Despite the retreat of Israeli and Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2000 and 2005 respectively, much work remains to be done toward consolidating Lebanon’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. The presence of armed, non-state actors (Hezbollah, in particular) who are beholden to regional powers—primarily Syria and Iran— and who are operating outside the legal authority of the state continue to pose a threat to Lebanon’s security and sovereignty.
Armed groups operating beyond the control of the state effectively prevent the central government from exercising its mandated authority, and thereby continue to directly contravene United Nations Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 (2004) which unequivocally calls for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. The continued existence of these militias, coupled with tense relations both internally and externally, is a stark reminder of the precarious security situation that could easily ignite into a severe and devastating conflict should any group miscalculate. The impunity of such actions is best illustrated by the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, along with Hezbollah-led clashes in Beirut in May of 2008, both of which serve as chilling reminders of the volatile consequences arising from non-compliance.
Weapons smuggling into Lebanon through the porous border with Syria is another challenge to the country’s sovereignty, as well as a violation of UNSCRs 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006), both of which Lebanon is committed. It is not surprising, then, that a number of UN reports continue to indicate that the armament of militias inside Lebanese territory is common and widespread. Syria continues to act as the main military supplier and facilitator of Hezbollah; pro-Syrian Palestinian factions operate both inside and beyond the Palestinian refugee camps, the PFLP-GC being just one example.
Hezbollah maintains its weapons to deter any Israeli action inside Lebanon and to liberate every last inch of Lebanese soil occupied by the Jewish state. Furthermore, Hezbollah cites the continued weakness of the Lebanese military in the face of an Israeli offensive as justification for its arms.
It is true that Lebanon has lingering and unresolved disputes with Israel: Shebaa Farms, occupied by Israel since 1967, and cluster bombs, which were strewn all over Lebanon during the July 2006 war, to name a few.
Given the tensions between Lebanon and Israel, and Hezbollah and Israel in particular, are there valid alternatives to the culture of military resistance, and does Hezbollah’s rationale for maintaining its military capabilities remain viable?
During the Lebanon war (1975-1990), as state institutions collapsed and the Lebanese army disintegrated, the only logical response to the anarchy was the formation of militias organized to defend communal interests. The possession of arms in the hands of militias remained the only solution to the chaos of war. So, in the regional context of the war, when some Lebanese militias took up arms against Syrian occupation and the presence of armed Palestinians, others took up arms to fight against the Israeli presence there.
But this is 2009 and not the Lebanon of the 1970s and 80s. And the road to full and independent Lebanese statehood has undergone a long and arduous journey that began in 1990 under the crushing weight of Syrian diktats. Moreover, in May 2000, Hezbollah fulfilled its role as Lebanon’s protector from Israel as it forced the Israeli military to withdraw from southern Lebanon. Most importantly, in 2005, Syria withdrew from Lebanon— ending 30 years of occupation.
With the end of the war and the withdrawal of both the Israelis and the Syrians, state institutions have slowly but steadily reasserted themselves, and it is in the interest of all parties to further strengthen and legitimize the authority of the state. In order for that to happen, however, Hezbollah will need to cease being a military organization and relinquish all its weapons to the Lebanese Armed Forces— in accordance with the Taif Agreement and all subsequent UN resolutions.
If the concept of military resistance has run its course, the foundations of contemporary resistance in Lebanon, then, should solely revolve around the following:
It is crucial that the consolidation of Lebanon’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence be made through empowering the authority of the state and state institutions, rather than undermining them. Lebanon should, in all instances, maintain a defiant posture of neutrality to avoid being drawn into intractable regional and international conflicts. These are not tactical or interim issues to advocate. These are strategic Lebanese imperatives.
Lebanon has paid and continues to pay a heavy price in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a price the county can no longer afford to pay. Does this mean that Lebanon’s regional policy should be dismissed? No. Any contribution to regional crises, particularly on the Arab-Israeli front, should be limited to humanitarian and diplomatic missions.
On remaining issues with Israel, Lebanese resistance should be domestically political and regionally diplomatic.
On the domestic front, the Lebanese army and security services should have complete freedom to operate within the confines of Lebanon’s territory— including inside the Palestinian refugee camps. If Lebanon is to be sovereign, nothing short of full control of its territory is required. Additionally, the Lebanese army must be equipped with more advanced weapons systems capable of enhancing its security role— something to which the international community is currently lending an ear.
With Syria having unceremoniously marched out of Lebanon in 2005, the country should continue to build and restore its diplomatic standing in the region and revive a dynamic foreign policy, in line with the best interests of Lebanon. Lebanon should advocate a “diplomacy first” foreign policy, as opposed to continued armed resistance, and as such, encourage, through UN mediation, indirect negotiations with Israel over any and all unresolved issues.
Lebanon should not lag behind on this front. Why is it that Syria has the right to negotiate peace indirectly with Israel via Turkey, as announced in May of 2008; and why is it that Hezbollah— a political party with a vast arsenal of high-tech military weaponry, has the right to negotiate with Israel via UN mediation to retrieve its prisoners, as it had in 2004 and 2008, while the Lebanese state is prohibited from pursuing any constructive dialogue in the same vein?
It is incomprehensible that while the Syrians are working on liberating the Golan Heights through negotiations with Israel, Lebanon is working on liberating the Shebaa Farms through armed resistance. The military option need not be the only option on the table and a much more sensible and practical approach is warranted.
Hezbollah cannot continue along the path of militarized resistance, using its weapons and ideology to intimidate, both at home and abroad. Nor can Lebanon be held at the mercy of Hezbollah, and forced to suspend political reform, economic development and integration into the global economy.
The Lebanese, and especially the younger generation, must emphasize that Lebanon works best through a functional and practical dialogue that is reciprocal and based on mutual respect. This is our national duty: open and democratic deliberation on both those issues that unite us and those which divide us. This is the Lebanon we want to build. This is cultural, this is civilized and this is contemporary resistance.
Jean-Pierre Katrib is a human rights activist and political analyst based in Beirut.