Lebanese People Say No to Hizbollah!

Published August 9th, 2021 - 08:10 GMT
Hizbollah's fortunes maybe winning in Lebanon (AFP file folder)

All the signs indicate growing Lebanese discontent with Hezbollah. The latest surge of anger began with a tribal revenge killing and culminated in events to mark the Aug. 4 anniversary of the Beirut port explosion. The more people fear Hezbollah, the more they also resent the group.

On July 31, a member of the Arab Al-Maslakh tribe shot a Hezbollah official dead at a wedding party in Jiyeh, south of Beirut. Last year the Hezbollah official had killed the tribesman’s teenage brother. Such acts of revenge are common among the tribes, but there was more to it than that. At the Hezbollah official’s funeral the following day, with a convoy of vehicles carrying Hezbollah flags, armed members of the group went to remove a poster of the boy who was killed last year. They were met by gunfire from a nearby building, and five people were killed, three of them Hezbollah members.

This was not about the removal of a poster. It was about sending a message to Hezbollah: “How dare you, with all your arrogance, come armed and parade through our neighborhood?” Hezbollah knew that if they responded they would be opening a Pandora’s box, risking a confrontation with the Arab tribes that could spread across Lebanon from Akar in the north to the Bekaa Valley — so they were reduced to asking the Lebanese Army to restore order.

I was surprised by the level of sympathy and support for the Arab tribes, given that they were the ones who started this fight. It showed that Hezbollah is not as invincible as it once seemed, and that it can be intimidated. This encouraged protesters to chant anti-Hezbollah slogans at the Aug. 4 commemoration. The main aim of the event was to protest against the obstruction of justice by the political elite as they seek to protect themselves from the investigation, but Hezbollah received its share of criticism.

Fingers are pointing at the group for illegally bringing tons of ammonium nitrate into Beirut port. The general discourse is that Hezbollah stored the explosives in Beirut before transferring them to Syria for Bashar Assad to use in barrel bombs. Former army chief Jean Kahwaji was summoned for questioning, and his lawyer said Hezbollah was responsible for bringing in the ammonium nitrate — only for his client to dismiss the claim. Hezbollah is in an embarrassing position, all eyes are upon it, and at the same time people no longer fear it. In his desperation, leader Hassan Nasrallah belittled the Aug. 4 protests and suggested that the blast investigation was being funded by Saudi Arabia.

The group faces a situation similar to that in 2005, when fingers were pointed at Hezbollah over the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The confrontation with Israel a year later, and Hezbollah’s “heroic” resistance against the Israeli army, restored its tarnished image and made it immune from attack. The 2006 confrontation also gave Hezbollah an additional source of income. Parliament passed a law decreeing that goods entering Al-Dahiya, Hezbollah’s stronghold of south Beirut, are not subject to customs. The aim was to reduce the cost of reconstruction of the areas destroyed by Israel, but Hezbollah has used the law to import all sorts of goods without paying any taxes.

However, a 2006-style confrontation with Israel is not an option for Hezbollah now. The Gulf states that financed rebuilding of the south will not put a dime into Lebanon. The homes in Beirut, the mountains and the north that received Hezbollah supporters will no longer welcome them. The southern front is heating up as Israel responds to missiles launched by the Palestinians factions. 

Nor can Hezbollah confront opponents as it did in 2008. Then, faced with moves by Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri that would have uncovered its communications network, it took over Beirut by arms and forced the Doha agreement, which gave Hezbollah the upper hand in the government. Today, Hezbollah’s only face-saving exit is to resort to the state. That is also the solution that prevents a violent internal confrontation in Lebanon.

As Hezbollah has been accumulating and projecting power, it has simultaneously increased discontent among its opponents and positioned itself as a threat to others, such as the tribes in Khalde. Any confrontation with the tribes would extend beyond Khalde, and Hezbollah would not want their stronghold of Baalbek to be threatened, especially as the Arab tribes have demographic depth in Syria. Hezbollah is at its weakest point because with great power comes great vulnerability.

There was another skirmish when the Druze objected to Hezbollah tried to fire rockets at Shebaa Farm from a Druze area. Hezbollah retaliated by kicking fruit sellers from Saida, only for the Druze to stop trucks coming from the Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah can no longer intimidate people. Its shows of power do not work, and are backfiring. The grouphas way too many enemies, and differences are beginning to emerge even with allies such as parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri.

Hezbollah needs to accept giving up some of its privileges to allow for a functioning state to be built. That cannot happen when each faction has an armed group in charge of its community’s security, and events in Khalde showed it is not only Hezbollah that is armed. A confrontation that led to another civil war would be the end of the group.

Hezbollah should make the conscious decision to downsize, to dismantle its “resistance brigades” and ask for other armed groups to also disarm in order to secure its own survival and spare Lebanon from a destructive confrontation.

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

Copyright: Arab News © 2021 All rights reserved.

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