Time for tough choices in Lebanon

To be fair, the Lebanese cannot be held alone responsible for the situation in their country, especially when we know that the world left Iran free to act as a dominant force in the region.
Sunday 31/03/2019
Calling the shots. Members of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc applaud during a session at the parliament building in Beirut.  (AP)
Calling the shots. Members of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc applaud during a session at the parliament building in Beirut. (AP)

Considering US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Beirut, Lebanon finds itself facing difficult choices. Certainly, the response to Pompeo is not found in meaningless formal discourse of the kind used by Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Bassil spoke of Hezbollah, which is nothing more than another brigade of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, saying it was a “Lebanese party.” Hezbollah itself does not say it is a Lebanese party.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah admitted that Hezbollah’s entire budget comes from Iran. Nasrallah said he is merely a “soldier” at the service of the velayat-e faqih, that is, of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the revolution in Iran, who is considered the commanding officer of the Islamic Republic.

By contrast, words uttered by Pompeo were logical and realistic. Pompeo described Hezbollah’s naked truth and pointed out where Lebanon’s interests lie. He accurately outlined the nature, activity, regional role and mission of Hezbollah.

Granted, Hezbollah is in the Lebanese parliament and has three ministers, including at the Health Ministry, in the government but does this mean it should be ignored that Hezbollah is an armed sectarian militia that has hijacked a whole community in Lebanon?

To have three ministers in the government and an equally important number of members of parliament and before that to be able to decide and impose who should be president of Lebanon after shutting down the House of Representatives for two-and-a-half years show that Hezbollah has achieved a lot in 39 years.

Of course, to get to where it is, the party resorted to methods and means that have nothing to do with democratic practices. In the final analysis, we find Hezbollah elements accused of assassinating former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his colleagues in 2005.

So why is Bassil defending such a party, a party that has taken the Shia community hostage and is trying to turn all of Lebanon into a hostage using the pretext that it is resisting Israel?

There is no common sense behind defending Hezbollah unless Bassil’s aim was to do what was required of him to guarantee for himself the position of president of the republic whenever his father-in-law Michel Aoun’s term ends.

That’s all there is. Everything else is made up of insignificant details, including the great calamity that befell Lebanon since the signing of the Cairo Agreement in 1969. That calamity is turning Hezbollah into the sole voter for the position of the Lebanese president.

The fact that Hezbollah — and we should understand Iran here — is the decider of who the president of Lebanon is, is much more dangerous for Lebanon and its citizens than the Cairo Agreement. What this implies is the complete hijacking of Lebanese sovereignty by Iran, while the Cairo Agreement amounted to relinquishing Lebanon’s sovereignty over a small part of its territory, the so-called Fatah land in Arqoub.

Pompeo’s visit was an opportunity for Lebanon to act responsibly by not adopting Iran’s view of Hezbollah because the latter considers Lebanon a back base from which it carries out missions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries.

Lebanon can, for example, respond to the United States by asking what successive US administrations since 1979 have done to curb Iran’s behaviour and make it behave as a normal state.

What did Jimmy Carter do when the Iranian authorities detained the diplomats of the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days? How did Ronald Reagan respond to the bombing of the US Marines headquarters in Beirut? Did he not withdraw US troops from Lebanon, leaving the country to Syria and Iran?

For sure, the Lebanese must shoulder their responsibilities. Lebanon cannot bear any confrontation with Hezbollah, which, because of the cover provided by the Christian bloc, has established its private state and controls of key parts of the country.

To be fair, the Lebanese cannot be held alone responsible for the situation in their country, especially when we know that the world, particularly during the eight years of Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, left Iran free to act as a dominant force in the region.

On top of that, there was a kind of Arab abandonment of Lebanon under the pretext that it had fallen militarily and politically and that the Lebanese were unlikely to start any confrontation with Hezbollah, which had swept through Beirut and Mount Lebanon in May 2008 without meeting any resistance.

Well, the Trump administration is still betting on the Lebanese Army establishment and on the existence of a nucleus in the Lebanese government that refuses to bow to Hezbollah.

There is also a radical change in the American position regarding Iran with the advent of Donald Trump as US president and the trio of Pompeo, US Vice-President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton.

Considering these changes, the question is not what Lebanon can do as much as it is how far the US administration is willing to go to change Iran’s behaviour. Are the sanctions sufficient to make this change?

There is no disagreement here that Lebanon is in an unenviable position. This is a time of tough choices but certainly not that of irresponsible rhetoric to defend Hezbollah and its practices to reach the presidency.

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