Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria prolongs political vacuum in Lebanon. Since April 2014 the Lebanese parliament has convened 42 sessions for choosing the leader of the so called “confessional democracy” of the Middle East. Only in politics the Lebanese are slow learners. The key to this electoral impasse lies in Syria. For the continuation of Hezbollah’s role in Syria, President Assad would need the support of Lebanon’s next president. But no new Lebanese president can openly accept Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Since April 2014 the Lebanese parliament has convened 42 sessions for choosing the leader of the so called “confessional democracy” of the Middle East. Only in politics the Lebanese are slow learners.
The key to this electoral impasse lies in Syria. For the continuation of Hezbollah’s role in Syria, President Assad would need the support of Lebanon’s next president. But no new Lebanese president can openly accept Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria.
For over two years, Hezbollah has refused to send its parliament members and its allied legislators to vote for Lebanon’s next president, making a required two-third quorum unreachable. Hezbollah’s single candidate for the presidency is General Michel Auon, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, a major Christian Party, allied with Hezbollah. Many consider General Auon an extreme and unpredictable leader.
While blaming Hezbollah (the Shiite military movement) for Lebanon’s political paralysis is an oversimplification, defending its presence in Syria’s turmoil is hard to justify.
The Lebanese have mixed feelings about Hezbollah (literally “Party of God”). Few in Lebanon trust a politician who acts in the name of the Almighty. A few decades earlier God in politics was quite in demand. Nevertheless, many appreciate the fact that this energetic movement cares for Lebanon, is the liberator of the South from Israeli occupation in 2000, is surprisingly secular in real politics, is respectful of civic society, and identifies with other minorities.
The “Resistance” as Hezbollah is dubbed has entered the Syrian civil war for self preservation, fearing the wrath of radical Islamic forces as they ravage Syria’s civilization and build cells in Lebanon and elsewhere. Note that Hezbollah did not start fighting in Syria until it saw the Islamist revolution growing and crossing national borders.
A bit of history and regional context is in order. For the Resistance, Iran is a regional ally against “colonialism” as well as a source of solidarity for Shiite minorities. Tehran is also the strongest adversary of Israel, a state which in 1978 invaded Hezbollah’s neighborhoods in south Lebanon to defeat the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and its allied Lebanese groups. This occupation lasted for 22 years. Israel’s military occupation of the South displaced the majority Shiite communities to the “misery belt” of Beirut suburbs and thus gave rise to a grassroots resistance. Without Israel’s occupation of Lebanon there would be no Hezbollah.
Moreover, Hezbollah sees the Sunni Islamic rebels in Syria an existential threat to all Shiites, to all Arab states, to any feature of Arab modernity and to all minorities, particularly Shiites and Christians. True or not, Hezbollah considers the ambivalence of Western powers in stemming the tide of ISIS -and other Sunni radical Islamic groups- a deliberate policy to weaken the Arab world and bolster the security of Israel.
Hezbollah considers its militia Lebanon’s Resistance, an auxiliary defense force to the Lebanese national army; in reality, the very existence of a militia undermines the security of the state. Most of the Shiites of Lebanon and quite a few secular, liberal and informed Lebanese groups are willing to trade internal state security with defense against Israel and ISIS.
The fundamental problem of Hezbollah is its evolution into a state within a state, and eventually taking a regional role. Regardless of the local and regional context, Hezbollah’s participation in Syria’s war may turn out to be a grave strategic blunder.
Hezbollah’s support of the unpopular Damascus dictator and partnering with Iran’s extensive and bloody adventure in Syria has driven the Lebanese state too close to a breaking point. Without a president for over two years Lebanon’s parliament has been inactive and its cabinet of ministers nearly paralyzed.
The Lebanese wonder if their future will remain closely tied to Syria’s. How President Assad plans, or is forced, to leave office may very well determine who will be Lebanon’s next president. Assad’s hold on power has become a vital factor in the Syrian tug of war between Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, on one side, and the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the other.
In a few years Hezbollah has descended from being the most popular Arab movement to being among the least liked. Lebanon is afflicted with sectarian power-sharing and external dependence on too many nations.
For the goof of Lebanon, the future of Hezbollah should be integration in the Lebanese army. At this point, this notion of Hezbolah’s integration is only wishful thinking.