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Statehood for Hezbollah?

Michael Young has a characteristically terrific column in the Beirut Daily Star about Hezbollah’s latest power play.

Since last January, when Hizbullah and Amal [a Hezbollah-aligned Shia group--NP] used the pretense of social dissatisfaction to obstruct roads in and around Beirut, the opposition has, quite openly, shown itself to be limited to Hizbullah. Michel Aoun, once a useful fig leaf to lend cross-communal diversity to the opposition, has since become an afterthought with hardly any pull in Christian streets. . . .

Aoun will doubtless find an excuse to explain why the calls for a strike were ignored in predominantly Christian areas. But Hizbullah has to be careful. Now the party’s every move is one of the Shiites against the rest. The sharp decline in Aoun’s popularity, not to mention the pressure being felt by other Hizbullah allies like Elie Skaff in Zahleh, all emanate from a single source: Most Christians, not to mention vast majorities of Sunnis and Druze, see no possible coexistence between the idea of the Lebanese state and a Hizbullah that insists on demanding veto power over any decision that might limit its political and military margin of maneuver.

Exactly right. Hezbollah has been attempting to increase its power — and hence Iranian-Syrian power — in Lebanon with great urgency since the March 14 triumph and the 2006 war with Israel. Until now, it has been able to do so with a sectarian flourish through its alliance with Michel Aoun, and to pretend that it was merely fighting for its fair share of political influence. This was always a cynical charade, but it was one that a lot of people were willing to believe, and it gave Hezbollah (and its foreign patrons) cover and talking points to deflect attention from their real agenda.

There are now three messy options: capitulate to Hezbollah; fight Hezbollah by force of arms; or seek the separation of Shia Lebanon from Christian, Sunni, and Druze Lebanon. Young ends his column on the latter note:

If [Hezbollah] wants its semi-independent entity, it is now obliged to state this plainly. The masks have fallen. And if Hizbullah does decide to reject Lebanon, then we shouldn’t be surprised if some start speaking of an amicable divorce between Shiites and the rest of Lebanon.

The problem with this thinking is that it is hard to imagine a divorce between the Shia and the rest of Lebanon taking place amicable. It would actually be a bloodbath — a horrendous, awful war, involving extensive intervention from outside powers and the transfer of entire populations between regions within Lebanon.

War would be required because the last thing Hezbollah and its sponsors want is a divorce. The dysfunctional marriage protects Hezbollah, insofar as to go to war against Hezbollah requires going to war against Lebanon itself. And Hezbollah’s involvement in Lebanese politics, however cynical and manipulative it may be, gives the group one of the major justifications of its existence — that it is a legitimate political party representing the Shia of Lebanon. Being pushed into sovereignty is one of the last things that Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran want, and they will fight hard to prevent it from happening.


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