Thursday, September 6, 2012

Not Everyone Wants to Shield Lebanon

The Syrian regime is bound to lose its battle for survival. But few are ready to predict when that is going to happen. In the meantime, the risk of a serious spill-over into Lebanon will continue to mount. Loud accusations are voiced by both sides of the Syrian divide in Lebanon concerning weapons and fighters moving across the border. The recently uncovered Syrian plot to send large amounts of explosives into Lebanon to kill political leaders and target popular gatherings in the Akkar region is indicative of the desparate attitude currently prevailing in Damascus.

While the Syrian people deserve our moral and political support, the Lebanese government should take necessary steps to shield Lebanon from becoming embroiled in the conflict next door. It is the national duty of all Lebanese parties across the political spectrum to fully endorse such steps.

The Lebanese-Syrian border is topographically difficult to control, and remains un-delineated thanks to the deliberate procrastination on the part of the Syrian regime. The capability of the Lebanese Army and other security agencies to control the border needs beefing up. External assistance is currently being provided bilaterally from some countries to improve border management and control. But more is needed.One way to ratchet up the assistance is to invoke the mandate given by the UN Security Council to the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and request its assistance in controlling the our borders. This is provided for explicitly under UNSCR 1701, which was passed unanimously in August 2006 with the support of Russia, China and other BRICS on the Security Council at the time.

When the March 14 coalition recently proposed that the Lebanese government should invoke UNSCR 1701 and request UNIFIL’s assistance, it was met with a violently negative reaction on the part of Hizbollah and its allies, declaring it an American-Israeli conspiracy. This despite the fact that the UN assistance would be in the form that the Lebanese government itself decides it needs to strengthen its own border control capability.

The inescapable conclusion from Hizbollah’s reaction is that it does not want effective control of Lebanon’s borders. Hizbollah is interested in “managed” control, with the Lebanese border kept porous when and where it suits the group’s interests. This is how Hizbollah views the Lebanese state and its institutions generally. The Lebanese constitution is fine, but only in ways that fit Hizbollah’s agenda. Elections are fine as well, if Hizbollah has the final say in what kind of government the elections will produce. The Lebanese Army’s authority is acceptable as long as it does not infringe on Hizbollah’s military independence. The Lebanese state itself is tolerable as long as it acquiesces to Hizbollah’s status as a separate military force and part of the Iran-led alliance.

It’s a pity that Hizbollah will veto any serious step to shield Lebanon in these dangerous times…but it should not come as a surprise.

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