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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Did Hezbollah really lose?

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2008/05/did-hezbollah-really-lose.html

This account of the Hezbollah victory in Lebanon, Armed and Dangerous, like many others, attempts to be optimistic about the final outcome: Hezbollah will be exposed as a group that is not really interested in fighting Israel so much as in taking over Lebanon. By using their arms against other Arabs, they forfeited their legitimacy and will eventually fail.

David Kenner writes in the New Republic article:
But by turning their weapons on their fellow countrymen earlier this month, Hezbollah has violated the "grand bargain" with the Lebanese public that has allowed them to remain militarized. And by targeting Sunni areas of Beirut and Druze villages in the Chouf, Hezbollah has revealed itself to be, at its heart, a sectarian militia after all, provoking new hostility among non-Shia Lebanese. "The street is very angry about what has happened," says Yehya Jaber, a journalist for The Future, a newspaper owned by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri whose offices were ransacked and set aflame during the clashes. "No matter what the politicians do, this is a temporary peace."
....
If Hassan Nasrallah had kept his weapons aimed solely at Israel instead of involving them in Lebanon's sectarian struggle, he may still have won Rabih's grudging respect. But local threats weigh heavier on his mind than geopolitical concerns. "It's two different worlds," Rabih explains, gesturing towards Barbour, no more than a minute's stroll away. "There is a deep hatred between these neighborhoods now."

The resentment is even deeper among the few Sunnis who live in Barbour. "The army tried to come in [during the first day of clashes], but Amal humiliated them and told them to leave," says Sana, a Sunni shopkeeper whose son had to change his identifiably Sunni name to something more generic. "I used to have a picture of [assassinated former prime minister and Sunni leader] Rafik Hariri in my home," she continues, lamenting the need to adjust to life under Shia domination. "But I took it down when the fighting began, because I live next to one of the bodyguards of [Amal leader] Nabih Berri."

As the terror of last month's attacks subsides, the fear of Hezbollah among Lebanon's Sunni, Christian, and other minority communities is quickly turning to anger. By alienating the other sects, Hezbollah's short-term military victory seems to be turning into a long-term threat to its weapons and its autonomy. Their violation of the unspoken bargain of their militarization last month is a significant turning point in Lebanon's precarious sectarian balance--a move that has already started to undermine Hezbollah's special status among the Lebanese population.

Losing their weapons would be a major--and possibly fatal--blow to the group. Without its weapons, Hezbollah would probably lose the support of its Iranian sponsors (whose primary goal is to use the group as a front against Israel), making it difficult for the organization to maintain its patronage networks, and thus allowing space for new Shia leaders to emerge.


"It is difficult for me to imagine Hezbollah [surviving very long] as a toothless organization," Safa says. In light of this month's violence, that day may now be closer than ever before.

It might happen. The flaws in the above logic are legion however. Hassan Nasrallah and the Hezbollah are not stupid and they understood exactly how far they could go. They have engineered the takeover in such a way that from now on they no longer need force. They have veto power over any government decision according to the terms of the agreement. Therefore, it is almost inconceivable that they will be induced to lay down their arms. Moreover, while their might be a lot of dissatisfaction with the Hezbollah in Lebanon, this is meaningless unless it can be translated into armed force. How many divisions has Future TV? None. It was shut down in fact by Hezbollah thugs. In the showdown, the army sided with Hezbollah, working out a near-bloodless capitulation to Hezbollah demands, that only required that they remove their troops from the streets. Saad Hariri had no say in the matter. He was a prisoner in his own house, and his Future TV was put off the air. As Hezbollah had won all their demands, there was no reason for them to keep their troops in the streets. The Qatar agreement simply put the seal of approval on the Hezbollah victory. Moreover, Kenner ignores the huge capacity of Lebanese and their politicians to delude themselves. One has only to read the Beirut Daily Star to understand that a significant element of Sunni Arabs and Christians are willing to make believe that the Hezbollah are really working for the unity of Lebanon and that the Qatar agreement is a "good thing." This is no doubt preferable to opposing the Hezbollah, which has often proven to be very bad for the health of journalists and politicians.

Hebollah has managed to take power by assassinating its most important enemies and then using just enough armed force to make clear who is boss. It is far more likely that if Hezbollah ever "surrenders its arms" it will be because its own troops have been absorbed in, and have come to dominate the Lebanese army. At that point, there will be nothing left of Lebanese sovereignty. The issue of popular support doesn't matter. Islamic Republics like Iran are not dependent on the support of a democratic electorate. They maintain their rule at gun point. The AK-47 and the explosive device, rather than the ballot and the public opinion polls, will decide the future of Lebanon, just as they have now decided the Qatar "agreement."

Ami Isseroff


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