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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Living with Hezbollah’s Arms

Creative solutions must be developed to allow Lebanon’s economy to flourish alongside the weapons of the Party of God

Members of Lebanon

For over 12 years now, the UN Security Council and Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents have failed in disarming the party’s formidable militia. Even Israel and its mighty army have not been able to extract any concessions from the group, thus settling for punishing it by making war prohibitively costly for Hezbollah and its Shiite supporters.

 

Other than harassing Lebanon’s Shiites, world governments have no viable plan for disarming Hezbollah within a reasonable timeframe, say in five to 10 years. And because open-ended policies will make sinking Lebanon sink further, it is time to be innovative and come up with ways on how to coexist with the Hezbollah militia.

 

Living with Hezbollah’s arms is not an endorsement, but rather the only a realistic way of circumventing the militia and allowing the Lebanese to move on, carry on with their lives and plan for their futures.

 

Living with Hezbollah’s arms is like a patient living with a chronic disease: Unable to cure it but forced to manage it.

 

By now, Hezbollah’s wars are hurting it the most. In Syria, Hezbollah is bruised and reeling. On Israel, the party’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has publicly debated the Dahiyeh Doctrine, suggesting that he is aware that in any future conflict, Tel Aviv will raze down Lebanon’s residential areas wholesale.

 

But Hezbollah is not hurting alone.

 

Like all other countries, Lebanon cannot thrive if it remains on a war footing. With its endless wars, Hezbollah has been undermining the country’s security and eroding international trust in the Lebanese state.

 

Throughout the 1990s, Lebanon was engaged in a healthy debate over its economic policies. Which sectors should Beirut grow for its economy to start chugging and creating jobs?

 

At the time, late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and his team endorsed standard international recommendations that mandated liberalization. Thus, Hariri planned to privatize public facilities, which would have drastically reduced corruption. Hariri embarked on upgrading the infrastructure to make Lebanon attractive for tourism and services (such as banking, higher education and medical care).

 

Despite Hariri’s efforts, Lebanon remained a hard sell. Many Lebanese accused the late prime minister of corruption, which they blamed for a stumbling economy. Like most Arabs, the Lebanese imagine — without substantiating evidence — that the amount of public embezzlement is enough to make their economies grow and prosper. Yet such argument is mere fantasy. Stolen public funds are a small fraction compared to national budget figures. 

 

Hariri also found that it was nearly impossible to grow an economy in a “country of resistance.” As long as combat operations persisted in the south, Lebanon remained economically unattractive. Add to that the Assad regime’s continuous tampering with state institutions, especially the judiciary, and you can understand why Lebanon could not compete with hubs like Dubai.

 

Growing Lebanon’s economy is also key to undermining Lebanon’s other disaster: The oligarchy. Like with Europe’s industrial revolution, capital demands meritocracy, which in turn reinforces individualism at the expense of tribal sectarianism and its lords. That was America’s idea of how to manage post-Saddam Iraq, except that Americans found Iraq’s switchboard way too late.

 

Because growing Lebanon’s economy is key, the country’s stability becomes priceless. Stability, however, is impossible with Hezbollah’s militia, which does not answer to the Lebanese state and therefore undermines its sovereignty.

 

This is why the Lebanese need to come to terms with armed Hezbollah, and this is where conflict resolution gurus might have some useful ideas.

 

Maybe the party can hand over the Hariri International Airport to a government-contracted private company that can apply international security standards. If that happens, maybe direct flights between Beirut and major capitals can be resumed. Maybe Beirut’s airport becomes a regional hub that generates income for the treasury and creates high-paying jobs.

 

Maybe if Hezbollah’s militia steps back, the barricades erected in Beirut’s downtown to protect Parliament, government and UN’s ESCWA can be dismantled, allowing businesses and tourists to pour back into this urban and architectural marvel.

 

Maybe if Hezbollah rolls back its tasteless rhetoric about “resistance,” the Lebanese can start branding their country as a destination for its diaspora, tourists, investors, film-makers, wine growers and music festivals.

