The cards in the possession of Hezbollah
Whatever the military outcome of the war opposing Hezbollah and Israel, nothing will be the same again in Lebanon even after the weapons are silenced. The main political forces are going to find themselves face to face but also before themselves and their respective share of responsibility in preventing a reoccurrence of the present situation.
At this point, the duration of the armed conflict is unpredictable. The protagonists continue to camp on their respective positions: Israel affirms that it will not cease fire until its objectives are attained. Hezbollah says it can resist the army it has begun to call a “paper tiger” indefinitely. The scope of destruction and loss of human life caused by the Israeli air force, navy and artillery is certainly considerable. But it doesn’t seem to have affected the combativeness of Hezbollah.
Different from an army, Hezbollah possess an extremely mobile guerrilla force and its combatants are familiar with terrain that they have studied for more than twenty years. Thus, they have inflicted losses on the Israeli army each time it attempts a ground incursion into Lebanese territory. But this success may not continue into the future.
How is Hezbollah guaging its victory? Through its capacity to resist “Israeli oppression”, says Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah. He is wagering that Israeli forces and the morale of the population will be worn down so that Israeli finds itself increasing pulled toward a ceasefire and negotiations. In response to its Lebanese political adversaries, who have been contesting for more than a year the right claimed by Hezbollah to constitute a state within a state and and its continued status as the last remaining armed faction, Hezbollah has always brandished the argument of dissuasion against Israel in view of the weakness of the Lebanese Army.
Nasrallah has claimed for himself the mission of liberating 45 square kilometers still occupied by Israel in the south and of returning Lebanese prisoners held by the Jewish state. He has thus anointed himself the arbiter of war and peace. He affirms that with the menacing shadow that he casts over the Jewish state, southern Lebanon will know peace and prosperity after having been on the front lines of hostilities between Palestinian forces in Lebanon and the Israeli occupation of a strip of border area.
This pledge of near paradise made to the Southerners has been shattered by the Israeli offensive. The South, as well as a good part of the rest of the country, is in tatters, to use the words of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
By taking the initiative to capture two Israeli soldiers on 12 July, Hezbollah probably knew through experience that the reaction of the Israelis would be severe. He nonetheless claims that the scope of the reaction is proof that the capture of the two soldiers was an excuse for the Jewish State to implement a long-standing plan aimed at annihilating armed resistance.
For the moment, considering the scope of the disaster wrought by the war, a single leitmotif is heard from the Israeli political class: National unity in the face of the Israeli enemy, who spares nothing and no one. But already, in words that are less and less veiled, some, like Walid Jumblatt, Druze leader and Chairman of the Socialist Progressive Party, or Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Party, declare that Hezbollah must give an accounting. They now reflect the opinion of the current political majority of which they symbolize the vanguard. The first, Mr. Jumblatt, accuses the Party of God of executing an Iranian-Syrian plan to prevent the country from recovering its independence and restoring State authority in the aftermath of the Syrian pullout and to transform the country to a battlefield against Israel.
The political majority believes that, in any case, it has been stabbed in the back by Hezbollah at a time when a national defense strategy was about to be drafted and with the fate of Hezbollah on the agenda of national dialog aiming at finding a solution since March. Such solutions are meant to be achieved through peaceful means because recourse to force against a formation representing a very large share, if not the majority, of the Shi’ite community threatens to put the country to sword and to flame and to return it to the past --something that each and everyone concerned wish to avoid at any cost.
What is certain is that today that even with a scenario of success of the Israeli offensive to crack the shell of Hezbollah, it cannot guarantee that the movement will be disarmed. That is the task of the Lebanese. But with what means, without placing in peril the unity of the country and its armed forces, will a solution be found? The rank and file of the Lebanese armed forces are Shi’ite. To avoid a bloodbath, which it has always claimed to abjure, will Hezbollah agree to disarm itself if it is strengthened in the case of a possible “victory” owing to its resistance, or in drawing the lessons of a defeat, if Israel wins?
Faced with such an impasse, the Lebanese government proposes a “radical” solution which it says will remove from Hezbollah any reason to continue to remain armed. That is, the attainment through diplomatic means of a pullout of the Israeli Army from the 45 square km swath of territory it still occupies, the release of Lebanese held prisoner by Israel and the respect of the armistice concluded in 1949 between the Land of the Cedars and the Jewish state. This would take place while awaiting a comprehensive solution of the Middle East conflict, of which not the slightest outline can been seen on the horizon.
We are not yet there, but should such a solution see the light of day, Hezbollah must place its cards on the table. Is its strategy, as has been affirmed, purely Lebanese or does it wish to continue armed struggle until the issues between Syria and Palestine and the Jewish state are resolved?