Hezbollah, Syria's Army in Lebanon !!!
By: Colonel Charbel Barakat & Elias Bejjani
During several public rallies, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's Secretary General bragged that his party's fighters will be Syria's army if Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon. Well, Syria has been forced to withdraw in accordance with the UN Resolution 1559. Is Mr. Nasrallah going to keep his threats and act on behalf of Syria to hinder the central Lebanese government from taking control of the whole country?
If we take into account Syria's shambled economy and that Lebanon has been its "golden cow" for the last thirty years, then we must take Mr. Nasrallah's threats seriously. According to a World Bank estimate, Lebanon has been bringing roughly $5.5 billion a year to Syria's coffers. To put this figure into perspective, Syria's total exports for 2003 were about $5.1 billion. According to the CIA World Fact book and the French Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Syrian GDP decreased 3.3 percent in 2003 and the unemployment rate is now about 22 percent, with 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Half a million Syrian workers are employed in Lebanon and contribute to the Syrian economy by sending money back home to their families. In such an environment, it seems likely that Syria will try hard not to leave Lebanon alone, because a pullout of its control would severely affect Assad's regime. That is how important Lebanon is for the survival of the Syrian Baathist regime.
Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has been recently calling for what he termed "a deep dialogue" among the Lebanese communities on what he identifies as "fundamental matters." His rhetoric indicates without any doubt that he does not recognize the "Taef Accord" which, in the eyes of some Lebanese, has ended the war in their country and laid the foundation for what has become part of Lebanon's new constitution.
A thorough reading of Mr. Nasrallah's recent verbal stances indicates clearly that he does not intend to commit his Hezbollah armed group to this accord that openly calls for the disarmament of all militias. Mr. Nasrallah, who has confiscated a large swath of the Lebanese southern territories and monopolized its administration, apparently is not planning to hand them back peacefully to the central government. It is worth mentioning that the majority of Lebanon's leadership have been deterred from addressing Hezbollah's flagrant infringement in fear of being killed, sent into exile, imprisoned or charged by Nasrallah, the Syrian-made Beirut regime and the Syrians, with treason and collaboration with Israel.
Mr. Nasrallah controls all the Lebanese territories with Shiite majority in the South, the Bekaa and the southern suburbs of Beirut. These territories actually account for one-third of Lebanon's area and population, and as his challenging tone indicates, he does not intend to give up what he sees as a sectarian gain and a war booty. Although he has been competing for control of these territories with the Shiite "Amal Movement" that is headed by MP Nabih Berri, Syria's hand-picked Lebanese House Speaker, Nasrallah would not be in the same position after Syria completes its military withdrawal. He plans to become the sole Shiite power by marginalizing the Amal Movement, like the rest of the oppressed Shiite groups. Nasrallah's tactic is to let Amal compete only with other small Shiite groups and not with his "party of God." The man believes he is above everybody else and accordingly has the right to control and run these Shiite territories until he can extend his power to other Lebanese territories in the future.
Hezbollah's elite leadership figures did not abandon their main objective to change Lebanon into an Islamic state, a replica of the Iranian Islamic Republic. For mere strategic necessity, they have temporarily put the implementation of that objective on hold while awaiting the appropriate circumstances, not the least of which is the further taming of the Lebanese population into becoming more receptive to their concept of an Islamic republic.
Given the current regional and international milieus, Hezbollah favors for now a united Lebanon and not a federal one because it can take all what it needs from such a regime without paying back any of its dues. For years, the Lebanese central government has been providing Mr. Nasrallah's territories and its residents with free services, water, electricity, telecommunications, and other infrastructure requirements, while Hezbollah enjoyed all alone the stuffing of its coffers with the huge revenues that it generates.
Hezbollah enforces a 5% religious tax on wealthy Shiites not only in Lebanon, but also in Africa, Europe and all over the world without any restrictions or accountability. On top of all that, the party receives from Iran one hundred million dollars annually. For years Hezbollah also has been forcing the Beirut central government to put Hezbullah fighters and many of its active members on the state's payroll under the disguise of "resistance". Meanwhile and for pure camouflage purposes, Hezbollah provides its people with some social services to portray itself as a benevolent and socially-consicous organization which is not interested in individual gains or interests. What many are not aware of is the Syrian-Hezbollah partnership in drug trafficking and money counterfeiting. This partnership includes cultivating, protecting, manufacturing and exporting of drugs. Other sources of income include money laundering and diamond trade in African countries like Sierra Leone.
