The trouble with Hezbollah – 1
Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/02/2007
I had quite an argument today with a university friend of mine who is currently based in London over pretty much everything pertaining to Lebanese politics. We did agree on a couple of things though… which kept the argument going for over an hour. This encouraged me to take a step back and think seriously and calmly on Hezbollah and the many challenges it presents and represents.
Hezbollah is one of Lebanon’s largest parties if not the largest. It possesses military, cultural, religious, social and political leverage.
– Militarily, it has a very well trained armed force with a very enviable capacity. During the last war with Israel, not only did it come out of it undefeated, but it fought back quite fiercely and inflicted a lot of losses on the Israeli side.
– Socially and culturally, it is very present through a number of NGOs that provide health, educational, housing and technical services (for reconstruction), a television and a radio station.
– Religiously, even though the clerics that command the party are not of a high rank, Hezbollah enjoys the support of a large number of prominent Shiite clerics, most notably the religious leader of the Shiite community.
– Politically, it is present on the local, the communal, the national and the regional scene. Since the last municipal elections it has become a major political player on the local institutional scene. Since the 2000 parliamentary elections it enjoys a de facto “duopoly” on the Shiite political representation through a very uneven alliance with the weak Amal Movement that it dominates since the 2005 parliamentary elections. Furthermore, it has become the certified “resistance movement” against Israel (a title that is officially still recognised by the Siniora government). And today, it enjoys a very strong Lebanese Shiite backing. It is safe to say that a majority of Lebanese Shiites today support Hezbollah and any attack against it would be interpreted as an attack against the Shiite community. On the regional level, it’s the only Lebanese actor that interacts with Israel (for the exchange of prisoners, in the exchange of missiles…), and it has a vital alliance with the Iranian regime and a tactical one with the Syrian government.
Here are a couple of questions that are generally raised concerning Hezbollah?
– Can it be demilitarised by force? The answer is quite obvious. If Israel couldn’t do it, nobody can, especially not the Lebanese army because not only it doesn’t have the military capacity to do it, but such a step would threaten its unity (many of its soldiers are Shiites and would see such a step as an attack on one of the community’s most important symbols). And if the army cannot do it, the born again sectarian militias would certainly fail in achieving any gain because of the strength and the regional concentration of Hezbollah. This would only bring the country back to civil war.
– Would a government be legitimate without it (or without its backing)? Before 2005, the answer would have certainly been yes. But since the last parliamentary elections and the Israeli war on Lebanon, the answer is quite obviously no. It would be extending to the Shiites a practice that was started in 1992 with the Christians: their political representatives were set aside and replaced by others. This was only workable through violence: Christian leaders were banished, militants were executed or imprisoned, others were kidnapped, all dissenting voices were repressed, the media was controlled… This was made possible by Christian leaders’ military defeat, the invasion of their stronghold by the Syrian army, the decommissioning of arms, the full cooperation of the Lebanese military intelligence (reshaped by the Syrians)…
The Shiites will certainly not accept to be treated that way and their leadership cannot be silenced by force. Moreover, both demographically and militarily, the Shiites community and its current leadership is very strong and could react violently if excluded from the power sharing system.
– Does Hezbollah threaten the Lebanese State or government (though Lebanese analysts tend to confuse both concepts)? Not quite. It does raise many questions and issues many challenges. How can a Lebanese State function properly with a strong and functioning militia (as opposed to the dormant ones)? How can the Lebanese system cope with the mobilisation of one of its largest communities behind one party that had made different choices from the leadership of other parties (that also have mobilised their communities)? How dangerous is this? and what is to be done about it?
(to be continued…)