Now, however, many Lebanese believe the Syrian influence in their country has been replaced by Iran, a close ally to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"The Syrian regime withdrew from Lebanon, after it became a necessity to put an end to this occupation and this was what the Lebanese did in 2005,” retired army general Wahba Qatisha told Anadolu Agency.

Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 as part of an Arab peacekeeping force shortly after the Lebanese civil war broke out.

As part of the 1989 Taif agreement ending the Lebanese war, Syria was to withdraw from the country in two stages over two years, but this never happened until Hariri's assassination triggered mass protests that forced Damascus to withdraw its forces from Lebanon in 2005.

“At that time, the Lebanese people were against this occupation and were ready to resist it politically," said Qatisha, an adviser to Lebanese political leader Samir Geagea.

He argued that Hariri had been killed over his plans to lead a parliamentary opposition to the Syrian military presence in Lebanon.

"It is regrettable that the Syrian guardianship has been replaced by that of Syria's regional allies," he said, citing Iran and the Shia Hezbollah group.

"The Lebanese people, however, still reject this Iranian domination and are fighting to get rid of it," Qatisha said. 

Bargaining chip

Rashid Fayed, a member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, said the Syrian pullout from Lebanon was "surprising".

He said Syria planned to withdraw its forces to Beqaa Valley, not from all Lebanese territories, under the Taif agreement.

Assad's goal "was to confuse the Lebanese state which was unable to impose its influence and maintain security all across the Lebanese territories without the help of the Syrian government," he said.

Fayed believes that the Syrian withdrawal has nipped in the bud the Lebanese enthusiasm for Arab unity.

"It was clear that Lebanese have given up the dream of Arab unity," he said.

"This was because the Assad regime has used Lebanon as a bargaining chip with all international powers to achieve his goals and has used the Lebanese people as a hostage for serving his project for domination," Fayed said.

In 2011, Syria fell into civil war after the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Several rounds of peace talks -- in Geneva and the Kazakh capital Astana -- have so far failed to end the conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians are believed to have been killed to date.

Anadolu Agency