President Michel Sleiman may feel he is overcoming the impasse by calling for the resumption of a national dialogue to discuss the issue of who should and shouldn’t carry the guns in Lebanon.
He has, after all, quite rightly identified that “there are three dimensions” to the matter: those weapons in the Palestinian camps held by the various factions, those held by all political parties in Lebanon’s towns and cities, and finally Hezbollah’s massive arsenal, most of which is in the south of the country and trained on Israel. The latter has been given a veneer of legitimacy by being earmarked for inclusion in the oft-discussed national defense strategy, a process that seeks to find ways “to benefit from Hezbollah’s arms, when to use them and for what purpose.”
Who is Sleiman trying to kid? The national defense strategy is a chimera, a function that allows the Party of God to maintain its weapons while appearing to side with reason and debate. Does he honestly believe that Hezbollah would put its weapons at the disposal of the state when they are the very stick that allows it to beat the state whenever it feels like it?
In the wake of the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, there had been suggestions that the party’s military know-how—personnel and materiel—could be absorbed under the army’s command. But that was before Hezbollah showed its true thuggish colors on the streets of Beirut in May 2008. That was before we realized it was just another militia, albeit one that was better armed than most Arab countries.
There is no longer a need for a Resistance, and we must remove the myth and the paranoia surrounding calls for its disarmament. Ask the person in the street if Lebanon needs a private army to biff the Israelis and many will say yes simply because there is a perception that without it the country would be swept away by the combined tsunami of Israel’s military ambitions and the long-standing dream of annexing Lebanon into a bigger Zionist empire. Others will see the Hezbollah’s disarmament as a bid to disembowel Shia dignity.
Both are knee-jerk reactions. There is no evidence of Israeli expansionist desires, save for the bogus “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a work that has been debunked but which many in Lebanon cling to as proof that they live on the edge of the abyss, while the threat of military action is actually higher as long as Hezbollah remains armed, belligerent and threatening Israel’s northern border. As for it being a slap in the face to the Shia, well this is clearly nonsense. Those who see Hezbollah’s weapons as an expression of confessional pride should remember that no sect should be above the state. Period.
A third, more moderate, school would argue that having an armed militia running the show is not a perfect arrangement, but until the army is strong enough to defend Lebanon’s borders, there is no alternative. It is a position that many feel comfortable with because it does not fully endorse Hezbollah and at the same time makes an implicit call to strengthen the army.
The reality is that they are simply kicking the proverbial can further down the road. There will never be a concerted move to strengthen the army as long as Hezbollah holds the reins of power in Lebanon. The party has never accepted American offers of military aid for all the usual reasons, and now the Americans are reluctant to give aid to a country run by what it sees, rightly or wrongly, as a terror group. The only recent offer of aid has been from Iran, the country that finances Hezbollah, which it sees as an extension of its armed forces. So not much progress will be made there, one feels.
To quote Prime Minister Najib Mikati in 2006, Hezbollah’s armed wing is a "cancer," one that inhibits Lebanon’s progress as a genuine state with functioning institutions and which will one day metastasize and plunge the country or the region into war.
With the war drums beating over Iran, it may already be too late.