Lebanon in the Eye of the Storm
By Nadim Zaazaa
Freelance writer – Lebanon Whereas the pro-government forces themselves have been equal partners in the process of prolonging the crisis, Hezbollah’s reaction has escalated the confrontation to a whole new level.
Lebanon witnessed last week an escalation in the tone of the statements of pro-western coalition leader Walid Jounblatt. The Druze leader accused Hezbollah of extending its internal communications network – a vital component of struggle against Israel – to cover areas beyond the political control of the Shiite parties, and encompass a growing number of subscribers. This indicated the use of such a network to surpass its military necessity to that of commercial use.
The extension of the network is perceived by pro-government forces as a breach of state sovereignty that is of no relevance to the needs of the resistance, but to the rise of a state within a state. Jounblatt also accused Hezbollah of monitoring the Beirut International Airport by setting up cameras on its main runway.
He established claims of Iranian interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs and called for the expulsion of the Iranian Ambassador. Jounblatt further called for the removal of Airport Chief of Security General Wafiq Shucair, accusing him of being more sympathetic to Hezbollah than to his national command. These accusations have not been validated by any sort of investigation whatsoever, especially by the last standing national institution – the Army.
On Tuesday, the Saniora government decided of relocate General Shucair – a Shitte, and to commence with the removal of the communications network. This decision contradicts the power sharing logic of governance in Lebanon, which has persisted even during the political impasse that has been paralyzing the country over the past two years. The unilateral decision taken by a government that is devoid of legitimacy in the eyes of the opposition, has provoked the tensions that ensued in the following days.
Hezbollah viewed Jounblatt’s political campaign and the government’s decisions as an attack on the resistance’s weapons, and – more seriously – an “extension of the July 2006 Israeli and US assault on the resistance by local proxies.”
Intent on “cutting the hand that targets our weapons,” Hassan Nasrallah directly equated his confrontation with internal “American agents” to his confrontation with the Israeli forces in the south. The fiery reaction paved the way for the Shiite militant forces invading the streets of Western Beirut, predominantly inhabited by Sunnis, in what can be labeled a flawless sweep in military terminology.
Military Success vs. Political Failure
However, what can be regarded as a military success has been a failure on the political level. Although random militant skirmishes are characteristic of the Lebanese political dynamic, this recent move was obviously a centralized decision made by Hezbollah’s command, which has perplexed the general public.
Hezbollah’s move has been viewed by the people of Beirut as a degeneration of the ethics of the Islamic resistance to those of a militant militia attempting to enforce its will internally by the power of the gun.
Any person with elementary knowledge of Lebanese history and politics is fully aware that Lebanon cannot be run in such a fashion. It can be argued that Hassan Nasrallah has fallen into the political trap cleverly prepared for him and slipped – in full this time – into the Lebanese political swamps with obviously no return.
This military operation has achieved no political gains whatsoever. The current crisis is as much of a conundrum for Hezbollah – who still needs to figure out how to invest its nervous use of force politically, or even to rectify what it has done – as it is for the pro-government parties, who are attempting to find a scenario out of this impasse.
Using its military force on the “internal front” makes all possible adversaries – be them internal, regional, or international – capable of using Hezbollah’s militant operation against it. By setting its fighters loose in the streets of Beirut, the Shiite political party is legitimizing calls for potential direct foreign intervention, whether by expanding UNIFIL forces in Lebanon to cover Beirut, or by bringing in troops such as an Arab peacekeeping force.
There is no doubt that military intervention under the current circumstances holds dire consequences because, most probably, it will be viewed by Hezbollah as an attack against its own presence. It may also render Lebanon exposed to Al-Qaeda activities as indicated by Ayman Al-Zawihiri last week. While this option is not viable yet, the incidents in the streets of Beirut have opened the door to new horizons in conflict possibilities.
The wrongdoings have already taken impact; the dominant feelings among the Sunni population, which has been undignified by the military operation, are that of insult and anger. Though Beirut had embraced the resistance during the 2006 July war despite all internal political differences and accusations against Hezbollah of implementing an Iranian-Syrian agenda, the Shiite party launched a prolonged political campaign with the aim of paralyzing state institutions, showing no willingness for settling the political crisis.
Whereas the pro-government forces themselves have been equal partners in the process of prolonging the crisis, and in leaving the country open to external intervention, Hezbollah’s reaction has escalated the confrontation to a whole new level.
Unfortunately, the logic of the Lebanese confessional communities has always been influenced by the desire to maintain a careful balance of power that prevents any sect from gaining enough power to marginalize the other. Such a logic has been clearly reflected in the continuous attempts for containing the rising Shiite power in Lebanon, particularly after the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
On the long run, the current events will be well engraved in the minds of the other factions, mainly the Sunnis. Hezbollah’s military actions are viewed by the Sunnis as “an invasion of Beirut similar to that of Sharon’s in 1982,” in the words of political analyst Mohammad Salam.
Little can be done politically to reverse the impact of Hezbollah’s invasion of Western Beirut. Even if political re-stabilization may take impact for the meantime, Hezbollah’s actions have heavily compromised its dependence on any viable internal support for its armed presence as a resistance force that derives legitimacy from national multi-sectarian and popular support despite political complexities.
Nadim Zaazaa is a Lebanese activist and researcher who holds a BA in political science from the American University in Beirut.
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