17, 2015, pp. 24-29.
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providers, many of whom are affiliated with political parties. The retreat of the state from these
basic functions has enabled a patronage network whereby citizens support political parties—
including Hezbollah—in return for basic services.
Economic Crisis
Lebanon in 2021 faces overlapping currency, debt, fiscal, and banking crises. The Lebanese lira
(also known as the pound), pegged to the dollar, has lost more than 90% of its value in black-
market trading since October 2019. Officially pegged at 1,507 to the dollar, the lira reached a
historic low of over 15,000 to the dollar on the black market in March 2021.157
In March 2020, Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time in its history; the country’s
public debt (which the World Bank projected to reach 194% GDP by the end of 2020) is among
the highest in the world.158 The World Bank estimated that inflation increased from 10% in
January 2020 to 120% in August 2020.159 Food prices rose 402% between December 2019 and
December 2020, according to the Central Administration of Statistics.160 The World Bank
projected that real economic growth would decelerate to -19.2% in 2020, and that more than half
of the population would live in poverty by 2021.161
In May 2020, the Lebanese government formally requested a $10 billion loan from the IMF.
However, talks between the government and the IMF stalled over questions regarding the
exchange rate, government finances, and banking reforms. U.S. and European officials have
conditioned their support for an IMF program for Lebanon on the implementation of structural
reforms. Many of the reforms sought by outside donors require the formation of a new
government, as a government in caretaker status lacks the authority to pass reform legislation.
In particular, donors have called for an external forensic audit of Banque du Liban (BDL),
Lebanon’s central bank, which would allow analysts to accurately assess Lebanon’s economic
and financial losses, and potentially reveal instances of corruption and/or mismanagement of
public funds.162 BDL declined to provide the documents required for the audit, citing banking
secrecy laws.163 In December 2020, Parliament voted to lift banking secrecy on BDL accounts for
one year to allow for the forensic audit, which former government officials described as “passing
laws allowing the enforcement of already existing laws.”164
The World Bank has been critical of Lebanon’s response to the economic crisis, stating in late
2020 that, “policy inaction is sowing the seeds of an economic and social catastrophe for
Lebanon.”165 In March 2021, Lebanese officials stated that Lebanon has begun scaling back food
subsidies, and also planned to reduce subsidies on gasoline, measures likely to increase political

157 “Lebanese pound sets new record low past 15,000 mark against dollar,” Daily Star, March 16, 2021.
158 World Bank, Lebanon Economic Monitor, Fall 2020: The Deliberate Depression, November 1, 2020, p. 7.
159 Ibid, p8.
160 Chloe Cornish, “Currency crisis leaves Lebanese cupboards bare,” Financial Times, February 21, 2021.
161 World Bank, Lebanon Economic Monitor, Fall 2020: The Deliberate Depression, November 1, 2020, p. 25, p. 22.
162 Kareem Chehayeb, “Why Does the International Community Want Lebanon to Audit its Central Bank?” Tahrir
Institute for Middle East Policy, January 28, 2021.
163 Laurice Constantine, “Forbes Middle East Reveals The Questions From Alvarez & Marsal, Which The Central Bank
Of Lebanon Refused To Answer,” Forbes, October 28, 2020.
164 Alain Bifani, “BDL’s audit: The last card up the system’s sleeve,” L’Orient Today, February 12, 2021.
165 World Bank, Lebanon Economic Monitor, Fall 2020: The Deliberate Depression, November 1, 2020, p. 27.
166 “Lebanon to reduce subsidies as cash runs out: Wazni,” Daily Star, March 16, 2021.
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link to page 34 Lebanon

