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Letters from Tokyo
Lebanon Needs to Dismantle the Armed Forces of Hezbollah via Compromises
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Young fighters of Hezbollah (Party of God)Hezbollah is a Shi'a Islamic political and paramilitary organisation based in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a significant force in Lebanon's politics. The groups is now a major provider of social services, which operates schools, hospitals, and agricultural services for thousands of Lebanese Shias.

Lebanon is often one step away from confrontation at the best of times but the current political impasse is causing political and economic mayhem. At the same time, regional nations are once more getting involved in Lebanon's internal situation and this also must be stopped. Surely now is the time for all Lebanese people to support the notion of " a unified Lebanon" and to stand up to the armed-wing of Hezbollah (Party of God) but not via confrontation but by political diologue. So can a coalition of Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and others, notably the Druze, join forces and preserve this nation?

Recent events have clearly shown both the Lebanese and the international community that Hezbollah, the government within a government, is strong politically and militarily. Therefore, Hezbollah, which is a political and religious based organization must be taken seriously within the political framework of Lebanon, however, the military side must come to an end. If this issue is not resolved, then Lebanon will continue to teeter on the brink of destruction and a new civil war is clearly possible. Given this, major nations like France must shore up the Maronites like they have done in the past and the Arab League must unite Sunni factions and the Druze but via a pragmatic policy. At the same time Hezbollah, and the more moderate movement of AMAL, which is also Shia, must be fully accepted within the Lebanese political system on the basis of being treated equally and by the international community, providing Hezbollah renounces violence and disbands their military power base.

After all, calls by America and Israel to disband Hezbollah is unrealistic because this movement is popular in many parts of Shia dominated areas in Lebanon. If we ignore the usual images of Hezbollah then we see a different story because this organization provides an extensive network of support. This applies to providing social services, running hospitals, providing educational services, helping people who work in the agricultural sector, and other areas, and Hezbollah also controls many media facilities. These provisions are also available to other non-Shia Muslims, Christians, and other minorities. This factor must be considered by outside nations because Hezbollah is a lot more moderate today than when compared with the past.

Of course it is dangerous to look at another nation which had a similar problem but then was resolved because culture, religion, thinking, geography, causes, and other issues are different. However, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) once believed firmly in a united Ireland and they responded via a military campaign against the British. This organization used violence in order to garner greater support and they fought back against the United Kingdom, and thousands of innocent people were killed on both sides. However, the IRA have renounced the gun and instead they have turned to the ballot box and today this political party is seeking to obtain their demands via democracy. Therefore, Hezbollah could also renounce violence and accept their political power via the democratic system. Yes, Northern Ireland is a long way from Lebanon, but Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, and Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, are both strong political leaders, irrespective if you like them or not.

More important, Hezbollah have renounced the theory of creating an Islamic state in Lebanon on the grounds of pragmatism despite the occasional rhetoric from time to time. For example, Hassan Nasrallah stated "We believe the requirement for an Islamic state is to have an overwhelming popular desire, and we`re not talking about fifty percent plus one, but a large majority. And this is not available in Lebanon and probably never will be." So it would appear that this religious revolutionary movement is now a socio-political organization and they understand the need to focus on genuine concerns within their own community. This notably applies to challenging the Ta'if Accord and the quota system which does not take into account their proportion of the population.

However, one major problem for Lebanon is the external factor because many nations have become embroiled for selfish reasons, rather than seeking genuine peace. In the past many nations intervened in Lebanon and this applies to France, Israel, Iran, Syria, and other nations. Also, the creation of Israel meant that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians migrated to Lebanon and this overwhelmed the Lebanese people and this altered the fragile balance. Given this, Lebanon is often awash with outside nations pulling the strings or supporting their own respective self interests. So Lebanon is often a hostage to power politics within the region and further afield.

However, unlike the past, you are now seeing a more broad spectrum of religious groups joining forces or which have similar ambitions based on a unified Lebanon. So this time Christians, the Druze under Walid Jumblatt, Sunni factions, Shia factions, and others, desire to see a new Lebanon based on democracy. Therefore, it is vital that the Arab League, France, and others, use their influence but from a positive position and not based on self interests. If they work together in order to challenge the military wing of Hezbollah via genuine compromises and to stem the influence of other nations, which have negative self interests, then "a ray of sunshine may appear?" Yet they must take into account the genuine fears of Hezbollah and nations like Israel must also meet conditions whereby Hezbollah is free from being attacked or undermined via American financial interference.

Therefore, a major threat to creating a Lebanon for all the Lebanese people is negative outside international meddling and divisions within respective communities does not help. After all, the Christian community and Muslim community is deeply divided and some are pro-Syria and others anti-Syria. So within the Christian community you have major divisions and Michel Aoun, a major Christian leader, is also now more pragmatic and his thinking appears to have gone full circle. For example he signed a Memorandum Of Understanding with Hezbollah in 2006, whereby the de-militarization of Hezbollah would happen via a national defence strategy.

This linked major conditions, for example the threat to Lebanon by outside forces, and to Hezbollah this applied to Israel and possible meddling by America. So under these conditions Hezbollah would maintain their weapons until the international situation changed. The Christian and secular dominated Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah made it clear that the de-militarization of Hezbollah would happen providing certain conditions were met. This applies to the Shebaa Farms being returned to Lebanon by Israel, a Lebanese military strategy aimed at protecting Lebanon from Israel, release of Lebanese prisoners being held in Israel, and having favourable relations with Syria. This agreement, irrespective of your opinions about the practicality of these demands, does indicate that Hezbollah is willing to renounce the right to have their own military force and this is at least positive.

Hezbollah and the FPM, and others, were clearly opposed to the government of Lebanon between 2006 and July 2008, and this led to the Doha Agreement which was aimed at resolving the political crisis. However, major tensions remain and clearly the fragile nature of this nation still exists. Therefore, past tensions still remain within the political system and Hezbollah's state within a state is currently a reality. However, the religious fault-lines are now much more complex and now it is clearly a political dispute.

The next few years may be the last chance for Lebanon and they must grasp the situation now and make sure that a united front emerges which can be united behind the Lebanese army and institutions. If this happens, then real issues ranging from Hezbollah to Syria can be tackled with confidence. However, in order to solve this very complex issue then major compromises must be made by all sides, and Hezbollah's thinking must be taken on board and debated openly. The gulf is still big between both sides, however, both sides have genuine points and maybe the international community needs to be more diplomatic in order to reassure both sides. Yet a unified Lebanon can not happen while Hezbollah maintains its military power. Therefore, now is the right time to solve the many complex issues which blight Lebanon but if nothing changes, then the gradual destruction of Lebanon will continue until one day a new and bloody civil war erupts.

Lee Jay Walker Dip BA MA
http://journals.aol.com/leejaywalker/uk/



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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