The political crisis in the mid-1970s reached a peak and as the parties failed to reach an agreement, a civil war broke out. The reason for the political crisis was the sectarian system strengthened by the French who invaded Lebanon in World War I. The Lebanese civil war was shaped within the characteristic conditions of the “Cold War” era. Since the West was not enthusiastic about the current system in Lebanon changing, they determined their positions in a way that would strengthen the “Christian right” wing.
The Christian phalangists who were interested in intensifying the civil war wanted to produce a “Christian Lebanon” with help from Israel and the West. The powers that wanted to change the sectarian system in Lebanon united under the National Lebanese Movement (NLM). The NLM and Palestinian Intifada were in coordination. This front was open to the “left” under the conditions of the “Cold War” era. As for the Baathist regime in Damascus, it followed a policy supportive of the Christian fascists in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia was also among those who supported the hostile attitude of Gen. Hafez Al-Assad against the NLM and Palestinian movement called the “Intifada.”
When the Christian fascists suffered a great blow in the civil war, Hafez al-Assad's Syrian troops invaded Bekaa Valley in April 1976. It was a restricted intervention. France, which has been influential in Lebanese politics all along, supported this intervention. The U.S.'s attitude was no different to France. The strongest reaction to the intervention came from the NLM, which controls 80 percent of the country's lands, and the Intifada.
As a result of pressure from Syria, Elias Sarkis was elected president of Lebanon. Syria's intervention in the elections received reaction. Syrian troops bombed the Palestinian camps where demonstrations were held. Damascus's intervention not only failed to prevent the civil war, it escalated it. The Christian phalangists wanted Damascus to carry out a military intervention in Lebanon. The civil war involving about 40 organizations spread throughout the country. While the NLM was fighting Israel and Christian fascists, Syria began to invade all of Lebanon on June 1, 1976.
The NLM and Intifada resisted Syrian troops in many parts of the country. Palestinian camps, Tel al-Zaatar in particular, witnessed heavy attacks from the Syrian army. The gains of the NLM and Intifada against the Christian fascists went to waste with the Syrian intervention. The U.S. and France supported Damascus once again. In his book “Lebanon: Dynamics of Conflict,” B. J. Odeh says:
“The Syrian invasion was not against Israeli and U.S. interests. Both countries wanted the defeat of the NLM and Intifada. Syria was more enthusiastic in this regard. The collapse of Tel al-Zaatar and Israel's intervention in south Lebanon showed that there was a union of interest among Israel, Syria and the Maronite Christian right-wing.”
The strengthening of Christian phalangists as a result of the Syrian intervention laid the groundwork of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This was Hafez al-Assad's role in Lebanon. Damascus had apparently entered Lebanon to stop the civil war and prevent it from spreading to its own territory. Damascus was not backed by any decision of the United Nations, but it was supported by the U.S., France and Israel. The overwhelming majority of the Lebanese population was strongly against Syria's invasion.
Now, Syria is in a worse situation than Lebanon was back then. The civil war in Syria imposes a peril that will affect not only Turkey, but the entire region. The West, especially the U.S., continue to follow a hypocritical policy. Intervening in the Syrian civil war is not a legal matter. This is a matter related to the game plan of the “great powers.” If you have the strength to spoil the game, you are free to “intervene.”