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Lebanon’s Inability to Elect a President Renders it Vulnerable to the Israel - Hamas Conflict

Verena Youssef | Middle East Fellow

Hassan Nasrallah during a discussion with officials from supreme leader of Iran Ali Khamenei’s office. Image sourced from Khamenei via Wikimedia Commons.

Lebanon has, for much of its history, found itself caught in the crossfire of armed opposition to Israel. Situated to Israel’s north, Lebanon has been victim to collateral damage from wars in Syria, Iraq, and conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. However, the country’s current absence of a sitting president has heightened its vulnerabilities to the shocks of the continuing Israel-Gaza war, amid heightened tension between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The root cause

Lebanon’s vulnerability stems chiefly from the taifiyya, a system of confessionalism which notionally dispenses equal political representation among each of its religio-ethnic groups, that has shaped the country’s political landscape since 1943. Originally intending to serve as an interim solution following Lebanon's independence from French rule, the system was formalised through the National Pact, a series of unwritten agreements.  Ideally, confessionalism would be achieved through a power sharing arrangement between a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shiʿi Muslim speaker of the National Assembly.  This would ensure “equal representation between Christians and Muslims”, “proportional representation among the confessional groups within each of the two religious communities”, and ,“proportional representation among geographic regions”.

The rise of Hezbollah

While the Pact had been underpinned by the principle of equality, the subsequent formation of the 1989 Taif Agreement arguably hindered proportional representation and gave rise to paramilitary groups. Endeavouring to end the 15-year Lebanese civil war, the Agreement promoted mutual existence amongst religious groups within the existing confessional system. At the time, however, Hezbollah had emerged as an Iran-backed Shia militia group dedicated to countering Israel, and wielded significant political influence across Lebanon.

The Pact thus promoted the disarming of all military resistance groups except Hezbollah, the Shia paramilitary party. Under the pretence of national security, the Pact furthered the influence of Iran, established precedent for broader foreign interference, promoted conflicting party-interests and denuded the equal representation of the confessional system. This historic instability is compounded by the country’s current presidential vacuum, leaving the Lebanese government paralysed at a time of heightened regional instability.

A country without a president  

Since June 2023, the Lebanese parliament has failed to vote on a president on twelve occasions. The dilemma followed the stepping down of former President Michel Aoun, who signed a resignation decree a day prior to the mandated end of his six-year term. 

Tensions soared during  the most recent voting attempt in June 2023, wherein Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist political party and militant group, withdrew from the session following the first round of voting, breaking the quorum. Many saw the move as an embodiment of the “deeply fractured” political system in Lebanon, fuelled by conflicting proxy alliances, clashing regional interests, and above all a failure to live up to the principles of confessionalism.

These repeated failures stem from the common denominator of confessionalism, the system that is now exploited by foreign political actors to expand their self interests vis-a-vis national Lebanese actors. Similar to Iran’s promotion of its agenda through Hezbollah, other regional actors have involved themselves in the Lebanese political landscape to promote conflicting interests. 

Tensions in Iran 

While Lebanon is accustomed to conflict with Israel, the lack of a sitting president means the latest surge in violence will make its internal situation worse. These concerns have been recently heightened following the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian. While the cause behind the helicopter crash at the Azerbaijan-Iran border is undetermined, the prospect of foul play has escalated tensions within Iran and the region. Discovery of Israel’s or the US’ involvement in these deaths could result in an aggressive response by the Axis of Resistance, further compromising Lebanon’s instability.

Current escalations

Aggressions are unfolding across the Israel-Lebanon border. The military escalation spiked upon IDF’s killing of Senior Hezbollah commander, Taleb Abdallah, on June 13th 2024, upon targeting a command and control centre. In response, Hezbollah fired 200 rockets, marking the largest salvo of missiles against Israel since the October 7 attacks. However, this military tit-for-tat has raised wider concerns of a conflict spillover into an increasingly vulnerable Lebanon. Such angst follows IDF’s threats of “wider escalation” that could present “devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region”, in response to Hezbollah’s “increasing aggression”. In response, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened a war with “no restraint and no rules and no ceilings”. 

With both groups exchanging threats, Lebanon and its people will again find itself caught in the conflict. Not only will it serve as a victim to  what is an expanding regional war, but it will find itself even more vulnerable to competing regional influences  without a functional executive overseeing the conflict. Such political insecurity threatens Lebanon’s national security, and exposes its vulnerable population to an endless proxy conflict. 


Equally, the rising clashes are threatening prospects of a ceasefire between the IDF and Hamas, despite the UN’s passing of a ceasefire resolution earlier this month. The tit-for-tat along the border will further military escalations between Israel and Hamas, demonstrating the wider conflict between Israel and Iran’s interconnected Axis of Resistance. 

A vulnerable country 

With an understanding of Lebanon’s history and political landscape, the country’s current challenges appear almost overwhelming. Its domestic instability and involvement of foreign powers have been exacerbated by the lack of executive leadership  and a worsening regional conflict. Such struggles are likely agitated by the current escalations at the Israel-Lebanon border, and the prospects of heightened foreign interference with its domestic political processes.

Verena Youssef is the Middle East Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs. Verena is a final year Law/Arts student, set to complete her studies early this year. She has a strong passion for international law and is particularly interested in Middle Eastern policy.  

A proud Egyptian/Australian, Verena enjoys applying her degree in a manner that increases education about the flourishing region.


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