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Hezbollah Versus UNIFIL

Hezbollah Versus UNIFIL

Monday, 27 December, 2021 - 10:45

Would we be exaggerating if we said that the United Nation Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is at the top of the long list of things Hezbollah hates?

We’ll delay answering this question to offer a reminder of what happened a few days ago in the border town of Shakra in South Lebanon: a clash between the “local community,” i.e., Hezbollah supporters, and the “international forces” (Finnish according to one narrative and Irish according to another).

Here, we could drown ourselves in endless minutiae. However, one thing is impossible to believe; Hezbollah and its followers’ claim: the “international forces” engaged in “dubious activity,” and an armored vehicle “intentionally” ran over two youths from the “local community.”

Upon hearing this narrative, one is surprised by the idea that international soldiers, be they Finnish or Irish, had harassed the residents of a safe and peaceful village in South Lebanon. It sounds like something that requires a lot of cinematic imagination.

Like many others, we find that it is most probable that the secret lies elsewhere: it lies first in United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s visit to the “international forces” in the South two days before the incident and the criticism he was reported as directing at Hezbollah, like his demand that it turns into a political party. Guterres was told, through the Shakra incident, that Hezbollah is in charge in the South, not the United Nations. Secondly, it lies in the ongoing battle over UNIFIL’s powers, which allow it to play its role. This requires freedom of movement and the mandate to install cameras to ensure compliance with UN Resolution 1701. Guterres himself had also raised the need to respect those powers.

In other words, and this is the bottom line: the tension, with its political underpinnings that go beyond the details, is between a faction that wants to avert any armed conflict, to make it impossible if it can, and another that wants to keep the option open. Indeed, the latter wants conflict to be easy to stir up: if it is in the interest of Tehran or Damascus, Lebanon will be dragged into the fight with no constraints or parameters imposed by the “international forces.”

Conjuring up the “local community” and claiming Finnish and Irish UN forces attacked innocent southern youths is not difficult for militant factions like Hezbollah, forces whose relationship with truth is fraught with skepticism.

And so, we are facing a new round of that old battle between two opposing views: one that does not want Lebanon to be dragged into wars, and another that wants nothing but that for the country. This debate predates the emergence of Hezbollah, though the latter was the first Lebanese party to succeed in dragging the country to war, benefiting from its representation of a large sect and immense aid from Iran.

The fact is that keeping Lebanon open to war, or, if possible, embroiled in one, is an almost sacrosanct item on the agenda of the militant forces that have emerged, one after the other, since the 1950s. Preventing war is forbidden: a revolutionary axiom that was adopted by many generations. For this reason, all those who call for neutrality or demand that an international force police the border with Israel are vulnerable to being slandered and accused of treachery by those radical forces. The political campaign launched against the late politician Raymond Edde - who had called for an international force to police the border in order to avert Israel’s devastating blows after modest military operations by the Palestinian resistance in the late 50s - remains the most prominent example.

The “international forces” deter this project. They do not want Lebanon to be a country at war or on the brink of war every so often. They want to keep the peace in our country, peace protected by a UN resolution. The last thing on their minds is recruiting youths from Ireland and Finland to bring them to Lebanon so they can attack innocent inhabitants of Shakra.

In all likelihood, the hostility to the “international forces” feeds on another factor that is implied or perhaps not very conscious: every assiduous push for sectarian purity and every plunge toward the subnational increase hostility to everything multinational, like the “international forces.” The subnational hates the transnational, and the international provokes the local that is drowning deeper into its localism. Given that we are living in a time when the hostility of sects for one another is increasing, it is not difficult to conceive of youths from strange distant countries, who have different colors to ours and speak different languages, being dealt with this way.

That is how it becomes understandable that UNIFIL tops the long list of things Hezbollah hates. It also becomes understandable, for the same reason, that the vast majority of Lebanese, to whom life means more than martyrdom and whose country’s security means more to them than improving Iran’s military conditions, are clinging to the “international forces”!

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