By Gülsen Devre
OPINION. LEBANON. “We will return Syria to the Stone Age by crippling its power stations, ports, fuel storages and every bit of strategic infrastructure if Hezbollah dares to launch ballistic missiles against us,” an Israeli minister, who remained anonymous, was quoted in the Lebanese Daily Star website recently. These threats came after American and Israeli allegations over scud missiles that were said to be smuggled into Lebanon through the Syrian border. Syria has denied these accusations, while Hezbollah prefers to remain silent on the issue until today, as “these are internal matters”.
It was in 2006 when Israel and Hezbollah started the July-War. This war demonstrated an almost schizophrenic mood-transformation from one day to another as it showed how rapidly the course of events can change in this small Mediterranean country. Exactly one day before the war started, Lebanon was celebrating the Italian World Cup victory in the streets of Beirut on a warm July day. Unfortunately, the next day the shattering war erupted, and, even if the war had come as a surprise in the daily lives of many Lebanese, quite a lot of people seemed familiar with war and the misery it had brought to the country in the past. After all, Lebanon had been caught in the middle of various sectarian and regional conflicts for decades, devastating the lives of many people, as was the case during the civil war that ended in 1990. Most recently, Israel has once again threatened to attack this unhappy country as long as Hezbollah will not disarm. While the memories of the 2006 July-War are still fresh in the minds of the Lebanese, it seems that a next war can break out any moment now.
Foreign Interference and Hezbollah’s Weaponry
In 2004, United Nations Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the Palestinian refugee camps, while it demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops that had been in the country since the civil war, jeopardizing the sovereignty of Lebanon. In 2005, the withdrawal of Syrian troops was accomplished, but the former two sections of the resolution still remain an issue in national and international perspective.
Yet, not all Lebanese would agree with the disarmament of Hezbollah: “Only we, people living in the South, know what we have been through during the Israeli occupation until 2000”, says Rania, who had to leave for Saudi Arabia during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.
“My aunt was kidnapped for three months, and my uncle too. Israel has ruined our lives. And now they want Hezbollah to disarm? Who will protect us against Israel? We don’t trust the Lebanese national army.
If they would be able to protect us, then Hezbollah would disarm”. Eventually, during the July-War in 2006, for many (especially Shi’a) Lebanese it became even more evident that the Lebanese army is incapable of protecting its citizens from Israeli attacks. After this war, many argued that Hezbollah became the main victor that was able to defeat Israel, while many others criticized the arms of Hezbollah and the ‘state within a state’ approach it was adopting according to them. Against this background, a strong united national army seems far beyond reach, while the national and international pressure on Hezbollah’s weaponry is continuing day by day.
Flawed Political System
One of the main reasons behind Lebanon’s chronic security problems is its current political system. This system has its flaws and drawbacks, as it mainly seems to benefit the regional powers and the ruling elite.
The ruling elites are not only receiving a share of the ‘political pie’ by the power sharing system, but they also obtain a share of the ‘economic wealth of the country’. Against this background, the ruling elites are using ‘public means for private ends’, while there seems to be no system of checks and balances. Consequently, state corruption remains a disease in the political system that not only fractures the political system as such, but it strikes the entire society, given that the society at large does not trust their ‘political representatives’, while the national reconciliation process that was intended after the civil war is also affected in a negative manner.
Eventually, more than once, this feeling of injustice has led to political violence and military segregation in Lebanon, as each sectarian group still formally and informally owns its own militias. More important, it seems that the different flaws and drawbacks are interrelated to each other. In other words, they seem to fuel one another, which makes it even more difficult to find a suitable remedy for Lebanon’s national malaises.
More Than Israeli Threat
This year, it has been exactly 20 years since the Lebanese war ended. Yet, even if Lebanon did not fall back into large-scale fighting, the violence did not cease and still seems to occur occasionally. Different peacebuilding mechanisms have been implemented in the post-war state system in order to prevent a relapse into violence.
However, despite these political mechanisms, Lebanon still remains as a country ‘in between war and peace’. While engineering the future in 1989 after the civil war, there seemed to be a general optimism concerning peacebuilding, but how can we scrutinize this ‘optimism’ currently? It seems that there is still a long road ahead towards a stable and peaceful country.
Against this background, the Israeli threat does not appear as the only point of concern for many Lebanese. After twenty years of post-war peacebuilding attempts, Lebanon is still not free from its main malaises, which are: the turmoil in the Palestinian refugee camps, Syrian ‘brotherly’ relations, state corruption, sectarian violence that seems to occur occasionally, transitional justice issues, weak state institutions, political gridlocks paralyzing the state system, and, finally, warlords who become part and parcel of the political system in the post-war era.
These are only several examples of Lebanon’s seemingly never-ending problems. In other words, Lebanon, once the ‘Switzerland of the Middle-East’, is now being haunted by many national and regional diseases.