Hezbollah refuses to melt in the Lebanese pot
Members of Hezbollah wearing black uniforms and masks staged a paramilitary parade in the southern Beirut suburb of Bourj el-Barajneh. Hezbollah tried to play down the event late last month with one of its representatives describing it as a “spontaneous” demonstration by a party official to intimidate drug dealers and other gangsters in the area. No one, however, was fooled and questions were raised by political parties.
The events in question can hardly be qualified as “spontaneous”, especially considering reports of well-attended meetings at the Bourj el-Barajneh city hall before the parade. The meetings can hardly be said to be secret.
Besides, the parading security group did not conduct any arrests and seemed happy to just parade in the streets. It is well-known that drug dealers would not be able to operate in Hezbollah’s sectors without some cover from the group.
Bourj el-Barajneh covers only a few square kilometres and is inhabited by about 1 million people. The area has always been the subject of discussions between the government and Hezbollah about the necessity to let the official security and judicial forces freely do their job there.
The Lebanese Interior minister has spoken several times of deployment plans of security forces in the area to crack down on rampant criminality and prevent the area from becoming a safe haven and a base for lawless individuals and groups. The government took steps in that direction but they were insufficient and reflected the absence of strategic willingness to have the area under full control of the state. Events have shown that government forces intervened only when Hezbollah needed them to do so and then they would leave when Hezbollah decided that the mission was complete.
By having the Lebanese government agree to avoid broaching the subject of what Hezbollah calls “the resistance weapons”, Hezbollah got what it wanted in terms of establishing political ground rules. The party is proud of its special relationship with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and is quite happy that the head of the government understands the party’s military and security specificities. It is full of praise for the state’s security and military forces, which means that it does not object in any way to these institutions.
If that is the case, then Hezbollah will find it difficult to explain its refusal to let the security forces exercise full control over the party’s zones of influence.
Lebanese authorities seem reluctant to confront Hezbollah’s security and military plans and intentions. The government failed to react firmly to Hezbollah’s staged parade even though it was far from being an innocent act. Hezbollah’s security apparatus does not allow for “spontaneity” and spur-of-the-moment actions. The parade must have been intentional and must have been decided in the party’s top echelons.
Hezbollah recently decided to create “social security” forces. There are reports that the party is putting together a force of 500 members and officers whose primary role is to keep the peace inside the party and the community. The new force is being trained by officers from the Iranian paramilitary volunteer force, known as the Basij — “morality” — police.
On the surface, this force is at the service of the community and is tasked with ensuring compliance with Islamic precepts in the street. The truth is the Basij often violently crush social or political manifestations deemed a threat to the Iranian regime.
For its training and organisational needs, Hezbollah has always relied on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Now, and thanks to Hezbollah, we will be seeing in Lebanon a new paramilitary body ideologically subjugated to Iran.
The task force Hezbollah is putting together betrays the party’s fear of losing its grip on the ideological culture of the Shia community in Lebanon. It reflects the party’s inability and unwillingness to accept and adopt the rules and conditions of the Lebanese state, even though the party effectively controls the state.
Inside Hezbollah’s community, the buzz is the need to protect it from the “soft war” targeting it. The term refers to aspects of Western culture and social practices deemed by the party incompatible with its ideology.
Instead of encouraging an inclusive and tolerant social model, the party wants to promote a closed and special community. In the end, however, this model is incompatible with the Lebanese society at large.