For additional background on Lebanon’s economic crisis, see CRS In Focus IF11660, Lebanon’s
Economic Crisis
, by Carla E. Humud and Rebecca M. Nelson.
U.S. Policy
U.S. policy over the past two decades has focused on bolstering forces that could serve as a
counterweight to Syrian, Iranian, and violent extremist influence in Lebanon through a variety of
military and economic assistance programs. U.S. security assistance priorities reflect increased
concern about the potential for Sunni jihadist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic
State to target Lebanon, as well as long-standing U.S. concerns about Hezbollah and its rocket
arsenal, which poses a threat to Israel. U.S. economic aid to Lebanon is designed to promote
democracy, stability, and economic growth, particularly in light of the challenges posed by the
ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria. Congress has placed several certification requirements on
U.S. assistance funds for Lebanon annually in an effort to prevent their misuse or the transfer of
U.S. equipment to Hezbollah or other designated terrorists.
Current Funding
Lebanon has received over $100 million annually in both Economic Support Fund (ESF) monies
and Foreign Military Financing (FMF, see Table 1). In addition to FMF obligated through the
annual State and Foreign Ops appropriations, Lebanon has received roughly $100-200 million in
additional security assistance via the annual defense appropriation process.167
Table 1. Select U.S. Foreign Assistance Funding for Lebanon-Related Programs
$, millions, Fiscal Year of Appropriation unless noted

Source: State Department Budget Justifications (FY2017-FY2021); P.L. 116-94 and accompanying explanatory
statement; P.L. 116-260 and accompanying explanatory statement.
Notes: Table does not reflect all funds or programs related to Lebanon. Does not account for all
reprogramming actions of prior year funds or obligation notices provided to congressional committees of
ESF = Economic Support Fund; ESDF = Economic Support and Development Fund; FMF = Foreign Military Financing;
IMET = International Military Education and Training; INCLE = International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement;
NADR = Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs.

167 CRS analysis of Defense Department notifications to Congress.
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Conditionality on Aid to Lebanon
Annual appropriations bills have established conditions on ESF and security assistance for
ESF. Successive appropriations bills have made ESF funding for Lebanon available
notwithstanding Section 1224 of the FY2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act (P.L. 107-228),
which states that ESF funds for Lebanon may not be obligated until the President certifies to the
appropriate congressional committees that the LAF has been deployed to the Israeli-Lebanese
border and that the government of Lebanon is effectively asserting its authority in the area in
which the LAF is deployed.
FMF. Successive appropriation bills have stated that funding for the Lebanese Internal Security
Forces (ISF) and the LAF may not be appropriated if either body is controlled by a U.S.-
designated foreign terrorist organization. FMF assistance to the LAF may not be obligated until
the Secretary of State submits to the appropriations committees a spend plan, including actions to
be taken to ensure equipment provided to the LAF is used only for intended purposes.
FY2021 Appropriations
Lebanon provisions in the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260, Section
7041(e) of Division K) reflect the approach taken by successive Congresses to ESF and FMF aid
to Lebanon.
The stated purposes of FMF funding for Lebanon have remained largely consistent since 2009
and include:
 to professionalize the LAF,
 to strengthen border security and combat terrorism, and
 to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
In FY2020, new language was added to include a specific reference to countering Hezbollah as a
stated purpose of FMF assistance to Lebanon. This addition, which was carried over into the
FY2021 Act, states that FMF aid to Lebanon aims to “professionalize the LAF to mitigate internal
and external threats from non-state actors, including Hizballah.”
The FY2021 Defense Appropriations Act (Division C of P.L. 116-260) states that of the funds
appropriated for “Operations and Maintenance, Defense-Wide,” for the Defense Security
Cooperation Agency, $100 million shall be made available to reimburse Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia,
and Oman for enhanced border security. The FY2021 NDAA (P.L. 116-283) does not specify a
specific amount for Lebanon.
Economic Aid
The influx of over 1 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon has strained the country’s already
weak infrastructure. Slow economic growth and high levels of public debt have limited
government spending on basic public services, and this gap has been filled by various
confessional groups affiliated with local politicians. In light of these challenges, U.S. programs
are aimed at increasing the capacity of the public sector to provide basic services to both refugees
and Lebanese host communities. This includes reliable access to potable water, sanitation, and
health services. It also involves increasing the capacity of the public education system to cope
with the refugee influx. Other U.S. programs are designed to foster inclusive economic growth,
particularly among impoverished and underserved communities. This includes efforts to extend
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financial lending to small firms, create more jobs, and increase incomes. Taken together, these
programs also aim to make communities less vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups.168
The State Department has reported that ESF to Lebanon since 2010 has totaled nearly $1 billion,
stating that U.S. funding has supported programs that
promote economic growth, workforce employability and productivity, good governance,
and social cohesion. This assistance has also supported access to clean water and improved
education services to Lebanese communities, especially those deeply affected by the influx
of Syrian refugees. Included in this amount is nearly $210 million in basic education
programs and over $150 million in higher education programs in Lebanon, supporting
access for over 1,170 Lebanese and refugee students from disadvantaged backgrounds to
top ranking Lebanese universities, including the American University of Beirut and
Lebanese American University.169
Congress has appropriated funds for Lebanon scholarships ($12 million in ESF for FY2021) as
well as for refugee scholarships in Lebanon ($8 million in Development Assistance for FY2021),
mostly in support of U.S. educational institutions in Lebanon.
Military Aid
The State Department has stated that U.S. security assistance for the LAF “aims to strengthen
Lebanon’s sovereignty, secure its borders, counter internal threats, disrupt terrorist facilitation,
and build up the country’s legitimate state institutions.”170 The department also stated that the
U.S.-LAF partnership “builds the LAF’s capacity as the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon’s
sovereignty,” in a reference to Lebanese Hezbollah, which also has sought to portray itself as a
“defender of Lebanon.”171 Since 2006, the United States has provided more than $2 billion to
LAF, in the form of military vehicles, weapons, equipment, and training.172
Background. In 2006, the United States resumed FMF grants to the LAF—suspended since
1984, when the LAF fractured during Lebanon’s civil war.173 The resumption of FMF was
facilitated by the end of Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon in 2005, and reflected U.S.
concern over the weakness of the LAF and its inability to confront threats that could also
undermine U.S. regional security interests. Hezbollah’s 34-day war with Israel in 2006
highlighted the strength of Hezbollah relative to the LAF, which largely stood on the sidelines. In
2007, the LAF fought a three-month battle against militants in the Nahr al Bared camp in
northern Lebanon. While ultimately successful, the operation killed 163 LAF soldiers and
demonstrated persistent LAF weaknesses. In 2008, Hezbollah temporarily seized control of west
Beirut in response to efforts by the Lebanese government to dismantle the group’s private
telecommunications network. The LAF did not directly challenge Hezbollah, and the dispute was

