From pg. 382, A History of the Modern Middle East by Martin Bunton and William Cleveland

"The [Lebanese Civil War] was expanded and then brought temporarily to an end by Syrian intervention. In May 1976 President al-Asad of Syria sent his army into Lebanon to rescue the Christian militias from the battering they were taking at the hands of the PLO and the forces of Jumblatt. Al-Asad’s choice of allies was perplexing because it created a situation in which Syrian troops and Maronite militiamen fought side by side against the PLO and the forces of the National Movement. Whatever al-Asad’s motives may have been for supporting the Maronite faction, Syria’s invasion of Lebanon escalated the fighting and expanded the level of destruction."

As noted, this is very perplexing. Syria has always had an extremely anti-Israel position, never having formally recognized the country. Wouldn't Syria supporting the Christian Maronites and fighting the PLO be strategically beneficial for Israel? Indeed, destroying the PLO in Lebanon (thus getting a free hand in the West Bank) and installing a Christian government were Israel's principal objectives when it invaded Lebanon in 1982.

  • particularly when Syria helped the PLO during their Black September uprising in Jordan. Apr 10, 2017 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


Syria is controlled by Alawites who follow a specialized, somewhat secretive religion. This religion is often described as "shiite muslim," but that is a gross oversimplification. The Alawites have friendly, although sometimes uneasy, association with not only the Maronites, but with other Christian and non-Christian minorities including the Druse and others. As a minority in their own country the Alawites have to ally with many other groups, one of which is the Maronites.

The dynamics of the war against the Maronites, like most wars, was complicated and describing it as just an attack by the PLO overlooks many other facets.

The bottom line is that Syria does not want a situation in Lebanon in which there is a radical Sunni hegemony. They want a diverse polity that includes the Maronites and recognizes and is friendly to the Alawites. The PLO and other Sunni radicals were threatening that balance, which explains the intervention.

  • Syrian regime has explained his support to Maronites at the start of Lebanon civil war to not give them the pretext to ally with israel
    – Mr.lock
    Jan 30, 2017 at 9:55
  • 3
    "The PLO and other Sunni radicals" - But are the PLO "Sunni radicals"? Apr 9, 2017 at 2:39
  • I thought the PLO were relatively secular and Marxist? Am I mistaken, and thinking of PFLP? Which was a major part of the PLO? It is more that they were incidentally mostly Sunnis? Or were they also hostile to the Baathist regime in Syria? Or did they propose a policy of majority rule, which would threaten the nature of Baathist Syria?
    – user17846
    Apr 10, 2017 at 13:49
  • The majority of Palestinians are Sunni, so it is quite probable that the majority of the rank-and-file of PLO or PFLP are Sunni Muslisms. Christians seem to have traditionally overrepresented in their leadership, though. And we don't usually refer to the Republican or Democratic party as "Protestant parties" even though that's what most of their rank-and-file probably are. Apr 17, 2017 at 19:44

The Maronites were themselves divided and some elite families engaged in Mafia style gang-wars to control valuable smuggling routes. Suleiman Frangieh - not only a notorious Maronite war-lord and Gang Boss, but also a President of Lebanon, had become close friends with the Assads (who took control of Syria). He invited the Syrians in to Lebanon. His son was killed by Maronites, not Muslims, and he relied on the Syrians to take revenge.


I am reading the same book you are refering to. There is another reason as well why this is perplexing. My impression from reading the book is that the non-Christian population supported reunification with Syria, so it would seem that Syria would have had an interest in supporting those who would want to be part of Syria. One possible explanation I can think of is that they did not want the PLO to become to powerful, as they might destabilize Syria in the same way that they were destabilizing Lebanon, and as they had earlier destabilized Jordan. I posted a similar question as this on another site.

One answer I got there was that the Maronites were fighting on the same side as the Shia population in the south. I have never read about this before.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.