OPED: Hezbollah’s Legitimacy, significantly diminished

Hezbollah's legitimacy in the eyes of non-Shi’ite Arabs in Lebanon and beyond has significantly diminished in recent years. The STL indictments will only serve to accelerate and compound this process.

By Ali Hussein

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued the indictments in the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM Rafik Hariri . An STL delegation met with Lebanon’s state prosecutor Said Mirza on Thursday and handed him a copy of the Lebanon portion of the indictment which includes four names: Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hassan Aneissy, Assad Sabra. The STL team reportedly then left for Syria to deliver the Syrian portion of the indictment.

Two of the accused are senior Hezbollah officials:

Mustafa Badreddin a senior Hezbollah official is the prime suspect in the assassination of Hariri . He is the brother in-law of assassinated Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. Badreddine replaced Mugniyah as Hezbollah’s chief operations officer after he was killed in a mysterious explosion in Syria on Feb. 12, 2008. Badreddine 50, also known as Elias Saab, is also a member of the Hezbollah Shura Council.

Salim Ayyash 48, another senior Hezbollah official also know as Abu Salim is accused of leading the cell which executed the assassination of Hariri. Aneissy and Assad, who are also Hezbollah members reportedly helped Ayyash in executing the murder. Ayyash is a duel citizen and holds a U.S. passport

Hezbollah has options, but none of them is particularly good for the party

At the moment, all the four accused men remain at liberty. The Lebanese authorities have 30 days to arrest them. If they do not do so, the tribunal will then make the details of the indictment public and order the suspects to appear before the court.

Hezbollah has the power to simply refuse to cooperate with the tribunal, and to prevent by force any attempt to apprehend its members.

Such an action, according to observers would take the party yet further down the slippery slope of loss of any legitimacy or consent to its domination of Lebanon, outside of its narrow Shi’ite core. This would leave it dangerously exposed in a changing Arab world.

It could, on the other hand, choose to sacrifice some or all of the accused men, but sacrificing party officials would look like surrender and humiliation to a body that Hezbollah has specifically designated as an enemy.

Whichever path Hezbollah adopts, it is now confronting the contradiction at the heart of its project. The party has sought to both serve a narrow Shi’ite, pro-Iranian and Syrian interest, and simultaneously has been trying pose as the sword of all the Arabs and Muslims.

According to observers Hezbollah will have the option in the months ahead of holding its domination of Lebanon by force, in the face of the indictments. But if it does so, the broader project for which it was brought into being will be very severely tarnished. Hezbollah will expose itself as a tool in the hand of the Shi’ite Iran directed against the Sunni regional majority.

The well anticipated furious denunciations by Al Manar TV of the Hariri tribunal as an American- Zionist plot will not serve to disguise this reality.

Legitimacy significantly diminished

According to observers Hezbollah’s legitimacy in the eyes of non-Shi’ite Arabs in Lebanon and beyond has significantly diminished in recent years. The indictments will only serve to accelerate and compound this process.

Hezbollah was once seen as an Arab force concerned primarily with making war against Israel and the party’s ability to avoid humiliating defeat by Israel thrilled the Arab people

But this moment did not last. The events in the past three years has served to increasingly recast Hezbollah as a sectarian, Shi’ite creation and ally of Iranian and Syrian regimes

The test for Hezbollah’s image came when it turned its guns on its domestic Sunni opponents in May 2008. Hezbollah succeeded in occupying the Sunni part of Beirut on May 7, 2008 , but Hezbollah’s legitimacy suffered a heavy blow, specially since it always claimed that its weaponry was for use against Israel alone.

This discrepancy between Hezbollah’s claim of being a resistance movement and imposition of its will in Lebanon added to its declining legitimacy.

In recent months, Hezbollah’s support for the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria in its brutal crackdown against an uprising by the Sunni majority, has further served to tarnish Hezbollah’s image. There is widespread fury and disgust among Lebanon’s Sunnis at the reports of possible Hezbollah involvement, alongside Iranian personnel, in crushing the protests. Over 1500 civilians have been killed by the Syrian security forces according to Human rights groups

Once again, the party proved that its loyalty is to the mainly Shi’ite, Iran-led bloc.

Hezbollah’s support for the Shiite uprising against the Sunni minority regime of Bahrain is another example of the Party’s hypocrisy. Bahrain Government even accused Hezbollah of supporting the uprising and deported several Lebanese Shiite citizens who were suspected of being linked to the party.

Progressive Socialist party leader MP Walid Jumblatt defected from the March 14 (three months after the Der Spiegel report revealed that Hezbollah was behind Hariri’s murder) for fear over a Shiite -Sunni strife if Hezbollah members were indicted by the STL, but the Sunnis of Lebanon proved him wrong today. Not one shot was heard , not one tire was burnt and not one road was blocked in the mainly Sunni areas of Beirut, Tripoli or Sidon and Lebanon maintained its calm.

It is worth remembering that Hezbollah and its allies deliberately brought down the government of Saad Hariri in January in anticipation of the indictment in the Hariri murder .

It is also worth remembering that Hezbollah and its allies reportedly used the power of the so called ‘resistance arms’ to force Jumblatt to support its premier candidate Nagib Mikati who after nearly five months of horsetrading was able to form a cabinet.

To March 14 Mikati’s government is a Hezbollah cabinet backed by Iran and Syria

Former Lebanese Intelligence chief ambassador Johnny Abdo said the issuance of the indictment is a giant step towards the unity of Lebanon, saying that this indictment may be only the tip of the iceberg and the beginning and not the end. As far as he is concerned the indictment has exposed Hezbollah and this is bound to unite the Lebanese who were skeptical about the STL’s intentions

In an interview with MTV Abdo urged march 14 against confronting Hezbollah which he said will be confronted along with its allies by the International Tribunal, the judiciary and the International community.

Abdo added: “Lets wait and see if the new cabinet will agree to finance the Tribunal. If it does not we will then know they don’t want to support it.

Abdo then asked: “Does Mikati feel that the people around him consider themselves above the state ? Mikati should know that no one has anything to do with the government except Hezbollah and Syria, and he should also know that the Sunni community in Lebanon, is with Hariri by a large margin and 99% of them are with Lebanese sovereignty. ”

In response to a question Abdo said : “Did you notice that the indictment did not mention Hezbollah but names of individuals . It is about time Hezbollah should show some humility independence and sovereignty. Does the party consider itself bigger than the entire region and are they ready to face the entire international community?”