To protect its status and gains, Hezbollah has been opposing any change in the Syrian occupational status quo imposed on Lebanon. Hezbollah adores this regime of gains, while its leadership is day-dreaming that everybody else in Lebanon, including the Lebanese Muslim Sunnis, have a holy obligation to pay them taxes for forcing Israel to leave Lebanon.
Hezbollah desires to preserve its monopoly on Lebanon's peace and war decision-making process. It has and still does prevent all other Lebanese and Muslim "jihadist" organizations from taking any role in what is called "Holy Jihad against Israel." Hezbollah has been detaining all armed individuals who get close to the Lebanese-Israeli borders, which is an assignment that might have been the price this party is paying in return for Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000, in accordance with the terms of an agreement with the Jewish State that took place in Sweden through UN envoy Terry Roed Larsen and US ambassador to Lebanon at that time, Mr. David Satterfield. Presumably, both diplomats are fully aware of the agreement conditions. Meanwhile, Hezbollah keeps holding on to the tag of the war of liberation of the "Shebaa Farms" , the "big lie" that was fabricated by Syria to keep on justifying its ongoing military occupation of Lebanon.
Lebanon cannot afford to let any armed group jeopardize its security and decide on its relationship with neighborhood countries. Accordingly, it cannot allow Hezbollah to continue deciding on behalf of all its communities the status quo in its southern region, and on a war-peace status with Israel.
The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular, have been pursuing a course of negotiations with Israel for years, and still are. Most of them have already established full mutual commercial and diplomatic relations including Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians themselves. What actually is encouraging is that both sides have achieved through negotiations what could not be reached through war.
Allowing Hezbollah to keep confiscating Lebanon's decision-making process and maintaining its military control over south Lebanon, justifies for other Lebanese communities to do the same. Why will it not allow the Sunnis in northern Akkar region to start a war with the Alawites across the Syrian - Lebanese border? In fact, they have too many reasons to engage in such a confrontation. In the same realm, why won't the Druze in the Southern Hasbaya region be allowed to wage a war of liberation against the Syrian Houran and Druze Mountainous territories? Or why won't the Maronite Lebanese of the Byblos coastal region be allowed to wage a war to support their Maronite Cypriot brothers against Turkey? And in the same context, the Chaldeans and the Assyrians to form their own armed groups to liberate the Iraqi Christian regions, etc...
Hezbollah is playing a very dangerous war game and is jeopardizing not only Lebanon's future, but that of the whole Middle East. It has been a role model and a psychological inspirational power for the Palestinians who waged the so-called "Al Aqsa uprising," an aimless war that exposed their regions and people to unprecedented hazards and led to the destruction of years of hard work. Hezbollah has been also a role model for Bin Laden in his suicide terrorist attacks against the USA and other western countries.
This explains why UN Resolution 1559 has strongly and unambiguously called for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non Lebanese armed militias The Lebanese leadership and individuals who falsely believe that 1559 was passed solely to liberate their country from the Syrian occupation, should wake up and have a dose of regional and international reality. Deceptive and fraudulent tactics employed by Mr. Nasrallah to render the UN Resolution 1559 toothless are not sellable. Also his alleged "Lebanese unanimous consensus" that Hezbollah is a "resistance" and not a terrorist group is not swallowed by many Lebanese nor by the international and regional forces that support the full implementation of 1559. This thinking that Nasrallah is advocating is a dead end and a mistaken interpretation for the Middle East peace requirements. If Hezbollah is allowed to succeed in such maneuvers, the whole peace process in the Middle East will be put to risk.
Because of the indecisive regional and international approaches used with Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shiite clergy Muqtada Al Sadr has been encouraged to challenge the Iraq central government, the western liberation forces and to once again call for defiant demonstrations. In the same vein one can explain the new violent tactics followed by the Palestinian Hamas organization. These two bodies among many others in the Middle East would not have resorted back to violence and arms to achieve their aims if Hezbollah had not been allowed to maintain its military, left to continue forcing its denominational doctrines on the Lebanese communities and to threaten the peace process in the Middle East. If Hezbollah can keep its arms, maintain its hegemony on certain Lebanese regions and escape legal international punishment, then why Hamas, Muqtada Al Sadr and other armed groups in the Middle East who were forced to engage in peaceful negotiations tracks, can't do the same? There is no doubt that if this rebellious phenomenon is permitted to grow it would only lead to more grief and more bloodshed.