168 For more information, see USAID, USAID/Lebanon Country Development Cooperation Strategy, December 2014-
December 2019,
February 9, 2021.
169 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Relations With Lebanon,” factsheet, September 2020.
170 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Security Cooperation With Lebanon,” factsheet, January 20, 2021.
171 “The Complexity behind Hezbollah's Response to Israel's Attacks,” Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv
University, September 4, 2019.
172 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Security Cooperation With Lebanon,” factsheet, January 20, 2021.
173 Some nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Lebanon resumed following the end of the country’s civil war in 1990,
mostly in the form of DoD Excess Defense Articles (EDA). For additional details on the history of U.S.-LAF relations,
see Nicholas Blanford, “The United States-Lebanese Armed Forces Partnership: Challenges, Risks, and Rewards,”
Atlantic Council, May 7, 2018; “MEI Defense Leadership Series: Episode 7 with LAF Rear Admiral (Ret.) Joseph
Sarkis,” Middle East Institute, September 8, 2020.
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instead mediated by the Arab League and Qatari government, resulting in the 2008 Doha
In 2014, militants linked to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda clashed with LAF forces in the
Lebanese border town of Arsal. Nineteen LAF personnel were killed, and 29 LAF and Internal
Security Forces were taken hostage.175 U.S. officials described the August 2014 clashes between
the Islamic State and the LAF in Arsal as a watershed moment for U.S. policy towards Lebanon,
accelerating the provision of equipment and training to the LAF.176 Since 2014, the United States
has provided the LAF with aircraft, vehicles, weapons, and other equipment to secure Lebanon’s
borders and conduct counterterrorism operations.177 This has included items such as A-29 Super
Tucano aircraft, MD-530G light attack helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and
communications and electronic equipment. 178 Since 2014, the United States (in some cases using
grants from Saudi Arabia) has also delivered Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, precision artillery,
TOW-II missiles, M198 howitzers, small arms, and ammunition to Lebanon. Related U.S.
training and advisory support is ongoing.
U.S. Military Presence in Lebanon. In August 2017, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed the
presence of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Lebanon, which he described as providing training
and support to the LAF.179 While he would not comment on the size of the contingent, some
observers have estimated that more than 70 Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT)
trainers and support personnel operate in Lebanon at any given time.180 According to a U.S. Army
publication, U.S. Special Operations Forces have been deployed to Lebanon since at least
2012.181 The United States also conducts annual bilateral military exercises with the LAF. Known
as Resolute Response, these exercises include participants from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and
End-Use Concerns
Some Members have raised concerns about the possibility that weapons or equipment provided to
the LAF could be captured by or diverted to Hezbollah. U.S. Defense and State Department
officials have affirmed that the LAF is fully compliant with end-use reporting and security
requirements. In 2016, Defense Department officials testified that, “the Lebanese Armed Forces
have consistently had the best end-use monitoring reporting of any military that we work with,
meaning that the equipment that we provide to the Lebanese Armed Forces, we can account for it
at any given time.”182 In 2018, then-CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel testified that,
“Since our security assistance began, Lebanon has maintained an exemplary track-record for

