Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis
10 Oct 2007
Amid Lebanon’s political deadlock, all parties and their external allies need to move away from maximalist demands and agree on a deal that accepts for now Hizbollah’s armed status while constraining the ways in which its weapons can be used.
Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the Shiite movement’s role in the aftermath of the July 2006 war and in the context of the protracted political turmoil surrounding the election of a new president. If resolution of the presidential crisis is to be more than a prelude to the country’s next showdown, the issue of Hizbollah’s weapons needs to be addressed in some manner.
The movement is now facing several dilemmas. Although its status grew considerably after the war with Israel, its decision to focus on domestic politics and use an essentially Shiite base to try to topple a Sunni-dominated government has reinforced sectarian loyalties. Moreover, its military margin of operation has been reduced through the deployment of the national army and a greater UN force at the Israeli border.
“Hizbollah’s resort to street politics was ultimately self-defeating”, says Patrick Haenni, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst. “The street battles quickly morphed into confessional ones, forcing Hizbollah into the sectarian straightjacket it has long sought to avoid”.
The movement appears in search of a solution that defuses sectarian tensions and reflects its new, more defensive military posture. But it is not likely to compromise at any price. Its priorities remain keeping its weapons and protecting Lebanon and the wider Middle East from Israeli and U.S. influence through what it calls an “axis of refusal” that includes Syria, Iran and Hamas.
This situation, while precluding Hizbollah’s disarmament in the near future, presents an opportunity to make some progress on the question of its armed status. Lebanese political parties and their foreign allies should negotiate the following package deal:
a consensual presidential choice;
a government platform that endorses the principle of resistance until implementation of a proper national defence strategy but that restricts its use to defensive purposes;
suspension of Hizbollah’s military action in the Shebaa farms to give diplomacy a chance;
acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the international tribunal dealing with Hariri’s assassination; and
a call for peaceful relations with Syria, including normal diplomatic ties, delineation of boundaries and resolution of the question of the Lebanese disappeared.
“Such a deal would provide an important but at best temporary reprieve”, warns Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “Lebanon’s future is intricately tied to the question of U.S./Israeli/Syrian/Iranian relations which plunged it into armed conflict with Israel, paralysed its politics and brought it to the brink of renewed civil war. At best, one can try to immunise the country from the regional confrontation’s most destabilising and costly effects”.