The Illusion of Lebanese Sovereignty

A while back, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that Lebanon would not have true sovereignty as long as Hezbullah “owns more arms than the military forces of the country.”  This counters the general feeling in Lebanon that the since Syria left the country in 2005 that the small country was finally, and for the first time, becoming truly independent.  Several incidents in the last few days have clearly demonstrated the continuing presence and power of foreign or non-state actors in Lebanon.

After the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbullah, Israel has occupied the village of Ghajar in Southern Lebanon; however, Israel plans to pull out of the village by the end of January 2010.  While clearly Israel leaving Lebanon is a good thing for the sanctity of Lebanese territory, the lasting effects of a mere three-year occupations will be felt by the citizens of Ghajar:

“They will divide our people, cut families in two,” the villagers chanted.  Secretary for the town council Hussein Khatib insisted that Ghajar residents have no connection with Lebanon. “We would be like refugees in Lebanon,” Khatib said.

Although Israel is leaving Ghajar, they are not leaving Lebanon.  For years the Jewish country has been flying reconnaissance flights in Lebanese airspace, an action that violates UN resolution 1701 that helped moderate the end of the 2006 war.  Despite the daily Israeli incursions into Lebanese territory, conflict is rare.  On Tuesday, though, Lebanese Armed Forces fired at four Israeli jets that were flying at a low altitude over the Hasbaya region.

[tweetmeme] Internally, despite its “Lebanization,” Hezbullah seems to have an open-ended military mandate in Lebanon that is often at odds with Lebanese policy. While previously Hezbullah has linked its large military force to the defense of southern Lebanon, former Minister Wiam Wahab recently linked Hezbullah arms to the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in the country.  As there is no real consensus concerning the refugees, Wahab’s declaration is nothing more than extending indefinitely the reasoning for Hezbullah to keep a separate force.

Although Lebanese had thought that the end of Syrian occupation might have meant the end of ruthless killings by foreign actors, an explosion took place this weekend in the southern suburbs of Beirut.  While no one has been blamed for the attack, speculation has centered on Israel. Ironically, the attacked targeted Hamas headquarters – yet another non-state actor.  After the explosion – which was caused by 15 kg of TNT – UNIFIL found ‘a significant amount’ of TNT hidden in southern Lebanon.  While it was unclear who was hiding the explosives, it was assumed to be a Hezbullah cache.

While Lebanese sovereignty is under attack from the inside (Hezbullah) and the outside (Israel, Hamas and perhaps still Syria), the Lebanese are still very hopeful that the country will soon be safe from the arbitrary violence that has scarred the multifaceted country since before its civil war.  Clearly, Lebanon still has a long way to go and, as a small nation, it will always need to ally itself with other powers, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that Prince al-Faisal is correct.

For the first time Hezbullah won significant number of seats in the Lebanese Parliament and received two ministries (its allies won another eight ministries) in the new government.  Official Hezbullah participation led Israel to warn that the whole of Lebanon would be responsible for the actions of the Shiite militant group.  What happens if Hezbullah performs even better in coming elections?  What would happen if Hezbullah were to win an election?  Would the Hezbollah armed forces join the Lebanese armed forces?  Would there be two Lebanese armies?

In any event a Lebanese government with Hezbollah as an acting participant will likely help moderate the militant group, as it will now have to answer to the entire country.  Certainly, a strong Hezbollah presence in the Lebanese government does not benefit the West like the current government does, but it could mean a the end of internal breaches of Lebanese sovereignty.

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4 thoughts on “The Illusion of Lebanese Sovereignty

  1. I’m not so sure that Hezbollah has a “strong presence in the Lebanese government” as it leads a strong coalition in the Lebanese government. Though this may sound like the same thing, they are not. For example, the main Armenian party on June 7th almost went with Sa’ad and Co.

    Hezbollah’s weapons are the insurance. This was shown by the West Beirut takeover.

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