Lebanon's 'determination'

The Lebanese government will not stop the weapons flow on it own, even though Hizbullah's arms buildup threatens that government's survival.

Hizbullah march 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah march 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In an interview broadcast by Al Jazeera on Saturday, Lebanese cabinet member and Druse leader Walid Jumblatt said the Lebanese security services are helping Hizbullah smuggle weapons from Syria into Lebanon, and that Hizbullah is becoming a "state within a state." "There is a Hizbullah army alongside the Lebanese army," Jumblatt said. "There is Hizbullah intelligence alongside Lebanese [army] intelligence and there are Lebanese territories that the army is prohibited from entering. The Lebanese army should have... entered the areas between Lebanon and Syria that are off-limits." Jumblatt's comments come on the heels of evidence that Israel has been presenting to the international community of rampant weapons smuggling across the Syrian-Lebanese border in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. If these weapons originate in Iran, then this smuggling is also a violation of the latest Security Council resolution banning all weapons exports from Iran. On his recent visit to Lebanon, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern regarding intelligence reports that "arms are smuggled," and said that this could "destabilize the situation in Lebanon." Ban reportedly spoke to Lebanese leaders about the evidence he had seen and the need for "an enhanced monitoring capacity of the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there will be no such smuggling activity." It is obvious, though, that the Lebanese government will not stop the weapons flow on it own, even though Hizbullah's arms buildup threatens that government's survival. Until the Second Lebanon War last summer, the Lebanese government did nothing to stop the Hizbullah buildup that had followed Israel's unilateral withdrawal in 2000, and did not deploy its army in the south. Lebanon, in other words, has a record of being unwilling or unable to exercise its own sovereignty, and the failure to do so now is clearly an extension of this long-standing weakness. In February, when government officials confiscated a truck full of weapons destined for Hizbullah near Beirut, the defense minister said the weapons would go to the underequipped Lebanese forces. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah had the gall to respond, "We will not forgive anyone who confiscates a bullet," while claiming that he would "provide the army with all the weapons that it requires." Nasrallah boasts that he will defend Lebanon. It should be obvious, however, that the more Hizbullah, an agent of Iran, is armed, the greater the likelihood of renewed war in Lebanon and of the fall of its precarious government. In this context, it was a major mistake, and one made over Israeli objections, for France to have insisted upon and for the US to have agreed to the provision in Resolution 1701 that requires a Lebanese request for UNIFIL to deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border. This deployment was and is at least as necessary as UNIFIL's deployment in the south, and should have been an equally mandatory part of 1701, which Lebanon ostensibly accepted. In the almost eight months since the war ended, Hizbullah has substantially rearmed itself. Despite this, it is still critical to correct the mistake made in 1701. This can be done by belatedly insisting that Lebanon agree to UNIFIL's deployment along the Syrian-Lebanese border, and by instituting further mechanisms to enforce the weapons ban instituted by that resolution. It is encouraging that the UN Security Council is poised to take some action in response to Hizbullah's weapons buildup. The draft French resolution, however, seems to focus on congratulating Lebanon for its "determination" to stop smuggling and urging Syria and Iran to enforce the arms embargo - on themselves. This may well be a step in the right direction, but beginning to recognize the problem is not the same as solving it. If Lebanon really is "determined," it will be the Security Council that is letting Lebanon down and turning its own resolution into a dead letter by not devising serious enforcement mechanisms. Only if the UN Security Council members are so determined will they have a chance to succeed in helping Lebanon save itself, and in taking real steps to prevent the next war.