Nobody should expect Hezbollah to return to the Lebanese fold anytime soon
Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party, is calling on Hezbollah to return to Lebanon. Just in form, the invitation raises the question of whether the party ever believed in its supposed Lebanese identity.
Although doubting Hezbollah’s sense of patriotism and belief in Lebanon can infuriate its supporters, do not forget that this party’s literature reflects a tendency for proudly advocating its association with a major Islamist international project that draws its power from the Iranian velayat-e faqih regime.
Hezbollah’s inception occurred in space that existed outside the Lebanese negotiations that culminated in the 1989 Taif Agreement, in which the Lebanese had agreed that Lebanon was a definite country.
From the beginning, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah overtly and proudly proclaimed its goal. Nasrallah was not only talking about his personal convictions but also about a doctrinal project in which the party’s leaders wanted to establish an Islamic republic in Lebanon that would belong to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The idea of political allegiance to outside dogma was popular in the region at the time. Parties could pick from among international communism from Moscow, Maoism from Beijing, pan-Arabism from Gamal Abdel Nasser in Cairo, Ba'athism from Baghdad and Damascus or even Muammar Qaddafi’s Jamahiriya model in Libya.
Hezbollah linked its existence inextricably to Iran. Nasrallah proclaimed that Hezbollah’s money, armament, equipment and ideology were sourced from the mullahs in Tehran. Hezbollah took over the Shia movement initiated by Musa al-Sadr and oriented it towards the service of Tehran.
If, in the 1960s, al-Sadr’s goal was to strengthen the Lebanese Shias in the face of the nationalist and internationalist winds that were undermining their sense of community, it was Hezbollah that carried the project through and pushed Lebanese Shias to disassociate themselves from Lebanon, renounce suspicious pan-Arabism and associate with the purity of the revolution in Iran.
It is pertinent to note the rather delayed discovery of their Lebanese identity by the Sunni Lebanese, too. They did so when Rafik Hariri’s political project started gaining popularity. This Lebanonisation of the Sunnis survived despite Hariri's assassination 13 years ago.
Before the coming of that dogma, the Sunni Lebanese subscribed to various internationalist projects that blew across the region. They embraced the pan-Arabist ideas of Nasser and Palestinian liberation, claiming to defend the "Arab character of Lebanon," which was threatened by those who see Lebanon as only partially Arab, a sort of Eastern Switzerland with ancient Phoenician roots.
With time, the winds blowing from Moscow, Cairo and Baghdad died out and Damascus became the sole alternative to those in Lebanon seeking a point of reference other than Beirut. It seemed that the affirmation of a definitive Lebanese identity produced by the Taif Agreement was regarded by Damascus as another equation in the process of getting Lebanon under Syria’s wing.
That Syrian version of a Lebanese identity was in tune with the concept of “one people in two countries," purportedly ascribed to a joke made by the late Syrian President Hafez Assad. Viewed from that angle, the assassination of Hariri in 2005 appears to have been aimed at protecting Damascus and, behind it, Tehran, from the rise of a purely Lebanese force pulling towards Lebanon and thus undermining the concept of loyalty to supra-Lebanese projects that the Lebanese were fond of consuming.
Hezbollah was born to be non-Lebanese. The party leaders will not deny it, nor will they be embarrassed by it. Therefore, Geagea's call for Hezbollah to return to Lebanon is just noise that Hezbollah and its leaders will not heed. To encourage the stray party to return home, Geagea invitingly said: "We are all waiting for you."
The poor man is going to have to wait for a long time.
One should not expect Hezbollah to confine itself to Lebanon’s borders and act in accordance with the interests of Lebanon alone; that would be antithetical to its being. Hezbollah cannot practise politics as practised by all other parties in parliament, government and institutions because that is the opposite of why it exists.
Hezbollah cannot be faulted for being frank. In the same way that Hezbollah is open about its loyalty to Iran and its strategies, the Lebanese political class is persistent in ignoring that and is treating the party as if its actions were a temporary transgression of Lebanese sovereignty. All they have to do is call the party back to the bosom of the homeland like a mother would call an impetuous son home.
What Hezbollah has been doing is carrying out Iran’s policies. In the 1980s, the party kidnapped Westerners, ransoming them through Damascus and Tehran. It purposely exceeded its declared animosity to the West without concern for Lebanon’s interests with the outside world. It turned its military forces and media against this Gulf country or the other, again in total disregard for Lebanon’s interests and the interests of all the Lebanese, including Shia Lebanese, living in the Gulf. Its flags are Iranian and the only Lebanese aspects about it are those that do not contradict its Iranian identity.
Let Geagea call Hezbollah all he wants but the Party of God won’t be coming home any time soon. Its destiny is tied to the regime in Iran. When the streets of Iran rebelled, Hezbollah showed deep concern. Because US sanctions have begun to shake Iran’s economy and stability, the party became very nervous about the fallout of the situation on its future.
Since it appears new arrangements for Syria are going to force all foreign militias, including Hezbollah’s, to withdraw from that country, Hezbollah’s forces may return to Lebanon but that won’t mean that the party has become deeply Lebanese.
Hezbollah will never be a Lebanese party defending the Shias in Lebanon. That would be contrary to its essence and to the reason for its existence. It might be legitimate for Geagea to invite the party to return to Lebanon but, if it does indeed return, that party would no longer be Hezbollah.