The EU strongly supported Lebanon’s commitment to stability instead of aligning itself with either side in the Syrian conflict.
European efforts towards Lebanon were centred on preventing violent spillover from the conflict in Syria. Given President Bashar al-Assad’s longstanding influence and in particular his close relationship with Lebanon’s dominant force, Hezbollah, Europeans were very wary of a potential flare-up. Europeans remained united in supporting political stability and offered firm backing for the country’s stated policy of non-association towards the Syrian conflict (even if the country has acted as a hub of support for both sides). Central to this European approach was a continued willingness to support the Hezbollah-backed government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
There were a number of high-level visits to the country, including a joint one by the Bulgarian, Polish, and Swedish foreign ministers in June. Europeans resisted increased pressure from the US government to place sanctions on Hezbollah, and many EU member states continued to engage with the movement. However, the July bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria, which killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian, was quickly blamed on Hezbollah. The British and Dutch governments responded by calling for European sanctions on the movement. However, this was resisted by other member states in the context of the Bulgarian investigation not yet being completed and therefore the absence of clear proof of Hezbollah’s complicity.
There were limited increases in support to the Lebanese armed forces, particularly on border-security issues. EU member states continued to play a lead role in supporting maintaining peace along the southern border with Israel by contributing significant troops to the 11,260-strong United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon(UNIFIL). However, France withdrew a third of its troops and Spain has announced that it will cut its contribution by half. During a tempestuous year, with violent clashes breaking out in Tripoli and Beirut, the October assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, a key anti-Assad Lebanese security official, and an increasingly dysfunctional government, Lebanon succeeded in forestalling a broader descent into conflict.