For too long in Lebanon and across the region, Hezbollah’s malign behaviour has been given a free pass. Despite naivety from many in the West, Hezbollah’s ‘reform’ is impossible. Since the explosion last month, after decades of destructive behaviour, it is clear that the corrupt political movement is just the polished, media-savvy arm of its violent and extremist paramilitaries.
Hezbollah’s contempt for modernity and democracy runs deep. From backroom deals with political elites, to open support and cooperation with an Iranian regime determined to destabilise the Middle East. Decades of dialogue have been pointless. Since reaching an accord with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun after the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the group have set about business as usual, indiscriminately bombing civilians, and provoking Israel and the US.
The people that suffer most are the Lebanese. Caught in the crossfire, literally, as Hezbollah embeds its military infrastructure in civilian areas, let alone its cross borders operations.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon that investigated the deaths of the former Prime Minister and twenty-one innocent civilians at the bloodied hands of Hezbollah should have called for the group to be removed in its entirety from Lebanon. But it is clear the tribunal shied away, fearing it would spark yet more bloodshed.
This cowardice is not justice for those suffering from Hezbollah’s crimes. Justice for these victims and countless others can be served no other way. Hezbollah has proven over decades it cannot be trusted, much less to govern.
French President Emmanuel Macron was received warmly in Beirut by a desperate population angry at their lives being blighted by extremism and corruption. But now he needs to act.
Macron must rectify the tribunal’s glaring omission and attach the full condemnation of Hezbollah to political reform as a precondition for aid to Lebanon. A proposal recently delivered by the French Ambassador to Beirut, seen by Reuters, falls short; and calls only for action on COVID-19, reconstruction of the port, economic reforms and an early election.
Short-term international support is not enough, failing the restoration of Lebanon’s ability to self-govern which has proven impossible with Hezbollah. While investigations into the blast are ongoing, it would be the greatest injustice of all for a prime suspect of the chemical’s reckless storage to be handed a role in rebuilding Lebanon today.
Domestic turmoil in Lebanon is mirrored throughout the region. In Syria, Hezbollah and other Shia militia, fighting alongside their Iranian backers, have sought to bolster Assad, smuggling weapons and killing thousands of civilians. Unchecked, Hezbollah’s violence has become emboldened and unbound.
As both a militia and a political movement, Hezbollah will always answer to hostile foreign powers over the voice of the Lebanese people. Both have put the interests of Iran ahead of Lebanon openly, at home and abroad, and that false distinction can no longer be made, nor further excuses given, if the country is to meaningfully recover from the current crisis.
It should also be no surprise that, as the only militia still refusing to disarm and the first known Islamist group to use suicide bombers, Hezbollah has yet again set about wreaking havoc and sewing chaos in Lebanon. Grounded in radical Shia Islamism, Hezbollah’s 1985 manifesto pledged allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader, vowing to build an Iranian-inspired Islamist regime in Lebanon.
Even before the explosion, Hezbollah saw itself become a target of the mass protests that have been gathering across the country since the October 17, 2019 , even in the group’s traditional strongholds. While the political elite faces international scrutiny, Lebanon knows that Hezbollah is also at the heart of the rot after decades of broken promises and corruption laid bare.
As Al Arabiya English reported and the DC-based think tank the Atlantic Council have outlined, Hezbollah and their allies in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have even begun using the courts to undermine the rule of law in Lebanon. Hezbollah and the FPM have allegedly used FPM-aligned judges to bring groundless, politically motivated charges against opposition politicians and entrepreneurs, including the well-known Lebanese businessman Teddy Rahmeh.
Lebanon’s political actors must be trusted to follow the rule of law, from the prohibitions against murder to the rules of a functioning economy. Yet Hezbollah has consistently shown it cannot rise to that task. To restore order, President Macron must listen to Lebanon’s protesters calling from the streets that Hezbollah can have no role in the country’s future.
Rebuilding Beirut’s port and light-touch reforms are not enough. Macron’s list of demands must include the complete disarmament of its militia, dismissal of its politicians, and disavowal of Hezbollah’s ideology to ensure peace, democracy and economic growth in Lebanon.
Lebanese youth deserve political representation that is not rooted to the civil war. A real political system should be presented as an alternative to the current dysfunction. Dealing with Hezbollah is just the tip of the iceberg especially with its political blocs and alliances. It is not an easy task but action should have been taken years ago.
The international community has already come to a view. Now is the time for Macron’s ‘new political pact’ to enact it for the Lebanese people by denying Hezbollah a seat at the table.
Ruwan Al-Rejoleh is an independent political consultant and analyst with a focus on geopolitics and extreme religious groups in the Middle East and North Africa. A Syrian national born in Washington DC, Ruwan is currently based in DC and is the Founder and CEO of a geopolitical advisory firm and a former analyst at the Tony Blair Institute.
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