Maybe Time for Some Lebanese Defections
It’s a big story. It’s a big story when a prominent Lebanese politician is apprehended by Lebanese police; a big story when that politician is one of the closest advisors to the president ( the president of Syria, that is), and the security agency doing the apprehending is the ISF - no love lost with the Syrian regime; it’s a big story when the alleged crime apparently involves a plan to detonate deadly explosives (and in turn detonate deadly sectarian clashes) mostly in the sensitive border region of Akkar; and it’s a big story if a smoking gun confirms what many people have been warning against - the possibility that the Syrian regime in Damascus may, in its moment of desperation, try to dig deeper into its Lebanese bag of tricks and do something bad. Really bad.
The potential ramifications of this story are enormous.
In Hizbollah’s first reaction, parliamentary leader Mohammad Raad said yesterday that the whole Smaha affair was a “fabrication” by the Lebanese security agencies and accused some of the officers and judges involved of having “suspicious connections”. He added that Hizbollah “will not remain silent’ but chooses to “take a little time”, for now. He didn’t say time before what.
Taking a little time is often a good idea, particularly when the full investigation results are not there yet, to fill the gaps in the serious but still incomplete information that has seeped out. In my opinion it would have behooved Hizbollah’s leaders to take a little more time to think before vindicating Mr. Smaha and incriminating the state’s police and judges. This would have been wiser for Hizbollah regardless of Mr. Smaha’s (almost certain) guilt or (extremely unlikely) innocence.
What is at stake for Hizbollah is much more than it’s credibility – given what seems to be a smoking gun in this case. Last year the party of God came out in defense of four individuals accused by an international tribunal of assassinating Rafic Hariri. Hizbollah provided the accused with local protection and even elevated them to the status of “saints”. The fact that it was able to ride that storm and later actually manage to become the main pillar of Lebanon’s current government is admittedly a major “accomplishment”.
It seems that Hizbollah is assuming it will be able to do it again in the Smaha case; that it can again ride the storm. But wait a minute. Iis this really Hizbollah’s battle? Should it make it so?
If Hizbollah has no connection to this alleged heinous attempt to plunge Lebanon into a new sectarian conflict - and we hope and assume they don’t – then it should not “remain silent ”. And it should certainly not fight this losing and immoral battle on behalf of the perpetrators. Hizbollah should dissociate itself from this sinister plan and those who have ordered it. Clearly and unequivocally.
This would be a good opportunity for Hizbollah to show that there is a limit to what they can ignore in their misguided embrace of the Syrian regime. Even if some people can disregard what the regime has done – and continues to do - to the Syrian people, can any sane Lebanese, including in Hizbollah’s own constituency, accept setting Lebanon on fire as a means of shoring up the faltering regime in Damascus? I don’t believe so.
In order to reconcile itself with the rest of Lebanon Hizbollah needs to do more than distance itself from the Syrian regime. But that would be a good first step.
But if the case against Smaha and his Syrian superiors is confirmed, it is not only Hizbollah that needs to carefully ponder their reaction. Many other people should. President Suleiman, Speaker of Parliament Berri and Prime Minister Mikati are at Lebanon’s helm today. As the official voice of the Lebanese people they cannot afford but to come out clearly and unequivocally on the side of the Lebanon. There is no room for fudging or compromise in this case. If Mr. Smaha was indeed acting at the request or order of the Syrian regime, steps should to be taken by the Lebanese government, and immediately. These should include severance of diplomatic relations and the freezing of all bilateral agreements with Syria. Lebanon should also submit an official complaint to the Security Council and request that UNIFIL assist the Lebanese Security forces in controlling the borders with Syria. Such a mmandate has already been given to UNIFIL by the Security Council under 1701.
If the allegations against Smaha’s patrons are corroborated, this may provide an opportunity for many individuals and parties which have for a long time considered themselves friends of the Syrian regime, but have grown uneasy recently with that friendship, or with being on the wrong side of history morally and politically. A plan to blow up Lebabon is more than a straw that breaks a camel’s back. It should be a totally unbearable burden on any Lebanese, regardless of their political affiliations or views.
Defection from the Assad regime is not restricted to Syrians. Lebanese can defect from it too.