Analysis: Keeping the Lid on Lebanon

The news that the European Union is again debating whether to put Hezbollah, Lebanon’s dominant political and military force, on its terrorist list is deeply worrying. The move, which reflects growing international pressure on Hezbollah following a recent intensification of U.S. sanctions — risks disturbing the fragile country’s uneasy peace.

For 18 months Lebanon has largely succeeded in shielding itself from Syria’s unfolding civil war. True, Lebanon has been racked by bouts of violence and deepening political polarization between pro- and anti-Assad supporters, but this has not triggered a broader eruption. The restraint exercised by all political forces — but particularly Hezbollah — has been central to this resilience.

To the surprise of many, Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran and maintains its own non-state militia, has not gone on the offensive to safeguard its position as regional fault lines shift, nor has it contested the unprecedented arrest of close political allies by its political opponents, the pro-Western, Sunni-dominated March 14 bloc. Instead it has played a stabilizing role, supporting calls for political consensus and urging calm while keeping its fighters off the streets, even as others have taken up arms.

Hezbollah’s actions reflect self-interest as much as national benevolence; its political allies control the government and it wants to maintain its institutional strength. Still, the group’s behavior has been critical to keeping the calm.

Equally, despite its close alliance with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Hezbollah appears to have exercised moderation in offering armed support for his regime’s brutal crackdown. While the longstanding relationship between the two makes some assistance almost inevitable, there are no indications that Hezbollah has moved significant arms or personnel Assad’s way.

Europe’s willingness to date to resist U.S. and Israeli pressure to place Hezbollah on its terrorism list and under a sanctions regime has been critical to maintaining the group’s moderation and Lebanon’s uneasy calm. European engagement has provided Hezbollah’s leadership with reassurance that there will be political room for their group in the post-Assad era. This has been key to preventing a pre-emptive offensive by Hezbollah to secure its position, particularly given mounting international pressure against Iran and Syria, its two regional backers.

But European sanctions could change Hezbollah’s strategic calculus in one fell swoop. Coming on the back of the new U.S. sanctions, Hezbollah would immediately feel considerably more threatened, raising the possibility of more violence. This would be devastating for Lebanon and threaten the outbreak of wider conflict that could drag the country into civil war. It would also likely play directly to Assad’s advantage by giving Hezbollah no further reason to chart a middle course. Hezbollah would tie its own survival to that of Assad.

There is no doubt that Hezbollah needs to be held to account for its long history of terrorist activities and unwillingness to submit to the authority of the Lebanese state. European leaders may understandably want to take a stand should Hezbollah be proven complicit in the July killing of six people, including five Israeli tourists, in Bulgaria, but so far these charges are unsubstantiated.

However, it is imperative that European leaders consider the broader ramifications of changing tack on Hezbollah. If they want to protect Lebanon’s fragile peace and prevent Syria’s conflict from spiraling out of regional control, they must show restraint. Of course Europe should continue to raise the issue of Hezbollah maintaining its own militia and support for Assad. But a turn to confrontation may prove counterproductive.

Syria’s historic ability to assert control over Lebanon is weakening. In this context Hezbollah, shorn of regional allies, may be forced to show greater restraint and deference to other political forces.

Over time it will also become much less tenable for Hezbollah’s leaders to justify maintaining the group’s militia. A move to disbanding this armed force would offer Lebanon an opportunity to strengthen its institutions and build an effective democracy. By seeking to corner Hezbollah now, Europe risks provoking a violent backlash that will threaten such possibilities.

NY Times

  • plomca

    Regardless of the ramifications, Hezbollah has been and will be always a terrorist organization first before anything else. Even as criminal organization, that can be comparable to the Mafia. As they play the role of politician in Lebanese politics, all in doing so to appease the support of the people. Their has been enough evidence of the actions that Hezbollah carries out in Lebanon and around the world to be terrorism and criminal. Europe has to basically list Hezbollah a terrorist organization from this evidence. Make an exception because of the threats they will carry out to Lebanon and Europe? That would basically play just right in the hands of Hezbollah, which they do so well. And that is why they are terrorists!

    • yaASSaoudyya

      do us this favour & please do attack these terrorists; hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh; roflol; rolling on ground from laughter

    • yaASSaoudyya

      do us this favour & please do attack these terrorists; hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh; roflol; rolling on ground from laughter

    • Moe2000

       Zionists will leave the middle east soon and go back to Germany and Poland your homeland.

      • Constantin7

        I do not want to defend the jewish state or zionism, but I want to clarify one issue when you say : “go back to Germany and Poland “. I am sure you are aware that in the early forties there were many sizable jewish communities in most of the Arab countries (excpet SA and the Gulf) and these jewish communities left gradually by fear after the creation of Israel. Many Isrealis are Arab Jews, they are either Irakis, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans or Yemenis. So right now the actual population in Israel is about 70% or more Arab, most of these of Jewish background and a minority of muslims, druze and christians. So to tell these Arabs go back to Germany and Poland is not very just, you should ask them to go back to Baghdad, Aden, Cairo, Beirut, Casablanca, etc…So other than the poor palestinian refugees who are living in camps mainly because they are illiterate, there are many rich educated refugees who left their land, houses from all over the Arab world by fear from being massacred after the creation of Israel. Nobody talks about these refugges because they do not live in camps and do not want to return to their original countries by fear. These people were a productive part of the society and left to become productive people in Israel. The German and Polish jews mostly went to North America and a small minority went to Israel. So at the end of the day the Israeli Arab Jews are the majority in Israel and they are semite like the rest of the people in the Middle East, but they only differ with their religion. We are closer than you think with the jews my friend….

