nasrallah 298.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Last Wednesday, on the sixth anniversary since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud praised Hizbullah. He said the group, labeled by Israel and the US as a terror organization, should "stay until a just and comprehensive peace is achieved in the region."
But Sunday, following the worst clashes over the Israeli-Lebanese border since Israel's withdrawal, many Lebanese were increasingly vocal about their opposition to Hizbullah's arms, not to mention those of the various Palestinian factions based in camps around southern Lebanon.
"Firing rockets from South Lebanon is a violation of Lebanese sovereignty," announced the March 14 Forces executive committee following a Sunday meeting. "There is a serious security vacuum in the area due to the lack of the government's control." The group, named after the date a year ago when over a million Lebanese gathered in downtown Beirut calling - successfully - for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, did not refer to Hizbullah by name, but it was clear that's who it meant. Its leaders include Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.
Hizbullah, which has 11 parliamentary seats and two cabinet members, has refused to give up its weapons, which continue to be one of the most divisive issues among the Lebanese people. Once praised for 'kicking out the Israelis from south Lebanon' the organization's raison d'etre is now questioned particularly as the Iranian nuclear file becomes a hot issue. Once a public holiday, the May 24 anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal was cancelled this year, supposedly for budget reasons.
More likely, the reason for the cancellation was because Hizbullah's militia is no longer seen as a necessity by many Lebanese.
Some anti-Syrian leaders have accused the group of using its arsenal of Katyushas, RPGs and missiles to serve Iranian and Syrian interests.
Hizbullah has denied this charge, although it receives money and weapons from the two countries.
But, if the US or Israel were to attack Iran, would Hizbullah, a patron of the Islamic state, attack Israel? And if so, do the Lebanese really want to suffer the consequences of such an attack over a conflict which is not theirs?
Hizbullah's Secretary General Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah maintained that guerrilla fighting was Lebanon's best answer to the Israeli army, because the Lebanese regular army is not strong enough to respond to regular Israeli incursions into Lebanon.
"It is the only alternative available to us," Nasrallah said last week, adding defiantly that northern Israel remained "under the firing line" of his group's more than 12,000 rockets.
Nevertheless, on March 2, almost a year after the famous Beirut Spring began and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, 14 leaders from all the various confessional groups of Lebanon met for the first National Dialogue. With Syria out of their country and the civil war long over, although the reasons for it were not resolved, the Lebanese needed to finally solve their own internal issues, including Hizbullah's arms.
They did not agree on the two key issues of Hizbullah disarming and a replacement for Lahoud, but they did agree on something.
That was the disarming of the Palestinians in their midst. In April it was decided that all Palestinians outside camps would be disarmed within six months. Sunday's clashes showed Lebanese how urgent that was. It was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad which initially took responsibility for starting the back and forth shooting over the border, in revenge for the killing Friday of its leader, Mahmoud Majzoub and his brother in Sidon. Israel was accused by Lebanese of the assassination, although it said it was not involved.
Syria, the supplier of both the Palestinian and Hizbullah weapons, was blamed for instigating the fight. MP Akram Chehayeb, a member of Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering party, described the border clashes as a "new Syrian attempt to use Lebanon as an open arena for conflicts," according to Beirut's Daily Star. Jumblatt has been a vocal proponent of the disarming of Hizbullah as well.
The National Dialogue members, who include Nasrallah, also agreed to call on Syria to begin formal diplomatic relations with Lebanon and to demarcate their joint border, meaning an end to Syria's protectorate-style relations with its neighbor. The call was followed by a UN resolution which angered Syria, who said the UN should not meddle in the two countries' relations.
US and French pressure on Lebanon to fulfill the UN resolutions calling for Hizbullah's disarmament is strong and internal Lebanese desire for it may be strong. But it remains doubtful Hizbullah will agree to disarm before a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and Syria is achieved.