 

Maybe if Hezbollah lets the oligarchy play its silly game of who becomes president or prime minister, that will give a semblance of normalcy and renew trust in Lebanon and its state.

 

Putting Lebanon on hold until Hezbollah disarms is killing the Lebanese. Let Hezbollah keep its arms, on the condition that it keeps them out of sight and out of mind. Better ideas are welcome, only if they are realistic enough and can be measured in months.

 

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain

Members of Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah hold their flags on March 1, 2016, in the southern town of Kfour, in the Nabatiyeh district, during the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who was killed while fighting alongside Syrian government forces in Syria. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Maybe if Hezbollah rolls back its tasteless rhetoric about 'resistance,' the Lebanese can start branding their country as a destination for its diaspora, tourists, investors, film-makers, wine growers and music festivals.

  • Diocletian

    The only way to defeat Hezbollah's weapons is from within. A war with Hezbollah would spell the end for the country. Any way forward has to rely on Shias moving away from Hezbollah. A Shia body which recognizes the Lebanese state more than it recognizes the resistance would sap so much out of Hezbollah. it's no wonder they do everything in their power to nip anything of the sort in the bud. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.

    April 7, 2016

  • Beiruti

    Hanibaal is correct on all counts. A sovereign state cannot coexist with a foreign occupying army that is constantly usurping the sovereign authority of the Lebanese people to itself. Decisions of war and peace are sovereign decisions, yet Hezbollah makes these decisions unilaterally or takes Iranian orders on the matter. State Institutions are to be governed by persons who are subject to regularly held free and fair elections, yet, no Parliament has been elected since 1009, some 7 years ago. It is now 3 years past its Mandate. There is no President and there is only a caretaker Council of Ministers. Not because the Lebanese people will it but because Hezbollah obstructs and who will cross their weapons to counter their decision??? No, Lebanon cannot coexist with this cancer in its body. How to ignore the 3000 pound elephant sitting in your living room and act like it is not there destroying the furniture and eating all of the food in the house?? How?? What will it take to rid the country of this situation? Never in the history of mankind has any one with power ever voluntarily surrendered it, or given it up. Only force or the credible threat of force will cause Hezbollah to give up its weapons and thus its power. Where will the force come from?? Israel? God forbid. They will take out a mortgage on the country if they could take out Hezbollah. America?? America could care less. Well, how about the Lebanese people themselves? It is, after all their country. Their sovereign authority that is being usurped. And how? The people remain traumatized by May 7, 2008 and even more traumatized by the thought of returning to the days of 1975-91 and the sectarian wars that ravaged the country. There is another way to take power away from Hezbollah than by attempting to force the weapons from their hands. Creative ways that only a free people can devise. it can easily be done.

    April 5, 2016

  • RM2015

    Dream on. Hezbollah will never agree with any of the author's proposals. They need Lebanon to remain a backward, economically depress pit in order to rule over it.

    April 5, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    A lot of real bad ideas that ignore the basic concept of national sovereignty. That is why all your ideas are prefaced with a "maybe" one concocts over hashish-laced tea in a shoddy قهوة زجاج in a stinking back alley. This is so stupid that I am surprised there is no editorial oversight to this drivel. There are only three alternatives: 1- Hezbollah remains a hijacker of Lebanese sovereignty with the continuous decline and deterioration of the Lebanese State for some indefinite period of time. 2- Hezbollah disarms on its own. 3- Hezbollah is made to disarm by force, i.e. through a war of some sort. The raison d'etre of Hezbollah is to be Iran's harassment arm against Israel. The Syrian involvement of Hezbollah was an unexpected side show triggered by Arab spring revolutions. When the Syrian Arab bloodbath is done, Hezbollah is likely to resume its original mission. Therefore, since the likelihood of Israel itself disappearing or being weakened any time soon is a far fetched fantasy, then Hezbollah will remain extant as long as the Lebanese allow it or are unable to bring an end to it. And as long as Hezbollah is extant, it will continue to undermine the sovereignty of the State. Your half-baked back alley ideas could have currency only if the Lebanese State itself is "modified". Which is what many Lebanese are beginning to think seriously about.

    April 4, 2016