Hezbollah’s recent military exercise in the south provoked criticism and condemnation from opposition forces including the National Bloc. Michel Helou, the party’s secretary-general gave his thoughts on the maneuvers and discussed what should be the proper alternative for Lebanon. “Our position is the military demonstrations clearly shows that Hezbollah is a threat to the sovereignty of the Lebanese state. It violates the monopoly of weapons that belong to the legitimate state.”
These operations in the south are not a new phenomenon. Hezbollah has mobilized its forces to demonstrate its power in the wake of either threats from Israel or to remind local opponents not to cross its authority. People in Lebanon are constantly on edge and fear the outbreak of additional violence. Lebanon’s international partners like the United Nations have put forward proposals to end the phase of hostilities through resolutions 1559 and 1701. UNSC Resolution 1701 was written and released on August 11, 2006, with a clear road map for peace in the Levant-Mediterranean region:
“This resolution calls for the full cessation of hostilities, the deployment of Lebanese forces to Southern Lebanon, parallel withdrawal of Israeli forces behind the Blue Line, strengthening the UN force (UNIFIL) to facilitate the entry of Lebanese Forces in the region and the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the Blue Line and the Litani River.”
Helou said the National Bloc respects this UN resolution and wants to see its implementation. “We also demand the application of all UN resolutions 1559 and 1701. On top of that, Hezbollah today is trying to escape the problems that are affecting the Lebanese people. Starting with the socio-economic collapse because they are not able to deal with that. This demonstration is another attempt at reclaiming their lost legitimacy as the resistance.”
It is a curious thing to see Hezbollah parading around with heavy weapons and soldiers while the people of Lebanon still live in increasingly worse conditions. The power Hezbollah holds is at this point extremely hollow. It does not impress most Lebanese. Rather, seeing a display of militarization when the region is calming down emits signals of weakness, not strength. In the recent weeks, the Arab League re-invited Syria and its leader Bashar al Assad back to the organization. Years of bloodshed caused by a Syrian government crackdown on protesters in 2011 forced Damascus out of the league. Now, there is a new approach from both Syria (a Hezbollah ally) and the Arab world that wants to focus on development and avoid war.
This maybe putting Hezbollah in an awkward situation. From its inception, it sold itself as a resistance movement waging a fight against Israeli occupation in the south, but also a group that represents the disenfranchised Shia Muslim community (a historically neglected community). It fought off the Israeli occupation when the Lebanese army didn’t. It provided social services when the state was non-existent. But these were temporary measures that are less relevant today.
Now, however, the people of Lebanon are searching for something more than a resistance. If the resistance Hezbollah speaks of is about building a state with normal institutions, no one in Lebanon would object. But today, the situation is that the presence of Hezbollah as paramilitary group is endangering Lebanon’s fate and circumvents the government’s legal mandate. As part of its principles, the National Bloc is calling for a secular state where every citizen enjoys the same rights and responsibilities regardless of sect.
Nevertheless, calls for a state over militias by individual politicians are not enough to make it happen. But the momentum is certainly there to pursue it until the end. Otherwise, there will be an atmosphere of more division, anger, and resentment among the Lebanese people. This is where the leaders must step up and use their influence to remind all Lebanese that opposing a party does not equal animosity toward a fellow Lebanese from a different sect. Lebanon’s social cohesion must come first, which must be preserved by the national security forces and the rule of law.
Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.