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Exploiting Arms, From Liberation to Demarcation

Exploiting Arms, From Liberation to Demarcation

Monday, 12 October, 2020 - 11:00

After the major transformations that followed Rafic Hariri and his comrades’ assassination, the 2005 March 14 movement launched slogans demonstrating the fundamental changes to the political discourse of Muslims in general and Sunnis in particular, especially with the adoption of the slogan “Lebanon first.” Although the Christians had spent years going about demanding that Muslims embrace this slogan, I am still shocked, to this day, by the position taken at the time by a Christian colleague who said that the Muslims had stolen the Christians’ slogans and stances, asking: “What is left of our demands after today.”

I mention this incident because it almost mirrors the positions opposing Amal Movement and Hezbollah’s agreement to a framework for Lebanese-Israeli negotiations to demarcate the borders, especially the maritime ones, with US mediation and the United Nations’ sponsorship. Regardless of the formal and legal objections, trying to identify the objectives of the objections to the agreement’s stipulations is perplexing, especially since the parties making objections oppose the armed resistance against Israel monopolized by Hezbollah in principle. Out of all the Arab-Israel conflict’s fronts, only that of Lebanon, to further the interests of Hezbollah’s regional sponsor, is kept active. The opposition demonstrates the short-sightedness of those who are espousing it and their failure to see the strategic changes that benefit Lebanon that the agreement would entail if it is successful.

We have to accept the demarcation agreement’s strategic importance for Lebanon during this phase. Of the many reasons for this, the most prominent of which is that it may indicate a turning point in the Shiite duo’s stance that reflects strategic changes stemming from regional and local factors. The most prominent of these factors is the marked general shift in Shiites’ view of perpetuating the long-standing conflicts without solutions looming on the horizon. And even more important is the anger toward Iranian interference in Arab states. On one hand, grievances about Iran’s attempts to impose the doctrine of Vilayet el-Faqih (guardianship of the jurist) in the context of the historical struggle between the Qom and Najaf and the former’s efforts to control the latter, and, on the other hand, is the repudiation of the elimination of national identities. The developments in Iraq provide ample proof of this anger.

Another major factor is the pressure being exerted on Beirut, from the Americans, Arabs, and Europeans, especially as pressure on Iran and its allies intensifies with the recent peace agreements between Arab states and Israel. While the US is piling on the pressure to protect Israel, the Arab’s objective is containing the danger posed by Iran, and the Europeans aim to benefit from the gas in the Eastern Mediterranean; peace with Israel facilitates the attainment of all these aims. It is unlikely that this matter escaped the Shiite duo. The negotiations for the demarcation of the border with Israel green-lighted by the agreement on the framework would necessarily imply an implicit recognition, thereby putting an end to leveraging the entrenched myths about the enemy and resistance that have held Lebanese political life hostage for decades. Would being freed from this historical burden actually harm Lebanon?

Another factor is the economic benefits that this agreement would have - if it went successful and doesn't get toppled by stall tactics. Gas exploration is vital for Lebanon in general and the duo of Amal and Hezbollah in particular, as it would provide essential services for their base. The south of Lebanon will be the primary beneficiary because it will host all onshore operations, as the equipment will be stored and maintained there. Transport services, helipads and housing and everything the prospective companies need from workers, engineers and consultants will be based there as well. Thus the lion’s share of the logistics of excavation operations in Block No. 9 on the ground will benefit southern residents.

We cannot ignore the possibility that this step is merely a tactical ploy by Hezbollah, taken to survive this difficult period for Lebanon and the region in anticipation of the US election results that will reveal the direction Washington will take in dealing with its regional sponsor Iran, whether it will be stringent or malleable. Also tactically, the duo might have taken this step to white the page clean with France, given its role in exploration, after having thwarted its initiative in Lebanon.

We cannot ignore the claims that the importance of the agreement on a framework is exaggerated either. The Lebanese question is too deep and complex to be solved by mere negotiations on demarcating borders that may take years. Resolving Lebanon’s crisis requires a serious approach to dealing with Iran and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and the region. We also must not forget the Lebanese system’s many points of weakness. We should also be alert to the possibility that the negotiations’ success may allow the party to consolidate its control over the state’s levers of power, and we should not forget that demarcating our borders with Syria is as crucial as is demarcating the borders with Israel.

Despite all of that and whether tactical or strategic motives drive the Shiite duo, the agreement on the framework is in Lebanon’s interest. Instead of opposing it, all factions opposed to Hezbollah’s policies in Lebanon should accept it while working to prevent the party from exploiting the situation if the negotiations were successful, like it previously exploited its overwhelming strength and armaments during the wartime, using them to dominate politics over the past few decades.

This kind of manipulation was typical practice for tyrannical Arab regimes. They launched the slogan “No voice is longer than the cry of battle” during times of war, and merchandized liberation to tighten their grip on freedoms during peacetime. Those opposed to Hezbollah will not succeed unless they designate from within their ranks a serious interlocutor. The latter should be someone who speaks for all, has the confidence of the international community and the Arabs’ support, and is capable of leading a transparent dialogue with the party and Iran, in which he speaks for the national interest and transcends sub-affiliations, especially sectarian ones. Without this substantial and inclusive national force, the party will not sit at the table to search for realistic ways out of what it considers fears shared by the Lebanese of all sects and give back to the Lebanese state the role that has been hijacked from it.

In contrast, it is unwise, at this stage, to leap from an agreement on a framework to a discussion on normalizing relations with Israel. This stage requires the highest possible degree of realism, moderation and balance. The door to this is opened through literal implementation of the Lebanese constitution and the Taif agreement, as well as the total commitment to the 1949 Armistice Agreement with Israel, which would, if the dialogue succeeded, benefit both sides.

Betting on the party’s modesty remains on the table, and this seems possible given the pressure it is facing and the existential turbulence Lebanon is undergoing. Perhaps it is close to being convinced that it cannot continue to pursue its current policies, neither regionally nor domestically, as they may bring suffering upon the entire country, affecting the party’s support base before others. Here, an excerpt from an indicative statement issued by Hezbollah’s deputies that is worth mentioning: “Determining the criteria of national sovereignty is the Lebanese state’s prerogative."

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