174 Robert F. Worth and Nada Bakri, “Hezbollah Seizes Swath of Beirut from U.S.-Backed Lebanon Government,”
New York Times, May 10, 2008.
175 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Lebanon.
176 CRS conversation with State Department official, October 2016.
177 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Security Cooperation With Lebanon,” factsheet, January 20, 2021.
178 U.S. Embassy Beirut, “CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel’s Visit to Lebanon,” press release, December
13, 2017.
179 “US Special Forces operating in Lebanon ‘close to Hizballah,’” The New Arab, August 6, 2017.
180 Aram Nerguizian, “The Lebanese Armed Forces, Hezbollah and the Race to Defeat ISIS,” Center for Strategic and
International Studies, July 31, 2017.
181 Michael Foote, “Operationalizing Strategic Policy in Lebanon,” Special Warfare, vol. 25, no. 2, (April-June 2012).
182 Testimony of Andrew Exum, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Middle East Policy, in U.S. Congress, House
Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon, hearing, 114th Cong.,
2nd sess., April 28, 2016, H.Hrg. 114-229 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2016).
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adhering to regular and enhanced end-use monitoring protocols. We are confident the LAF has
not transferred equipment to Hizballah.”183 A 2021 State Department factsheet stated that,
“Lebanon has been a reliable recipient of [Direct Commercial Sales] as evidenced by their 100
percent favorable rate on Blue Lantern end use monitoring checks, well above the global average
of 75 percent.”184
Humanitarian Aid
U.S. Humanitarian Funding
The United States has provided more than $2.7 billion in humanitarian assistance for Lebanon
since FY2012.185 These funds have supported the needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as well as
those of host communities, including access to food, shelter, medical care, clean water and
sanitation, education, and psychosocial support. U.S. humanitarian assistance for Lebanon
generally is provided through implementing partners, such as U.N. entities and national and
international nongovernmental organizations.
The U.S. provided $395 million in humanitarian funding for Lebanon in FY2020, including $54
million in supplemental funding for COVID-19 preparedness and response.186 U.S. humanitarian
assistance was provided primarily through international organizations such as UNHCR, WFP, and
the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).187
International Humanitarian Funding
The international community has launched various humanitarian appeals and development
frameworks targeting the multiple crises in Lebanon, including Syrian refugee arrivals, the spread
of COVID-19, and the August 2020 blast at the port of Beirut.
International Refugee Response
The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) is nested within the Regional Refugee and
Resilience Plan (3RP) for Syria, co-led by UNHCR and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP).
The LCRP supports Syrian refugees in Lebanon as well as vulnerable Lebanese communities
whose economic security has been adversely affected by refugee arrivals. The LCRP also focuses
on strengthening the stability of the Lebanese state and civil society. The 2020 LCRP sought
$2.67 billion, nearly half of the total 2020 Syria Regional 3RP appeal. As of December 2020, the
LCRP was funded at 63%, “leaving major gaps in vulnerable populations’ access to basic survival
needs and services” according to UNHCR.188 The 2021 LCRP appeal seeks $2.75 billion.