Could Mr. Nasrallah be serious in his calls for a deep dialogue? Could he be advocating a rock-hard foundation for a long term ethnic solution for the Middle East and all of its peoples, especially since he has been for so many years the sole governor for the Shiite "Canton" that his group has established in Lebanon? Could he be longing for an Iraqi federation that comprises independent provinces for the Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis, Turkmen, Kurds and Christians? Could he be contemplating to break Syria into states or provinces for the Alawites, Kurds, Druze Christians and Sunnis? In fact, Mr. Nasrallah is not pursuing any of the above because his ultimate goal is to control Lebanon and erect his own state. At the present he plans to maintain the current status quo in Lebanon while he continues to solidify the foundations of his Shiite Canton under the disguise of fighting Israel.
No one should be fooled by Nasrallah's calls for dialogue because he does not actually possess any negotiation or persuasion capabilities or intentions and cannot offer any future democratic solutions. He deals with others through intolerance, brutal muffling tactics, oppression, intimidation, and confiscation of their free decision-making process. He cannot peacefully or willingly give up his weapons for they are his only means for holding on to power.
Hezbollah's weapons were and will remain an Iranian-Syrian tool of tutelage and instability for Lebanon and the whole Middle East. Mr. Nasrallah's calls for a full implementation of the "Taef Accord" are not serious at all. He is aiming to scare the Lebanese opposition and deter its leaders from pushing for his disarmament. He falsely believes that the Christian community will fall in his ambush in fear of losing what he sees as "Christian privileges." In fact, the "Taef Accord" calls for the end of all religious and denominational privileges for all communities, for the disarmament of all militias, honoring the armistice agreement with Israel and for equality among all Lebanese. The "Taef," if, and when fully implemented will end Hezbollah as a military and denominational organization and rip its religious leadership from all the privileges that they have been enjoying for years. Practically, the Lebanese Christian clergymen do not generally engage in politics, and with the implementation of the "Taef," they will not lose anything. On the other side, Hezbollah's entire leadership is Shiite clergy, and Nasrallah himself is the legitimate representative in Lebanon for the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.
Hezbollah is hiding behind the so-called "resistance" tag while vigorously endeavoring to maintain the status quo that suits its agenda of establishing in Lebanon a replica of the Iranian Mulla's republic. Hezbollah's leadership is unwilling to give up weapons in fear of losing its grip of power, especially on the Lebanese Shiite community. This leadership does not even count on its own community to elect Hezbollah's candidates in any future free parliamentary or municipal elections if its weapons and hegemony are not involved. Accordingly no dialogue with Hezbollah will be fruitful as long as it keeps holding to its arms and no productive outcomes could be expected.
The Lebanese and international authorities who are still under the belief that Hezbollah must be given another chance are dead wrong. The only language that Hezbollah understands is war and intimidation, and will not under any consensual circumstances give up its weapons or authority. To the contrary it could ignite future devastating and costly military confrontation if not internationally and regionally deterred in due time and dealt with in accordance to the UN Resolution 1559.
Keeping Hezbollah armed and militarily intact with a leadership that is stubborn, pompous and solely motivated by denominational delusional ambitions could lead to more suffering and more destruction, not only in Lebanon, but in the whole Middle East. Nasrallah's strategy of maintaining his custodial role that has been imposed on Lebanon during the Syrian occupation needs to be firmly confronted and no one should even think that this ambitious clergy intends voluntarily and peacefully to give up his party's arms, power, privileges and denominational objectives to become a part of the Lebanese multi-cultural community like everybody else. There is no doubt that the whole Middle East will know no peace or stability until Hezbollah is disarmed, dismantled, its charged members are arrested and put on trial, and most importantly, its psychological inspirational phenomena terminated.
*Vice President for the (WLO) World Lebanese Organization
* Historian, expert on terrorism & political commentator
*Author of the book "Madamik"
*Retired Colonel - the Lebanese Army
*Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
*Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)
*Media Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)