Friday’s attack on a French UNIFIL convoy was explained with the usual smokescreens of paranoia. Hezbollah condemned the attack, while parliamentary speaker and Amal leader, Nabih Berri, declared that “Israel wants the South to be empty of any international witnesses, so that it can commit crimes and aggressions.”
These entirely predictable reactions were however countered by comments from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe that his government had not ruled out Syrian involvement. Meanwhile, former Lebanese Prime minister Saad Hariri tweeted that the attack was “another Syrian message.” If this is so, it is highly unlikely that it could not have been carried out without the help or at the very least the tacit knowledge of Hezbollah, Syria’s biggest ally in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s ability, not to mention willingness, to create local mayhem on behalf of its foreign partners has never been in doubt. Lebanon stands vulnerable as the region experiences the increasingly powerful tremors of the Arab Spring, and it is no secret that a Syrian government on the back foot might incite chaos in Lebanon as a tactic to ensure its perpetuity in the face of growing local, regional and international pressure.
It is therefore essential that the Lebanese government do its best to ensure that security is as watertight as possible. We say “as watertight as possible” because the state has one hand tied behind its back. Hezbollah, with its vast arsenal and its extensive security network is the proverbial elephant in the room, an organization that cannot be relied upon to put its loyalty to Lebanon before Syria and Iran.
Faced with this is far from an ideal situation, it is flabbergasting that Lebanon’s Telecommunications Minister Nicholas Sehnaoui said on Sunday that the Change and Reform bloc to which he belongs is a group not opposed to the expansion of Hezbollah’s telecommunications network provided the Lebanese government does not get involved.
That would be bad enough, but no, in the true spirit of Lebanese entrepreneurship, Sehnaoui said that as long as Hezbollah carried out the expansion unilaterally, he would be okay with it because ultimately “it is essential in the confrontation with Israel.”
It is sad to hear an apparently well-educated and sophisticated man resort to not only promoting the ambitions of his political allies within March 8 but also justifying them by trotting out the tired argument that it is every Lebanese’s duty to confront the Zionist aggressor.
We had been led to believe that the Change and Reform bloc was for social and institutional reform and all things good. Sadly, this will never happen as long as Hezbollah is armed to the teeth, controls security and has the country on a permanent war footing. Surely institutional reform does not include the sanctioning of a phone network that will be used by Iran and Syria (let’s not mince words) to carry out its regional ambitions.
His naïve argument that the state and Hezbollah should be separate not only flies in the face of his party’s agenda, it shows to what extent the Change and Reform bloc in general and the Free Patriotic Movement in particular have become slaves to a Hezbollah that has no interest in building any institutions save those it can use in the name of conflict.
For too long the state has pandered to the whims of the Resistance, particularly when it comes to its so-called private phone network, an issue that sparked five days of fighting in May 2008 and which nearly dragged Lebanon into civil conflict.
Last month, the Lebanese media reported that Hezbollah party members had clashed with the residents of the Baabda village of Tarchich after the municipality prevented party members from installing a new segment of its telecommunications network in the area. The residents of Tarchich clearly have a better understanding of what is right and wrong than Sehnaoui. For not only does a political party have no right to use state (and private) land for its own ends, it is clear that many residents were anxious that Tarchich would become a target in any future conflict with Israel and the Party of God.
What Sehnaoui, the holder of an office of state, should have said is this:
As a minister of state he cannot condone the establishment of a private security phone network just because it is created in the name of the Resistance. The army, the official defender of Lebanese sovereignty, which is funded by the taxpayer for this purpose, should carry out all intelligence monitoring.
That’s what he should have said. He didn’t. Shame on him.