        • Moe2000

           70% eastern European Ashkenazi Jews the Arabs are 30%

        • lefthanded

          I get your point of view, and that’s what makes it complicated and mostly is that there are israelis who were born there, i’m sure there are a lot of good people there, BUT they’ve taken Palestine by force(their parents, grandparents) our apathetic world should realize that, many Palestinians lost their home, and many continue to do so, what if Germany invaded Italy tonight? since the israelis did it why not the Germans?  

          I don’t like Hezbollah to be branded as terrorists, lots of men lost their lives for a just cause, calling them terrorists would be discrediting good men their honor, i was always proud of Hezbollah but i think they’re making the wrong decision with what’s happening in Syria. 
            

      • Constantin7

        I do not want to defend the jewish state or zionism, but I want to clarify one issue when you say : “go back to Germany and Poland “. I am sure you are aware that in the early forties there were many sizable jewish communities in most of the Arab countries (excpet SA and the Gulf) and these jewish communities left gradually by fear after the creation of Israel. Many Isrealis are Arab Jews, they are either Irakis, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans or Yemenis. So right now the actual population in Israel is about 70% or more Arab, most of these of Jewish background and a minority of muslims, druze and christians. So to tell these Arabs go back to Germany and Poland is not very just, you should ask them to go back to Baghdad, Aden, Cairo, Beirut, Casablanca, etc…So other than the poor palestinian refugees who are living in camps mainly because they are illiterate, there are many rich educated refugees who left their land, houses from all over the Arab world by fear from being massacred after the creation of Israel. Nobody talks about these refugges because they do not live in camps and do not want to return to their original countries by fear. These people were a productive part of the society and left to become productive people in Israel. The German and Polish jews mostly went to North America and a small minority went to Israel. So at the end of the day the Israeli Arab Jews are the majority in Israel and they are semite like the rest of the people in the Middle East, but they only differ with their religion. We are closer than you think with the jews my friend….

        • Moe2000

           70% eastern European Ashkenazi Jews the Arabs are 30%

      • $31060015

        Moe, although its a good idea bro, I would still rather see them perish. They will soon get a taste of their own medicine god willing. 

    • Moe2000

       Israel has and always will be a illegal terrorist state that will cease to exist in the new middle east.

      • $31060015

        Only a matter of time brother. I hope to be there to piss on their grave.

  • plomca

    Regardless of the ramifications, Hezbollah has been and will be always a terrorist organization first before anything else. Even as criminal organization, that can be comparable to the Mafia. As they play the role of politician in Lebanese politics, all in doing so to appease the support of the people. Their has been enough evidence of the actions that Hezbollah carries out in Lebanon and around the world to be terrorism and criminal. Europe has to basically list Hezbollah a terrorist organization from this evidence. Make an exception because of the threats they will carry out to Lebanon and Europe? That would basically play just right in the hands of Hezbollah, which they do so well. And that is why they are terrorists!

    • yaASSaoudyya

      do us this favour & please do attack these terrorists; hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh; roflol; rolling on ground from laughter

    • Moe2000

       Zionists will leave the middle east soon and go back to Germany and Poland your homeland.

      • Constantin7

        I do not want to defend the jewish state or zionism, but I want to clarify one issue when you say : “go back to Germany and Poland “. I am sure you are aware that in the early forties there were many sizable jewish communities in most of the Arab countries (excpet SA and the Gulf) and these jewish communities left gradually by fear after the creation of Israel. Many Isrealis are Arab Jews, they are either Irakis, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Algerians, Moroccans or Yemenis. So right now the actual population in Israel is about 70% or more Arab, most of these of Jewish background and a minority of muslims, druze and christians. So to tell these Arabs go back to Germany and Poland is not very just, you should ask them to go back to Baghdad, Aden, Cairo, Beirut, Casablanca, etc…So other than the poor palestinian refugees who are living in camps mainly because they are illiterate, there are many rich educated refugees who left their land, houses from all over the Arab world by fear from being massacred after the creation of Israel. Nobody talks about these refugges because they do not live in camps and do not want to return to their original countries by fear. These people were a productive part of the society and left to become productive people in Israel. The German and Polish jews mostly went to North America and a small minority went to Israel. So at the end of the day the Israeli Arab Jews are the majority in Israel and they are semite like the rest of the people in the Middle East, but they only differ with their religion. We are closer than you think with the jews my friend….

        • Moe2000

           70% eastern European Ashkenazi Jews the Arabs are 30%

        • lefthanded

          I get your point of view, and that’s what makes it complicated and mostly is that there are israelis who were born there, i’m sure there are a lot of good people there, BUT they’ve taken Palestine by force(their parents, grandparents) our apathetic world should realize that, many Palestinians lost their home, and many continue to do so, what if Germany invaded Italy tonight? since the israelis did it why not the Germans?  

          I don’t like Hezbollah to be branded as terrorists, lots of men lost their lives for a just cause, calling them terrorists would be discrediting good men their honor, i was always proud of Hezbollah but i think they’re making the wrong decision with what’s happening in Syria. 
            

      • AntiFSA

        Moe, although its a good idea bro, I would still rather see them perish. They will soon get a taste of their own medicine god willing. 

    • Moe2000

       Israel has and always will be a illegal terrorist state that will cease to exist in the new middle east.

      • AntiFSA

        Only a matter of time brother. I hope to be there to piss on their grave.