It’s taken long enough but it seems that Lebanon is finally daring to push back at Hezbollah’s co-option of Lebanon’s political system for its own aims. The first announcement of the necessity to control Hezbollah’s weapons comes from the Lebanese President himself:
BEIRUT: Controlling Hezbollah weapons needs to be discussed because of the party’s military intervention in Syria, President Michel Sleiman said Thursday during celebrations to mark Lebanon Army Day.
“It has become urgent that we review and approve the National Defense Strategy in light of developments in the region,” Sleiman said.
He said it was pressing to amend “the basic function of the resistance [Hezbollah’s] weapons which went beyond the Lebanese border.”
“After Lebanon succeeded in the liberation of most of its territory from Israeli occupation … we will not forget to pursue the implementation of arming the Army …, allowing it exclusive control over the need to defend Lebanon’s sovereignty and its land, sea and air borders and secure the wealth of oil and gas resources.”
“It is time that the government holds the basic powers and be the one to determine the use of force,” he said in remarks at the military ceremony in Baabda.
Sleiman has chaired periodic National Dialogue meetings, but rival political leaders have been unable to agree on a defense strategy where Hezbollah’s weapons would be integrated into the Army to protect Lebanon from Israel.
Hezbollah is heavily involved in the Syrian conflict, sending fighters to support troops loyal to President Bashar Assad in their war against a more than a two-year-old rebel uprising.
“The military task becomes difficult if one or more [political] party becomes involved in conflicts outside Lebanon,” Sleiman said in a clear reference to Hezbollah.
Sleiman also cited the presence of illegitimate weapons as making the Army’s mission tougher.
Sleiman said the Lebanese Army stands firm in defending Lebanon.
“Gone are the days when the Army was prevented from defending Lebanon,” Sleiman stressed.
“The Lebanese choice remains unchanged following the experience with [Israeli] occupation and militia-rule: a state protected by the Army,” Sleiman said in his speech following the officers’ graduation ceremony.
Note that of course the President didn’t object to Hezbollah’s weaponry when they were directed at Israel. His objections only arose when they were turned on Syria, but that seems to have woken him up to the dangers of having a second quasi-army operating in the country. We can be thankful that the push-back against Hezbollah has finally begun.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is another politician voicing opposition to Hezbollah:
Former prime minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri joined a growing chorus against terror group Hezbollah over the weekend, calling on the organization to disarm and saying it was no longer needed.
Hariri’s statement came after a rare public speech by Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah Friday in which he called for the elimination of Israel.
“The idea … that Lebanon needs the weapons of the resistance [Hezbollah] in order to face the Israeli threat… is an idea that has expired, Hariri said in a television address later Friday, reported by AFP on Sunday.
Popular support for Hezbollah, which fought a three-week war with Israel in 2006, has waned in the face of the group’s continued backing of Syria’s President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war. The group was also partially blacklisted by the European Union last month after being blamed for a bombing in Bulgaria that killed six people last year.
Hariri, who led Lebanon from 2009 to 2011 before fleeing to self-imposed exile in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after citing security concerns, complained that Hezbollah was using its weapons “to instill fear into Lebanon’s political life.”
The son of slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 in a bombing thought to have been carried out by Hezbollah, Saad Hariri criticized the group for its involvement in the Syrian civil war, which has bled into Lebanon.
The focus of the organizations activities “have been shifted from fighting the Israeli enemy to fighting the Syrian people,” Hariri said.
Interesting that Hariri doesn’t criticise Hezbollah for murdering his father or for their needless war against Israel, only for their role in the Syrian civil war. I presume this is more for reasons of self-preservation than ideology, though it’s hard to tell with the fickle Lebanese.
Unsurprisingly, Hezbollah is not taking this criticism lying down: two rockets were fired at the Presidential Palace (presumably fired by Hezbollah) after Michel Suleiman’s criticism.
Nevertheless, taken together with the recent European blacklisting of the “military wing” of Hezbollah, perhaps we can be hopeful that this is the start of a more substantial move against Hezbollah. Let us just pray that this doesn’t evolve into yet another murderous civil war in Lebanon.