Nasrallah on Screen 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Speculation is currently rife concerning the likely response of Hizbullah in the
event of indictments being issued against its members by the Special Tribunal
investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. In good
Lebanese style, rumors are running rampant. One of these, which was echoed in a
comment this week by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, is that
Hizbullah may use the issuing of indictments to “take over” Lebanon in its
It is impossible, of course, to know precisely what Hizbullah
plans to do in the event of indictments being issued against its members. The
movement is being deliberately ambiguous. But there is good reason to think that
the rumors of an allout putsch are wide of the mark.
The central reason
for this is quite straightforward. Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons already
have a situation with which they are quite satisfied. Their current tactics,
therefore, are probably designed to defend the present arrangement in Lebanon,
rather than to prepare for a radical shake-up or shift in the balance of
Hizbullah is the product of a long-term investment by the Iranian
regime, supervised by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Since the
departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005, it has constituted a key
instrument in rebuilding and consolidating the domination of Iran and its Syrian
In a series of moves, Hizbullah has clearly established the “ground
rules” in its relations with the supposed authorities: In 2006, the movement
established that it has the sovereign power to use its independent military
capacity to take Lebanon to war at a time of its choosing.
In 2008, when
the government of Lebanon attempted to interfere with Hizbullah’s military
capabilities, it struck back hard and placed its military infrastructure
henceforth clearly “out of bounds” for the elected government. It also secured
the power to veto government decisions.
In 2009, Hizbullah and its allies
paralyzed the political system after an electoral setback, until once more they
secured their ability to veto cabinet decisions.
In the period 2006-2010,
Hizbullah has, with Iranian backing and direct Syrian involvement, rebuilt and
increased its military infrastructure both south and north of the Litani River.
In so doing, it has demonstrated that the provisions of international law, most
importantly UN Security Council Resolution 1701, present no effective barrier to
As a result of all this, Hizbullah’s position in Lebanon
is currently unassailable.
It has freedom of maneuver in all areas of
importance to it. At the same time, it does not need to take responsibility for
governance on matters of no interest to it. It can leave non-Shi’ite communities
largely to their own devices as long as they do not interfere with its
The indicting of Hizbullah officials for the murder of Hariri
would represent an attempt to breach the barriers of the sealed Hizbullah
kingdom. The Special Tribunal would in effect be asserting a sovereignty
superior to that of Hizbullah – namely, that of international law.
movement is currently posturing and issuing threats, by way of
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah last week threatened that the
movement would “cut off the hand” which attempted the “arrest or detention” of
its “jihadists.” It has also leaked details of its supposed plans for deploying
rapidly throughout the country if indictments are issued. All this is almost
certainly intended to act as a sort of preemptive deterrent to any such move by
the Special Tribunal.
The message it is intending to convey is “don’t
even think about it.” Yet Hizbullah has no desire for confrontation with the
tribunal, just as it has no desire to clash with UNIFIL or with the March 14
movement – as long as they stay well out of its way.
ultimately an instrument for the quarrel that the Iranian regime wants to have
with Israel. Its actions over the last decade have been about preserving a space
for that conflict to take place from Lebanon. Neither Hizbullah nor Iran has
anything to gain from widening the circle of Hizbullah’s control in Lebanon at
the present time. It is likely, therefore, that the movement will, if faced with
indictments, simply ignore them. It is likely to make clear that any attempt to
apprehend Hizbullah members will be met with violence.
It will be
prepared to undertake a show of force on the model of May 2008, if deemed
necessary. And there, as a result of its capacity for violence and intimidatory
tactics, the movement will hope that the matter will rest.
This hope may
be well-founded. There are already reports of a Saudi-Syrian brokered deal
whereby Prime Minister Saad Hariri may proclaim Hizbullah’s “innocence” if
indictments are issued. The Lebanese authorities have neither the will nor the
ability to act against Hizbullah.
The “international community” almost
certainly does not, either.
Hizbullah has surely noted that a precedent
already exists attesting to the relative impotence of the International Criminal
Court in the Arab world. In 2009, an arrest warrant was issued for Sudanese
President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity
because of the mass slaughter in Darfur. He ignored the indictment and continues
to live a free and untroubled existence.
In other words, if one were to
define “power” as the ability to carry out one’s will without the need to defer
to the wishes of others in a given area, then Hizbullah has no need to “seize”
power in Lebanon, for the simple reason that it already, to all intents and
purposes, possesses it. This fact is likely to be sufficient to render any
indictments against movement members meaningless, making further action