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The political incubator and the Iranian project

Allowing Iran’s hegemony project to continue unabated under the banner of “resistance” may push the region into the unknown

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

Recently, a short news report in one of Lebanon’s leading newspapers asked: “Who is trying to implicate Hezbollah in a confrontation with Israel?”

The question gives the impression that Hezbollah now sees confrontation with Israel as a “problem,” although it really was its principal excuse to keep its arms when all other parties of the Lebanese War of 1975–1990 gave up theirs.

During that war, the Lebanese factions firmly believed that they were armed in self-defense in a conflict which seemed for a long time like a “war of extermination.” Later on, they laid down their arms because they saw the objective of reconstructing the country was far more important than destroying it. An understanding over the priorities was reached in the Saudi city of Taif, and manifested itself in the National Reconciliation Accord, rebuilding the state and its institutions, and directing all efforts towards reconstructing Lebanon after 15 years of destruction and displacement.

Of course, then Israelis was occupying a large part of South Lebanon, and the Lebanese as a whole agreed that the “resistance” could keep the arms to “resist” that occupation. They even loved the arms at the time, and they loved the “resistance” too. Thus, those who strove to build the country and those who fought to liberate the land coexisted, and everyone thought - for a while - that their objectives were shared and their vision was one. Unfortunately, however, the Lebanese and non-Lebanese alike quickly realized the facts that came to mind every once in a while, and then disappeared of or hidden.

Serving interests

They discovered that some of the sponsors of the Taif Agreement only wanted to implement it in a way that serves their interests. This is exactly as they did when they intervened in the early 1970s on the pretext of reconciling and bringing the Lebanese together, only to be seen later agitating against and sabotaging every chance of the Lebanese reaching an understanding. In fact, they were behind many political assassinations, eliminating leaders and figures capable of making brave decisions at important junctures, and stopping the country’s slide to the abyss. The objective of these sponsors was to expedite the slide and turn Lebanon into a “failed state,” with both the international and Arab communities calling for it to be placed under their trusteeship.

Allowing Iran’s hegemony project to continue unabated under the banner of “resistance” may push the region into the unknown

Eyad Abu Shakra

Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000, yet Hezbollah refused to disarm on the pretext that the withdrawal was incomplete as it did not include the Sheba’a Farms and Kfar Shuba hills, which had been occupied since 1967. Again, despite Lebanon’s requests to Syria to inform the United Nations that the farms and the hills were in fact “Lebanese,” Syria refused all requests, insisting instead on a complete demarcation of the border, beginning from North Lebanon. In the meantime, relations between Damascus and former Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, who had become the most powerful Sunni leader in Lebanon, deteriorated. Damascus succeeded in removing him from the premiership and tried hard to defeat him in the general elections. Hariri not only won, but also achieved an unprecedented landslide victory.

In February 2005, after Damascus had managed to extend “for half a term” for its close friend, President Émile Lahoud, Hariri was assassinated. The assassination was not, in reality, aimed against a person, but rather at eliminating a national political phenomenon with significant regional dimensions. It was truly an exceptional juncture, which awakened many Lebanese and Arabs from their slumber, as well as revived a mass Islamic–Christian alliance, which had been virtually banned under the Damascus hegemony. The crime that caused that popular uprising also created an internal and international climate that forced the Syrian regime to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

Waking up to reality

Once again, and within a short time, the Lebanese woke up to another reality: Syrian control of Lebanon’s security was just a prelude to a bigger, more serious problem. The Syrian military withdrawal left Lebanon under the guardianship of a more powerful and effective alternative, which was also more capable of infiltrating the Lebanese political scene. This was Hezbollah, a religious party-cum-militia founded by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1980s, which also sponsored and trained its members. During the “resistance” period, the “party” did not have to declare its true political role as the Syrian presence was capable of fulfilling it. However, the withdrawal forced the party to assume its prepared role.

Following the Israeli and Syrian withdrawals, Hezbollah was no longer a resistance movement, instead it has become an armed political power making alliances and enemies, funding and protecting its followers, and imposing the appointment of its cronies on the state—even ones from other sects as part of its plan to infiltrate them. This was made possible thanks to the fact that it was the only political organization with arms and money described as “clean” money by one of its leaders. Furthermore, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the party’s secretary-general, once replied to critics of his links to Tehran by declaring that he was proud to be a “soldier in the army of the Vali-ye Faqih,” i.e., the spiritual and political leader of Iran.

On two occasions—in 2006 when he caused a confrontation with Israel, and then when he attacked Beirut and Jebel in 2008 and the toppling of Hariri’s government (breaking a promise to preserve it)—the party proved it was bigger than the Lebanese state, and that it did not adhere to its constitutional institutions. Finally, the Syrian revolution of 2011 ended all doubts about the nature of the party and its regional role as it was fighting in support of the Damascus regime, along with other Middle Eastern Shi’ite factions, with the blessing of Tehran.

Dangerous challenges

Lebanon will face dangerous challenges over the coming few months weeks, including the repercussions of the Syrian crisis and the upcoming presidential elections. However, it facing these challenges while unable to form a government as well as being increasingly under threat of terrorism.

Some Lebanese sectarian groups have in recent weeks cast doubts, albeit not openly so far, about the impartiality of the army regarding the movement of insurgents across the Syrian border, pointing to its firmness against Sunni fundamentalists while totally disregarding Hezbollah military activities. As for Hezbollah, it continues to claim it holds the banner of “resistance” and is engaged in fighting “Takfirists.”

After the events in Sidon, in Southern Lebanon last week, many condemned the attack on the army. This is actually the right ethical response, but those who seem to belittle the deep anger boiling mainly in Sunni quarters are wrong. Hatred has reached a point where some Sunni areas in Lebanon have become incubators of militant fundamentalism, just like they did in Syria and Iraq, and never by choice.

To conclude, allowing Iran’s hegemony project to continue unabated under the banner of “resistance” may push the region into the unknown.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 19, 2013.

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Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.

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