Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Iraqification of Lebanon

Hezbollah is alarming its Lebanese opponents by expanding its territory through the purchase of property outside Shia areas in Lebanon. Former civil war-era President Amin Gemayel went on television Thursday and said what many Lebanese have feared for months now while this has unfolded.

“There is some sort of military preparation starting from Niha in Jezzine all the way across the entire Western mountain range with military surveillance posts set up from Jezzine to Sannine all the way up to Laqlouq,” he said.

If he weren’t talking about an army that really does build massive and sophisticated military infrastructure – including deep tunnels and a high-tech surveillance system in Beirut’s international airport, of all places – I might suspect he was paranoid or exaggerating.

Amin’s Phalange Party is a vehicle for mostly parochial and sectarian Christians, and it has a dark past, as do most parties in Lebanon. His concerns, however, are echoed at the more broad-based and mainstream online magazine NOW Lebanon. “These are preparations for war,” says an editorial earlier this week, “or rather preparations to ensure that if there is a war, Hezbollah’s adversaries won’t be able to fight one. The party knows better than to enter Christian, Druze or Sunni areas. So it has opted for control of the high ground – high ground overlooking the territories of its foes but also controlling lines of communication between mainly Shia areas in the northern Bekaa Valley, the southern Bekaa, South Lebanon, and Beirut’s southern suburbs . . . [W]hat is taking place today has so transgressed the red lines of all communities that what we will almost certainly see in the near future is a dangerous logic of communal self-defense taking over.”

Even if these moves by Hezbollah are being misinterpreted by the overly anxious, NOW Lebanon is correct to point out the danger for the simple reason that they are perceived as threatening. Everyone in Lebanon knows all too well why the “logic of communal self-defense” is an ominous development.

Communal self-defense means sectarian self-defense, and sectarian self-defense means exactly the same thing in Lebanon that it means in Iraq: militias. If the police and the army cannot or will not disarm Hezbollah – and they cannot and will not – then the only self-defense options remaining are personal and communal. Robert Heinlein famously wrote that an armed society is a polite society, but he didn’t know the Middle East very well.

Critics of Lebanon’s Future Movement, the relatively liberal and overwhelmingly dominant Sunni party led by Saad Hariri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, love to suggest that Hariri has his own militia, as if that draws some sort of moral equivalence between him and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah who heads up the private army of a hostile state. The truth is that Hariri’s “militia” consists of little more than a bumbling personal security detail from a company called Secure Plus.

Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, on the other hand, really does have a militia of sorts – at least one that can be called up when needed – and it successfully repelled an attempted invasion of the Chouf Mountains by Hezbollah last month. I’d be quite frankly shocked if the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces party didn’t have at least a small remnant of their old militia.

In any case, Christians, Sunnis, and Druze have been talking about building up their own private forces for some time now to provide a balance of power in Lebanon because the state is too weak to handle the job. Since Jumblatt proved he can repel Hezbollah with a militia, and Hariri cannot because he doesn’t have a militia, the incentive for communal re-armament is now greater than it has been since the civil war ended. NOW Lebanon says Hezbollah’s current strategy is suicidal, and it is. But it’s the most destructive form of suicide possible, the political equivalent of a suicide bombing.

I have written many times that Hezbollah’s enemies cannot defeat them in battle. It’s still true. What’s also true is that Hezbollah cannot defeat everyone else. A renewed civil war would produce a grinding stalemate with Hezbollah as the strongest and with the highest body count. Nasrallah would lose nearly every advantage he has as the leader of the only seriously armed faction, and the rest of the country would circle the drain along with him.

Call it the Iraqification of Lebanon, which is ironic since the civil war and insurgency in Iraq could just as easily have been described as Lebanonization. It may be farce when history repeats itself, but it’s still tragic.