Lebanon, a state of the Near East covering 10 400 km 2, with 3.5 million inhabitants (in 2004), has a historical background which bears testimony to a series of foreign invasions and occupations.
For centuries, Lebanon witnessed a succession of reigns: Canaanite, Phoenician, Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian, Greek and Ottoman, conferring on this small country where Eastern and Western values intersect, an immense diversity characterized by spiritual and material wealth.
In 1920, the League of Nations entrusted France the responsibility of administering Lebanon, a mission France accomplished successfully till 1943, when Lebanon gained independence.
At that time, some relative calm reigned in Lebanon amongst the Maronite, Sunnite, Shiite, Orthodox Greeks, Catholic Greeks and the Druze communities; stability which lasted for a quarter of a century.
Thereafter Beirut became absolute hell
With the sudden influx into Lebanon of several organised armed Palestinian groups, refugees from Israel and Jordan, serious clashes started occurring.
The series of bloody conflicts, which plunged the country into agony, covered a period of over fifteen years, from 1969 to 1986. Thereafter, Beirut, which was a rather volatile mixture of diverse ethnic groups with different cultures and religious beliefs, exploded. Lebanon became a theatre of confrontations involving Palestinian Fedayeens, various pro- and anti-Palestinian factions, the Syrian army, and Druze, Shiite, Sunnite and Maronite militiamen, as well as Phalanges, not to talk of the Israeli army which made several incursions in retaliation to attacks launched from bases situated in the south of Lebanon.
The damages were irreparable
Statistics of losses in terms of human life and irreparable damages incurred by Lebanon, particularly her capital, Beirut, during these prolonged violent confrontations are simply frightening: 145 000 dead, 200 000 wounded and 18 000 declared missing…
A huge portion of Lebanese historical heritage was devastated beyond redemption. Poverty racked the country as tens of thousands the wealthy Lebanese fled their country in to territories where their life and property would not be at risk.
Since then, the country has been enjoying some relative calm; stability she achieved at the expense of forfeiting part of her independence, the Syrian army having taken control over Lebanese territory.
France contributed to peace, particularly within the framework of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon - UNIFL -, by deploying on Lebanese territory soldiers of the army, the air force, the national navy and the gendarmerie, with various assignments:
Ascertain the withdrawal of Israeli troops,
Restore international peace and security,
Assist the Lebanese government in efforts towards regaining her effective authority in the region.
Liban - Détachement français de la FINUL
France equally took upon herself to :
provide humanitarian protection and assistance to the local population
carry out land patrols and set up observation posts
carry out landmine-clearance operations.
The first UNIFL French military contingent was sent to Lebanon in 1978, and was made up of soldiers of the infantry, the engineers, the equipment and the transportation corps. This peace-oriented cooperation continued with the participation of other units, mostly airborne, which were assigned various missions.
Some French officers served in the logistics services of the UNIFL. Thanks to these interventions Lebanon has regained some stability and internal security. But the bill footed by the French army was quite heavy: 129 Frenchmen killed from March 1978 to November 1987. It should be recalled that the ‘’Drakkar’’ building attack of October 23, 1983, claimed the lives of 58 men of the French parachutist chasseurs corps. As for UNIFL volunteers, hundreds of them were killed; a very heavy toll given that their strength was never more than a few thousands men, moreover, their intervention was within a context of peacekeeping.