When Will Lebanon Take Back the South?
When Will Lebanon Take Back the South?
The Lebanese government was the last to know about what happened in South Lebanon on Monday. It is said that Prime Minister Hassan Diab canceled all his meetings and appointments to follow what was happening, most probably like every other Lebanese person did, on his TV.
In light of the contradictory news and stories, between the Israeli claim that Hezbollah carried out an attack in Shebaa Farms and Hezbollah denying that, and its affiliated media mocking what they considered to be a “state of confusion” in Israel, Lebanese officials were satisfied to play the role of mere observers, as if what was happening, or not happening, in the South was in another country.
All that Lebanon can do in “occasions” like this is to make calls to calm the situation, calls that do not usually include the involved parties, i.e. Hezbollah and Israel, only to later raise a complaint to the Security Council; though the fate of that complaint is always known beforehand, leaving affairs on the southern borders for the international forces that play the role of border patrol.
This is not new in south Lebanon, the Lebanese state is always the last to know. As a result of Lebanon’s misfortunate location north of Israel, the South has always served as a battlefield that the Lebanese state preferred to know nothing about. It would send a limited number of soldiers there with clear instructions to avoid any confrontation with those who actually have power on the ground, whether it was the Palestinians before or now Hezbollah who is now turning it into a proxy battlefield between Israel and Iran.
Even the Lebanese, who are not from areas on the border rarely step foot there, preferring to only hear and not see what is happening there so that the sight does not ruin their folklorish Lebanese mood that asserts that everything in the “Switzerland of the East” is fine.
The contradictions and disputes between Lebanese politicians and the lack of strategy prevented the state from determining a specific policy regarding what it wants to do on its borders with Israel. It believed it had survived the 1967 War and the occupation of neighboring countries, only to soon discover that its survival was temporary when the South was occupied and turned into one of the fiercest battlefields in the area.
The differences between the Lebanese rendered reaching a unified policy all the more difficult. In the aftermath of “Black September” and the withdrawal or expulsion of the resistance from Jordan in 1970, the Palestinian resistance relocated to south Lebanon which as a result came to be known as “The Land of the PLO” after the Lebanese state, in an exceptional historical irony and under Egyptian sponsorship by President Gamal Abdel Nasser at the time, allowed part of the area on the border to become the Palestinian Resistance’s area of operations, while the state completely neglected the violations and attacks that happened from its borders despite the 1949 “truce” between Lebanon and Israel.
There had to be a price for the Lebanese politicians’ neglect towards what was happening on their borders. When one examines that period in history they inevitably infer that what happened was natural: The resistance took advantage of Lebanese disputes, becoming a main party in internal decision-making, to the point that it became common to say that government decisions are taken in the “Fakhani Republic”—the name of the area that Yasser Arafat took as his headquarters, which ironically was not very far from Haret Hreik in the southern suburbs of Beirut that the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, took as his headquarters.
Increasing Palestinian intervention in Lebanese political life became a source for resentment by a large group of Lebanese, which then culminated in a 15-year-long civil war and Israel invading Lebanon to later withdraw from most areas except for the South which it continued to occupy for two decades.
Mutual conditions between Israel and the Syrian regime at the time prevented the Lebanese authorities from negotiating any acceptable conditions for Israel to withdraw, paving the way for Hezbollah to take advantage of the vacuum that they claim is the result of the state’s impotence and the lack of any resistance in the area.
So when we say that the state’s sovereignty de facto does not reach south Lebanon due to Hezbollah, we are narrating only a chapter in the history of that area that Lebanese governments have always treated as disposable to any party that is ready to take over and manage it per their own interests.
“The Land of the PLO” has now become “The Land of Hezbollah”. The same way that the Palestinian resistance imposed itself by force as an actor in the Lebanese political scene in an alliance with a certain group of Lebanese, Hezbollah is now doing the same: Deciding to turn south Lebanon into a battlefield for Hezbollah both despite all international resolutions and in collusion with high officials in an effort to keep them in their positions.
Defending Lebanon, whose army is supposedly weak and incapable, becomes a pretext for revoking the state’s sovereignty over its borders, while the real motive is actually securing Iranian interests, which are now to relieve the pressure on the Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria by opening another front in south Lebanon. Consequently, whether war breaks out in the South or a truce is signed with Israel all depends on Tehran’s interests.
Under the same pretext, weapons become a tool to sway internal policies towards the interest of a certain group of Lebanese over the others. A demand to hand over arms to the state is considered treason, rendering the “Army, People and Resistance” slogan above critique or revision.
History is repeating itself as tragedy. Remembering the final moments of the Palestinian role in Lebanon is useful: The dominion of weapons is not permanent and is subject to change, and the state being subject to foreign forces and escaping its responsibilities is a definite recipe for an impending explosion, however long that takes.