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August 2006

Southern Lebanon and vicinity, 1990

Southern Lebanon and vicinity, 1990

Lebanon

Lebanon, located in the Middle East, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west and Syria to the east. Lebanon is the historical home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years (c. 2700-450 B.C.). Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the five Ottoman provinces that had comprised present-day Lebanon were mandated to France by the League of Nations. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops were withdrawn in 1946.

The 1975-91 civil war seriously damaged Lebanon's economic infrastructure, cut national output by half, and all but ended Lebanon's position as a Middle Eastern transshipment center and banking hub. Since the end of the civil war, the Lebanese have formed six cabinets, conducted two legislative elections, and held their first municipal elections in 35 years. Progress has been made in rebuilding the political institutions since 1991, with a more equitable political system. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq HARIRI and 20 others in February 2005 led to massive demonstrations in Beirut against the Syrian presence ("the Cedar Revolution"). Syria finally withdrew the remainder of its military forces from Lebanon in April 2005. In response to two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006 Israeli military forces entered south Lebanon.

Israel

Israel is located in the Middle East, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt to the West, and Syria and Jordan to the East. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by more than 50 years of efforts by Zionist leaders to establish a sovereign nation as a homeland for Jews. The desire of Jews to return to what they consider their rightful homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile, 597 - 538 B.C. It was not until the founding of the Zionist movement by Theodore Herzl at the end of the 19th century that practical steps were taken toward securing international sanction for large-scale Jewish settlement in Palestine--then a part of the Ottoman Empire.

Israel has a diversified modern economy with substantial government ownership and a rapidly developing high-tech sector. Poor in natural resources, Israel depends on imports of oil, coal, food, uncut diamonds, other production inputs, and military equipment. Its GDP in 1997 reached $98 billion, or $16,800 per person. The major industrial sectors include metal products, electronic and biomedical equipment, processed foods, chemicals, and transport equipment. Israel possesses a substantial service sector and is one of the world's centers for diamond cutting and polishing. It is also a world leader in software development and is a major tourist destination.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 7/2006

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