Officially and practically, both Lebanon and Syria will not let someone enter the country who has been to Israel. Neither Lebanon nor Syria recognise Israel as a legitimate state, so not only do they refuse Israeli passport holders but also any nationality whom they can prove has travelled to Israel.
How do they know whether you’ve been to Israel?
In most cases they are unable to find out, as Israel does not stamp passports for normal tourists. Obviously, those who have lived or worked, obtained a business visa or any other physical visa/stamp for any reason will have proof that they were in Israel.
For regular tourists there are a few ways they will try to prove whether you’ve been in Israel. The first is questioning: the border guards on both entry and exit will randomly ask you whether you were in Israel. On occasion they may try tricky lines of questioning such as “How was your time in Israel?” “Did you enjoy Israel while you were there?” or “When was the last time you were in Israel?”
Next thing they look for is stamps from other countries that don’t properly correspond. For example, there are land border crossings with Jordan and Egypt, and even though Israel doesn't stamp your passport, those other countries do. One very common way to enter Israel is by crossing the King Hussein border crossing from Jordan, so if you exit Jordan that way, there is only one place you could have gone. However, another one is Cyprus, as it’s a very popular route to and from Israel due to cheap flights. They can see you came from Cyprus but can’t find where you were before that.
Finally, they will look for left over glue on the back and inside your passport from the security stickers that Israel places on your passport. This can of course be explained by baggage tags or annoying stickers that have been placed by travel companies, visa agencies or hotels on your passport, but it’s still something they look for.
What happens if they find out I’ve been to Israel?
If you’re entering Lebanon and they are completely sure you’ve been to Israel, you will be denied entry and deported on the next available plane. It won’t be an overly pleasant experience for sure, but you won’t be charged or detained for a long period of time, simply deported.
If on the other hand, if you are found trying to enter Syria, then the consequences can be more tedious. You will likely be pulled aside and questioned and even detained for a night or so. One problem that can arise is if you are caught on the Lebanese – Syrian border, you’ll be deported back to Lebanon where you then need to enter knowing you’re also breaking their rules.
Is it possible to get away with it?
Yes of course, every single day people enter Lebanon and Syria having been to Israel. They simply lie by saying they haven’t been, or in most cases are never asked in the first place. Many governments will issue concurrent passports for exactly this reason. Of course, this is breaking the law, but something most countries condone by the fact they will issue second passports for people needing to make these trips. Of course if you have a second nationality or have had your passport renewed since your visit to Israel, then you don’t need to worry about covering your tracks at all – just don’t tell them!
What about travelling to Israel after Lebanon and Syria?
It’s a completely different story going the other way. Israel does not deny entry based on having been to any country. However, you are a lot more likely to get questioned and be searched if you have been to countries that don’t like them. There’s a high chance you’ll have your itinerary in Israel scrutinised and even your phone looked through. Of course, if you are a genuine tourist who just decided that going to Syria, Lebanon or even Iran was a fun idea and you also are just a normal tourist in Israel, in almost every case you’ll be allowed to enter without more than a few questions, and continue your trip. That is of course as long as you were cooperative and didn’t get aggressive, which has happened by those being interrogated by Israeli border guards.
What should you do if you don’t want to break the law?
Travel to Syria and Lebanon first, before you’ve been to Israel. This way you are not breaking any laws. After successfully going to Syria and Lebanon, then you can travel to Israel.