Israel conducted wide-scale military exercises earlier this month, its largest for two decades, simulating an attack by Hizbollah. Nikki Haley, the US permanent representative to the UN, recently wrote that “just as Hizbollah is stepping up its efforts, the United States, and now the United Nations, are stepping up our efforts against them”. This comes against the backdrop of tireless lobbying by certain groups in Washington to make Lebanon and Hizbollah synonymous with one another and to hold Lebanon and its people responsible for Hizbollah’s unilateral decisions and for its military adventures.
Should the US administration fall for this misrepresentation and support Israeli aggression that targets Lebanon, it would be making a serious mistake that would only serve to endanger the lives of countless innocent people and destroy Lebanon’s political and physical infrastructure. Since an Israeli aggression could not be carried out without support or at least acquiescence from the US, the anger and condemnation that such aggression would generate in the region would be channeled towards it. This would deal a serious blow to American national interests in the region and fuel extremism both in the Middle East and beyond.
Lebanon is a mosaic of 18 religious sects and a plethora of political parties that compete for public service. These interested groups hold varying, often divergent, political views and aspirations. Their diversity is managed through a delicately-balanced consensual democracy that respects each group’s beliefs and its political outlooks. Except for a period of domestic instability during the previous century, the Lebanese people have lived in harmony for centuries. As such, Lebanon has traditionally represented a prototype of peaceful coexistence and of democratic institutions that Arab intellectuals and political activists considered a role model.
Hizbollah is one of many Lebanese political parties, albeit it is the only political entity that operates an armed militia and conducts military activities inside and outside Lebanon without the approval of either the government or of most Lebanese people. Domestic political efforts to reach a solution in which Hizbollah would disarm or merge its military wing into the Lebanese armed forces have been unsuccessful so far.
Hizbollah has also become a major player in neighbouring Syria, where it fights under Iranian supervision to uphold the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Most Lebanese want Hizbollah disarmed, but disarming it by force is not an option. Indeed, a political resolution is the only way to rectify the odd situation that Hizbollah represents without disturbing the harmony of the Lebanese mosaic.
To that end, national dialogue to settle the thorny issue of having an armed militia operating inside and outside Lebanon’s sovereign territories despite a national accord to the contrary continues unabated. In the meanwhile, Hizbollah’s military presence near Lebanon’s border with Israel is subject to United Nations Security Council Resolution UNSCR 1701, and it is consequently monitored by the Lebanese army and by UN peacekeeping forces. Said border has been generally quiet for over 10 years.
While it would it be a fool’s errand for the Lebanese government to try to disarm Hizbollah by force, any such attempt by a foreign entity would trigger fissures that could evolve into major regional fault lines and destabilise the region. Most members of Lebanon’s parliament and its cabinet reject the existence of any armed militias on Lebanese soil and call for disarming it; and they disapprove of Hizbollah’s military involvement in Syria’s civil war.
They have instead called for neutrality and for non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, and they are determined to resolve the controversy over Hizbollah’s activities domestically, peacefully, and on their own. They continue to call for the strictest adherence to UNSCR 1701, and they persist in working diligently and earnestly to make sure that the Lebanese army and Lebanon’s internal security forces are the only armed forces in the country.
America needs more friends in the Arab world, not more animus among large swaths of people in that region. Making Lebanon synonymous with Hizbollah and holding it responsible for the militia’s unilateral actions would lead to the latter.