Lebanon wants a national dialogue to discuss Hizbullah's weapons

Whether the Shi'ite group would ultimately be asked to put its weapons down or perhaps merge with the Lebanese armed forces.

Hizbullah march 224.88 (photo credit: )
Hizbullah march 224.88
(photo credit: )
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman is expected to lead a national dialogue to determine a new "defense strategy" that will likely include the question of whether Hizbullah should be able to keep its weapons. Whether the Shi'ite group would ultimately be asked to put its weapons down or perhaps merge with the Lebanese armed forces, for example, would be up to the people to decide through this dialogue, said one independent Lebanese member of parliament. "All options are open and they have not been settled yet," the parliamentarian told The Jerusalem Post via telephone on Tuesday. Nearly all the parties, he said, agreed that Hizbullah should ultimately give up its weapons, as long as there was a defense system in place that would shield Lebanon from any aggression. But the Shi'ite group would not be expected to change its status quo, politicians say, as long as Israel maintained control of the Shaba Farms (Mount Dov), which it captured from Syria during the Six Day War. While Israel says the 20 square kilometers of strategic mountains on its northeast border belong to Syria, Hizbullah and others in the country say they belong to Lebanon. Syria has kept silent on the issue of late. "It's a weak argument to [try to] disarm Hizbullah as a resistance movement as long as territory is still occupied," the parliamentarian said. "That's the importance of having diplomatic success regarding the Shaba farmlands." A second politician, representing Lebanon's majority coalition, agreed, saying that only once the Shaba Farms are under Lebanese sovereignty, "it will be the duty of the Lebanese army and the government to defend the land" in place of Hizbullah, though "we will take, of course the experience of Hizbullah" and use it to protect the country. At that time, Hizbullah's weapons, too, should fall under the control of the Lebanese government, he said. Some observers, however, say the upcoming dialogue on Lebanon's defense strategy is not intended to yield any specific results regarding Hizbullah's arms - which is a regional rather than an internal Lebanese issue - but rather to keep factional conflict in the political realm and off the streets. Hizbullah, which has always billed itself as a resistance movement against Israel, shocked many in the country when it briefly took over mainly Sunni areas of West Beirut in May in response to steps the government took that angered the group. "The idea is that as long as you lock Hizbullah into a political process, even a useless dialogue, then it is contained because within the system it cannot dominate," said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow of the Middle Eastern Program at the London-based Chatham House. "As long as it has to play the game by the rules, its role diminishes." And many acknowledge that Hizbullah and its supporters, further emboldened by the recent prisoner exchange with Israel, cite the threat of the Jewish state to Lebanon and have indicated that the group has no intention of relinquishing its weapons, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War. "Hizbullah's view is that only armed resistance constitutes a deterrent and thus a defense strategy," Shehadi said. "If the country adopts that, then Hizbullah says it will consider disarming... because diplomacy showed to be useless with Israel" in the 2006 war. And in fact, Shehadi argued, the recent prisoner exchange with Israel - in which the bodies of IDF reserve soldiers were exchanged for five live prisoners - proved to many in Lebanon and elsewhere that "through violence and resistance, you can achieve your aims with Israel, whereas through negotiations, you can't." Observers note, too, that both Hizbullah and the Lebanese army would likely oppose a merger between the two due to command and control issues. In a July 21 column in the pro-opposition newspaper Al-Akhbar titled "Today's facts: The Resistance is here to stay; its weapons are preserved," the author makes the case that there is no Lebanese power that can challenge Hizbullah today. The newspaper's chairman of the board, Ibrahim al-Amin, wrote that regardless of the government's decisions regarding its national agenda, "it is unable to impose different facts on the ground than the facts that led to the current settlement and to the election of Gen. Michel Suleiman as president and to the formation of the [present] government. "And this pushes us to say, without intending to challenge or provoke, that the current balance of power means that until further notice, as long as Israel is there, the resistance will be there."