183 Testimony of General Joseph Votel, in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, Terrorism and Iran:
Defense Challenges in the Middle East
, hearing, 115th Cong., 2nd sess., February 27, 2018, H.Hrg. 115-74 (Washington,
DC: GPO, 2019).
184 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Security Cooperation With Lebanon,” factsheet, January 20, 2021.
185 USAID, “Lebanon – Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #1, FY2021,” December 30, 2020.
186 Ibid.
187 Ibid.
188 UNHCR, “Inter-Agency Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) Situation Update,” December 2020.
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In March 2021, the European Union, via the Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syria
, adopted an assistance package of 130 million euros to support Syrian refugees and local
communities in Lebanon and Jordan—98 million of which was earmarked for Lebanon.189
COVID-19 Aid
The Lebanon Intersectoral COVID Response Plan 2020 sought $136.5 million for 2020 and
was funded at 73%. The United States was the largest single donor to the plan, providing $52.3
Beirut Port Blast Aid
The Lebanon Flash Appeal 2020 sought $196 million and was funded at 84%. The United States
provided $30 million toward this appeal, with funding provided through WFP, UNHCR, and
Caritas Lebanon.191
In August 2020, the United Nations launched the Inter-Agency Humanitarian Appeal for
, which sought $565 million for relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts following the
port blast.192
The Lebanon Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (Lebanon 3RF) was
launched in December 2020 by the European Union, United Nations, and the World Bank to
address the needs of Lebanese affected by the August 2020 blast at the port of Beirut. The
Lebanon 3RF is comprised of two non-sequential tracks, the first focused on vulnerable
populations ($584 million) and the second focused on reforms and reconstruction ($2 billion).193
Humanitarian Aid and the Lebanese Government
The United States and other donors have expressed concern that any aid provided to the Lebanese
government could benefit Hezbollah or be otherwise diverted. U.S. humanitarian assistance has
been provided through implementing partners, including U.N. entities and nongovernmental
In early 2021, the World Bank announced that it would provide assistance to vulnerable families
in Lebanon via a loan to the Lebanese government. The Emergency Crisis and COVID-19
Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN)
is a $246 million project, mostly aimed at
providing emergency cash transfers to 147,000 vulnerable Lebanese households for a period of
one year.195 The project generated controversy within Lebanon, as ESSN funds were to be

189 European Commission, “EU adopts €130 million support package for Syrian refugees and local communities in
Jordan and Lebanon,” press release, March 5, 2021.
190 OCHA, “Lebanon Intersectoral COVID Response Plan 2020,” Financial Tracking Service, available at
191 OCHA, “Lebanon Flash Appeal 2020,” Financial Tracking Service, available
192 “UN and partners launch $565 million appeal for Lebanon,” UN News, August 14, 2020.
193 World Bank, “Lebanon Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework (3RF)- Frequently Asked Questions,”
December 4, 2020.
194 “U.S. Won’t Send Aid to Lebanese Government Over Terror-Finance Concerns,” Wall Street Journal, August 26,
195 World Bank, “US$246 Million to Support Poor and Vulnerable Lebanese Households and Build-Up the Social
Safety Net Delivery System,” press release, January 12, 2021.
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provided to the Lebanese government in dollars but distributed to recipients in Lebanese lira, at a
rate more than 30 percent lower than market rate.196 In light of the collapse of the Lebanese lira,
international organization asked that aid money be paid out in dollars or at the market rate,
Lebanese officials made a verbal agreement to distribute the aid in dollars.197
U.S. Sanctions
U.S. Sanctions on Hezbollah
Hezbollah, as an entity, is listed as a Specially Designated Terrorist (1995); a Foreign Terrorist
Organization (1997); and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist or SDGT (2001). Hezbollah
was designated again in 2012 under E.O. 13582, for its support to the Syrian government.
The United States has used sanctions as a tool to isolate Hezbollah from the international
financial system, although U.S. officials also have stated that, “In many cases, Hezbollah doesn’t
use the legitimate financial system in order to move money.”198 Nevertheless, the United States
has continued to use secondary sanctions to target persons and entities that facilitate financial
transactions for Hezbollah (some of whom, unlike Hezbollah, may interact more frequently with
the international financial system). These measures include the Hizballah Financial Sanctions
Regulations, which implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 (P.L.
114-102, known as HIFPA), as amended by the Hizballah International Prevention Amendments
Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-272, sometimes referred to as HIFPA II). However, the primary designation
for Hezbollah-linked entities remains that of Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT),
pursuant to E.O. 13224 (2001).
U.S. Sanctions on Lebanese Politicians
During the Trump Administration, the United States expanded sanctions to include Members of
Parliament. Individuals targeted included both Hezbollah MPs and lawmakers allied with the
 In 2019, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control
(OFAC) designated two of Hezbollah’s thirteen Members of Parliament
(Mohammad Raad and Amin Sherri), the first time that sitting Lebanese MPs had
been targeted.
 In September 2020, OFAC designated former Minister of Transportation and
Public Works Yusuf Finyanus and former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil
for providing material support to Hezbollah.
 In November 2020, OFAC designated former minister Gibran Bassil pursuant to
Executive Order 13818, which implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights
Accountability Act, for his role in corruption in Lebanon. Bassil heads the FPM,

