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How the Lebanese Sects Successively Withdrew from War

How the Lebanese Sects Successively Withdrew from War

Wednesday, 7 October, 2020 - 11:30

When the state of Israel was established, the event had a huge effect on the Levant in general and Lebanon in particular.

Palestinian refugees, most of whom had been displaced by Zionist organizations, streamed into the county with a consociational social contract, which had only gained its independence five years prior. Independence was itself subject to negotiations among its factions, who agreed on a compromise framework.

The conflict with Israel, in turn, swiftly became an implicit clause of this agreement: we neither make peace nor fight. Military, we agree to an armistice; economically, we boycott. That is: we take the path of the sum of Arab positions. Since Maronites had the upper hand in the state, they committed to this stance, though they gave it some special colors: sympathy with the Palestinian victims and fear of their inflow’s impact on the sectarian demographic balance. A degree of Christian anti-Semitic sentiments about Jews and a degree of bigotry minced with fear towards Muslims. Lebanon’s Arab interests were taken into consideration, as was fear of the emergence of Arab extremism...

This changed in the late 1960s: the test Lebanon was given seemed very harsh. To the Christians, the entity itself seemed threatened. The Palestinian resistance’s arms called for Christian armament, especially with the 1969 “Cairo Agreement,” which broke the state’s protective role. The Two-Year War (1975-76) pitted the Christians against the Palestinians in a total military standoff.

With the Israeli invasion, Bashir Gemayel’s presidential election and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the rift culminated. The Christians were openly declaring that they are not concerned with fighting Israel and that such wars being launched from Lebanon threaten them with their existence. They also became extremely vocal about having a cause of their own, independent of the Palestinian cause and opposed to it. Later, with Michel Aoun and the circumstances surrounding his understanding with Hezbollah, the majority of Christians volunteered to espouse the rhetoric of resistance, but did not turn their words into action. Actions were left to their new Shiite allies.

The Sunnis’ history with resistance is different: a blend of inherited Islamic-Arab Nationalist rhetoric, rejection of the “artificial” Lebanese entity and objections to “Maronite hegemony” brought about Gamal Abdel Nasser’s glorification and a famed sympathy for Palestinian resistance. At the time, it was said that this resistance was the “Muslims’ army” counterbalancing the army, which soon splintered. But in 1982, under the weight of Israel’s threats, Beirut insisted on the Palestinian militants’ exit. After that came Rafik Hariri, and the Sunnis’ agenda changed, that of both the Beirutis and non-Beirutis. They began to cling to a Lebanonism that emphasizes prosperity and stability. Arabism has become more economic and financial than it is political.

Of course, paying lip service to commitment to resistance and fighting Israel persisted. But myths can live long as myths, and they may become, in daily life, fairy tales. And because the Shiites, with the explosion of identities, became the ones who resist, it was necessary to remind every now and then that the resistance originated with Abdel Nasser, not Khomeini. Thus a position implicitly saying the following crystalized: We are the actual resistance, but we do not want to resist any more.

Slogans about fighting Israel ceased to turn old men young. With or without resistance, the old would remain old. Even those who may take up arms in Tripoli or Akkar, out of desire to fight an “oppressive state” or “infidels” or other things along these lines, do not present themselves as fighting Israel.

As for the Shiites’ experience, it began with Mousa al-Sadr in the late sixties, when an anti-Palestinian sectarian solidarity developed against the backdrop of armed Palestinians’ clashes with the south’s residents. Israeli military action in retaliation to Palestinian operations led to southerners’ displacement to the capital. The War of the Camps, in the mid-eighties, reinvigorated and solidified this sentiment.

In turn, Hezbollah benefited from the Palestinians’ weapons rusting away and got rid of the Lebanese parties that had been allied to them. It fought Israel again and again, but when Israel’s occupation of the south came to an end in 2000, Hezbollah clung to its weapons as if to declare that the weapons had other functions. After the 2006 War, and with Resolution 1701, the battlefront with Israel calmed down.

Two years later, it became certain that the party’s project is internal. Then, after the Syrian revolution in 2011, the intervention in Syria demonstrated that the party’s agenda is actually set in Tehran.

Under this state of affairs, talking about fighting Israel becomes much less ideological and serious than it is feigned to be. Improving the community’s position domestically and meeting regional requirements are the base, and these objectives were achieved and are being achieved. Furthermore, when Iran or Syria becomes incapable of supporting the resistance, the party becomes unable to support them to the same degree.

Thus, the negotiations for demarcating the borders announce that the Shiites do not differ from the other sects in their willingness to defuse the situation, especially since their protracted sufferings as a result of these wars strengthen their desire for calm.

Yes, Hezbollah may topple the latest agreement, and the party may discover, if urgent regional circumstance called for this, that it had been duped. However, agreeing to terms in itself initiates a new era.

The formula produced by a well-known poor rhetoric goes: “Those who do not want to fight Israel are with Israel.” In fact, the Lebanese are in a complex situation: they do not like Israel, and they do not want to fight it. The sects came to this conclusion successively, sects that may fight one another, use the bogeyman of fighting Israel to justify their arms, but they all don’t want to fight. It is a consensus with contradictory terminology.

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