Monday, July 16, 2012



The National Dialogue, Once Again….

Round 3 of Set 4 of the national dialogue is scheduled to take place in Baabda on July 24th. The declared objective is still the same. It is to reach an agreement on the issue of Hizbollah’s weapons in the context of an overall national defense strategy. Most people believe that the chances of reaching such an agreement are nil. They are probably right.

The experience of the past seven years points, together with any realistic analysis, towards more failure. The President clearly has a problem. Not that the rest of us don’t. In fact the whole country will continue to pay a heavy price for the lack of progress on this very serious matter. But the President has the unique status of the dialogue convener, and is undoubtedly trying his best to pull off an outcome that is both realistic and will not be easily labeled as failure; an outcome that will at least provide a sufficient basis for further dialogue.

What would I do if I were in the President’s (admittedly tight) shoes?

To begin with and before anything else I would use the moral, political and constitutional weight of the Presidency to ensure that the full telecom data base is provided to the security agencies conducting the investigation of the attempted assassinations of LF leader Samir Geagea and former minister Butros Harb. The dialogue between Hizbollah and March 14 is difficult enough in the best of circumstances. When one side continues (with government tacit blessing) to preposterously obstruct the investigation of murder attempts against the other side’s leaders, the whole dialogue process may be put in jeopardy. This is a serious matter that needs a serious and urgent effort on the part of the President.

Assuming that this road bump is crossed, what could the President offer as a vision for resolving the Hizbollah weapons conundrum – something which he had promised to do in the coming round?

One thing that such a vision should  avoid is the misguided notion that what we need is a set of rules and guidelines to govern a military Modus Vivendi between the Lebanese state and Hizollah (as a military entity). That would be tantamount to another Cairo Agreement under a different name. The infamous 1969 deal between the Lebanese state and the Palestine Liberation Organization marked the first nail in the coffin of the Lebanese state’s sovereignty. An agreement on how, where, and when an independent non-state army can use its military arsenal will simply mean acquiescing to a new nail in the coffin of  state sovereignty four decades (and numerous agonies) later.

Such an agreement would not only be a terrible idea but it would also in direct violation of the constitution.

Occasionally we hear voices which suggest that the legitimacy of Hizbollah’s independent military force stems from the reference to the “ Golden Triangle” (the Army, the People and Hizbollah - aka the Resistance) in the council of ministers policy statement, as well as from parliament’s endorsement expressed in its vote of confidence. 
This is hogwash. Neither government decisions nor cabinet declarations, nor even legislation passed by a parliamentary majority can make legal a non-state authority over a separate armed force. It would simply be unconstitutional, period. And the constitution supersedes  all government policies, ministerial declarations and laws. 

One could go even further. Duality in the authority over - and the right to use - weapons is in direct contradiction with the idea of one unified sovereign country under any conceivable constitution. And all that even without invoking the breach of  international law and Security Council resolutions.

Enough of what a sensible vision should not entail. Something about what it should.

The only vision that makes sense  is one that sets its aim at making the state the sole authority over all armed forces in the country. After all, this is enshrined in the constitution and no one can dispute it as the only normal and constitutional state of affairs. Even Hizbollah’s top leaders have recently said that the state should normally be the only authority in matter of national security , admitting implicitly that what exists now is abnormal.

Sometimes we hear justifications for this abnormality (i.e., for an independent Hizbollah armed force) ranging from the need to liberate Shabaa Farms, to defend the maritime exclusive economic zone, and more generally to defend Lebanon against possible Israeli designs and aggression. While these may well be legitimate collective national concerns, none of them give anyone, any party, any group, under any name, the right to take it upon itself to set up a separate armed force outside the institutions of the state. It is as categorical as that. This does not diminish in any way the genuine  sacrifices and heroism of the young Lebanese men who risked (and many lost) their lives against the Israeli army when they and thousands of other Lebanese were under occupation. It is the insistence of Hizbollah's leadership on turning a legitimate resistence to a permanent and independent armed force, parallel to the state  army, which does no service to the the universally accepted right of resistance.

It follows that the dialogue should be explicitly anchored in a common and explicit target. Namely, to reach a normal situation where all military forces, capabilities and weapons are put under the exclusive authority of the state. Charting a workable roadmap with a clear implementation plan and chronology is not an easy task, particularly since no sane Lebanese would want to weaken Lebanon’s capability to defend itself during the transition to a normal (and constitutional) state of affairs. It is not an easy task but it can be done. And there is no other way, unless one wants to continue disregarding Lebanon’s constitution and state sovereignty and the many dangers which the status quo presents.

Indeed our problem with Hizbollah’s current status is not only that it is unconstitutional. We are also convinced that it increases the risks to Lebanon in all sorts of ways. The fact that Hizollah is perceived (by Iran’s adversaries) as a strategic military outpost for Iran and its allies; the inevitable eroding effect it has on state authority and on law enforcement ; the contagious effect it has on the spread of illegal weapons; and the sectarian tensions that Hizbollah’s power and “special” status provoke (even if unwillingly); are hardly in line with a national defense strategy that can protect the country.

But is it realistic to expect Hizbollah to embark with the rest of the country on a genuine national transition that will lead us to full state sovereignty and to exclusive state authority over all armed forces? Probably not, if you believe that Hizbollah considers its armed capability an integral and indispensable part of the geopolitical ( and ideological) struggle between Iran and all its enemies in the region and beyond. It is for Hizbollah to convince the Lebanese people that that is not the case. So far it has failed miserably. Next week it may have another chance. But the indicatoions are anything but encouraging.

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