King Abdullah made his remarks during President Barack Obama’s nuclear summit in Washington, immediately after Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of supplying SCUD missiles to Hezbollah. The United States has voiced grave concern about the possible transfer of the missiles, warning that this not only might put Lebanon at significant risk, but also represent a failure by parties in the region to honor UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Lebanon, being the country that should be the most concerned with a likely war, seems to be the most helpless in dealing with the threat. Governed by a so-called “national unity government” the reality is that Hezbollah is the only decision maker when it comes to matters of war and peace. In the meantime, Lebanon acts as a mailbox for messages between the West, Israel, Syria and Iran.
Can the Lebanese state do anything at all to regain control of its destiny?
It was certainly embarrassing to watch Lebanese leaders at Wednesday’s national dialogue session discussing the national defense strategy. There was really nothing to say or do; the statements from Damascus, Tel Aviv and Washington do not address the Lebanese state, damning proof that Lebanon is not in control of the crisis. All the discussions proved is that talking about Hezbollah’s arms is futile. The sad conclusion is that Lebanon is being treated as a failed state without being officially declared one.
So while Lebanese leaders were busy playing football on the 35th anniversary of the civil war, it appears another war is in the making. Whether the missiles have actually been transferred or whether the Israeli accusation was just an attempt to thwart Obama’s policy of openness with the Syrian regime, the threats are still valid. Israel can use them as a pretext to launch another war on Hezbollah (assuming Iran doesn’t preempt a war to divert attention away from the upcoming sanctions that may be imposed on it).
The Israeli accusations could also be part of a political agenda to hamper Obama’s peace plan. Or they could be used to distract the international community’s attention from more pressing issues, such as the building of settlements in East Jerusalem and Israel’s new measures to evict Palestinians from the West Bank.
In any case, war is a strong and looming possibility, and the only way Lebanon can avert the threat is to sort out its internal problems and focus all its attention on an international diplomatic campaign to show that one, Lebanon is genuinely concerned with developments, and two, convey to the international community the consequences of such a war on Lebanon and the region.
All other pending issues, such as security appointments, the state budget, and the small-minded campaign against President Michel Sleiman, the Internal Security Forces and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, should be either resolved or abandoned.
Furthermore, Hezbollah should make an official statement regarding the SCUD missiles, declaring that it has received them or not. Random statements made by “sources close to Hezbollah” to regional newspapers such as the one published by the Kuwaiti Al-Rai this week are simply not good enough.
And all the while Lebanon remains silent, despite the fact that the country is in serious peril. The government may have been imposed on the country but Hezbollah is part of it. The party can’t have it both ways by choosing to remain a shady autonomous entity whenever it wants. Israel will use the fact that it is part of the state to hold the Lebanese government responsible for any future war with Hezbollah.
The president recently stated that he would do anything he can to protect the Resistance, while the head of the army and the defense minister have both encouraged coordination with the Resistance. But it is Hezbollah’s stubbornness that has seen the dialogue on a national defense strategy fail spectacularly. And what has been the price paid for this willingness to cooperate? It is simple: As far as the West is concerned, Lebanon’s military institutions and leaders have all endorsed Hezbollah and its arms. If war, as King Abdullah has predicted, is imminent, all of Lebanon will be involved.
It is no secret that the Lebanese state is hostage to one party. If Hezbollah really wants to spare Lebanon from a war that would destroy its land, population and infrastructure, the party should act responsibly and put its arms and expertise at the disposal of the Lebanese state. By empowering Lebanese institutions and working under a national authority, Lebanon might be salvaged and no longer be considered a failed state.
But so far, Hezbollah has only shown mistrust of the state and its army. In such a climate, Lebanon will have no choice but to wait for regional dynamics to play out, a scenario in which it will once again pay a high price.