The Baabda Declaration Revisited
It is not an easy job to be president of Lebanon. These days, this is an understatement. The President undoubtedly recognizes the threat to Lebanon posed by a violent revolution in Syria, with increasingly sectarian overtones. He must also be worried about the threat to Lebanon from a possible escalation in the conflict between Iran and its enemies; enemies who view Hizbollah as an integral part of Iran’s power and military strategy.
Over the past few months he has tried to ward off these dangers by getting all Lebanese parties to agree on a joint declaration based on the principles of Lebanon’s regional and international neutrality and non-interference. (Obviously, neutrality does not apply vis a vis Israel). Three months ago the President thought he succeeded. On June 25 the Dialogue Committee issued a joint document, which came to be known as the Baabda Declaration.
Among other things, and most importantly, the declaration stated that - and I am paraphrasing:
1. While various Lebanese parties have the right to express diverse political positions and sympathies on Syria, they will refrain from allowing Lebanon’s territory or borders to be used for any military purposes.
2. The Lebanese state and all Lebanese parties commit to shield Lebanon and prevent it from being used as a theater for regional or international conflicts,alliances or agendas.The Baabda Declaration was signed by all parties including Hizbollah, and hailed by the President as a historic agreement that had the status of a national covenant. It was supposed to be a cornerstone of a national strategy to protect Lebanon, now and in the future. And it was logical for the declaration to be issued by the Dialogue Committee since the committee’s mandate was to develop “a national strategy to protect Lebanon and defend it”.
The President’s actions and declarations over the past few monthsm, including his proposals on how to deal with Hizbollah’s arms, which he submitted to the Dialogue Committee a few weeks ago, stem from the principles of the Baabda Declaration.
The President’s national defence strategy stopped short of asking Hizbollah to agree to a concrete plan to end its autonomous militarized (and unconstitutional) status and accept the state’s monopoly over arms. Clearly, anything less than that would be inconsistent with the constitution and with state sovereignty. Perhaps the President felt that a more limited goal would be more realistic. But the president's proposal did imply that Hizbollah should sever its strategic military alliance with Iran and remove itself, and therefore Lebanon, from Iran’s defense strategy..
Unfortunately - but predictably - Hizbollah’s actions and positions over the past few weeks as well as statements by high Iranian officials have poured cold water on the President’s defense strategy proposals as well as on the Baabda principles. Evidence?
- High Iranian officials have continued to declare Lebanon as part of Iran’s strategic defense. This flies in the face of the the Baabda declaration which in effect says Lebanon’s defense strategy requires that Lebanon cease to be part of Iran’s defense strategy. Hizbollah’s silence on those official Iranian declarations cannot be interpreted (in Lebanon and the world) except as agreement with their Iranian allies.
- In spite of irrefutable evidence of an attempt by the Syrian regime to assassinate Lebanese officials and civilians and trigger a conflict in Lebanon (the Mamlouk-Smaha affair), Hizbollah has also remained silent ,creating a perception of acquiescence to a blatant act of aggression on the Lebanese people, and to the Syrian regime's attempt to widen the conflict in Syria to encompass Lebanon.
- Fallen Hizbollah fighters in Syria have been hailed as martyrs of Jihad and funeral processions for them have become commonplace with very little said by Hizbollah’s leadersip; thus fueling a widespread belief that Hizbollah is now directly involved in Syria’s domestic war. The sectarian hints in this regard are particularly ominous.
- Hizbollah has reacted violently to the March 14 uggestion that the Lebanese Army could seek assistance from the UN to strengthen its ability to control the border with Syria and prevent all illegal flow in either direction. This was initially interpreted in relation to Hizbollah’s interest in keeping the border open for its own arms supplies from Iran and Syria. Recent developments suggest that they want the border to remain sufficiently open to facilitate the flow of Hizbolla’s assistance to the Syrian regime.
Not a very encouraging picture. But does this mean that the President should fold the Baabda Declaration and stop champeoning the goal of shielding Lebanon from Syria's domestic conflict and from from Iran's defense (or offense) strategy? Absolutely not. That is his duty as president. And he should continue to reaffirm the principles of the Baabda Declaration, even if Hizbollah continues to breach them - as Mr Nasrallah again did in his Almanar TV appearance a few hours ago.. But more on this later.....