196 Abby Sewell, “How a World Bank loan to support Lebanon’s most vulnerable will also shore up a crumbling
financial system,” L’Orient Today, January 19, 2021.
197 Ghada Alsharif and Abby Sewell, “With the lira plummeting, international donors push for aid to be paid out in
dollars,” L’Orient Today, March 17, 2021; Osama Habib, “World Bank’s $246 million loan for needy families to be
paid in fresh dollars,” Daily Star, March 17, 2021.
198 Testimony of Michael Ratney, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of
State, in U.S. Congress, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. Policy
Towards Lebanon
, hearing, 115th Cong., 1st sess., October 11, 2017, H.Hrg. 115-83 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2017).
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the largest Christian party in Lebanon, and the largest bloc in Parliament. Bassil
also is the son-in-law of President Aoun and a political ally of Hezbollah.
U.S. officials have stated that sanctions could be expanded beyond their traditional focus on
Hezbollah, suggesting that Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh could be targeted for sanctions
as part of a broader investigation into the alleged embezzlement of public funds.199
As of 2021, Lebanon faces one of the most serious economic crises in its modern history, while
also struggling to manage the spread of COVID-19, widespread damage from the August 2020
explosion at the port of Beirut, and longstanding challenges posed by the presence of over a
million refugees. At the same time, the country’s inability to form a government has severely
constricted its ability to implement reforms, or to negotiate an urgently needed economic relief
package with international donors.
The severe deterioration of economic conditions since 2019 risks further undermining stability.
Analysts have noted that violent unrest in the northern city of Tripoli, one of Lebanon’s most
impoverished areas, may be a harbinger of further instability—particularly if economic conditions
continue to deteriorate and austerity measures (such as a reduction in government subsidies on
food and gasoline) constrain access to basic necessities.200 In particular, the steep decline in the
value of the lira and the resulting inflation has decimated public sector salaries—including among
the army and internal security forces—raising concern about whether state institutions will be
able to contain growing unrest.201 Officials from across the political spectrum have warned of an
impending security breakdown, if current economic conditions persist.202
U.S. policy toward Lebanon traditionally has focused on reducing the influence of U.S.
adversaries in the country, but it is unclear to what extent escalating pressure on Hezbollah—
which operates a vast social services network that many vulnerable communities depend on in the
absence of state services—will be a priority for Lebanese political or military officials in the
current economic context. At the same time, U.S. efforts to ameliorate economic conditions in
Lebanon may be constrained by what U.S. officials have described as “systemic corruption,” a
sentiment echoed by some former Lebanese officials.203 The United States and other donors
continue to seek ways of addressing the severe economic hardship faced by Lebanese citizens and
refugees—and the resulting threat to political stability—while not inadvertently supporting a
political system dominated by entrenched elites that to date have resisted international calls for

199 Ben Bartenstein and Dana Khraiche, “U.S. said to weigh sanctions on Lebanon central bank chief,” Bloomberg,
March 4, 2020.
200 “Riots in Lebanon’s Tripoli are Harbingers of Collapse,” International Crisis Group, February 2, 2021.
201 Ibid.
202 “Fears of security risks grow amid worsening economic meltdown,” Daily Star, March 17, 2021.
203 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Targets Corruption in Lebanon,” press release, November 6, 2020;
“The Lebanese conundrum,” Daily Star, January 12, 2021.
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Author Information

Carla E. Humud

Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
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