As the sole Lebanese armed faction from the country’s civil war implicitly allowed to retain its arsenal in accordance with the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the conflict, the Hezbollah movement has faced incessant calls to disarm by political and sectarian rivals alike, both domestic and foreign.
These stem largely over the fact that the Iranian-supported militia is stronger than the Lebanese military, which has led to accusations that the country is being “held hostage” by the Shia party. These concerns were expressed most recently amid Lebanon’s general elections held two weeks ago, with Hezbollah’s weapons taking centre stage, in spite of the country’s severe economic meltdown and popular discontent with the corrupt political elite across the board.
However, Hezbollah has persistently maintained that it preserves its weaponry, including drones and rockets, to face-off against future Israeli aggression and to reclaim the disputed – though tiny – stretch of land called the Shebaa Farms captured by Israel during the 1967 war. The policy is widely seen by critics as a pretext to justify Hezbollah’s continued arms build-up and for Iran to bolster its asymmetric deterrence against Israel in the process.
With no clear winner in this month’s election, Hezbollah’s political wing has faced a set-back as its coalition lost its parliamentary majority. It should be noted that both Hezbollah and its ally Amal secured all seats allocated for the Shia sect, based on the country’s outdated confessional system, and that the Hezbollah-led bloc remains the largest single parliamentary bloc.
Nevertheless, key allies among the Druze and especially the Christian politicians lost their seats, including the once dominant Christian party, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. They were supplanted by independent candidates and the Saudi-backed Lebanese Forces (LF) party – now the biggest Christian party in parliament and currently the kingdom’s main political partner since Riyadh stopped supporting the Sunni Future Movement, under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
In one of his first interviews following the elections, leader of the LF Samir Geagea took the opportunity to renew calls for Hezbollah to disarm, leaving all security and military matters with the army, although this is likely to fall on deaf ears. The LF’s supporters were last year accused of killing six people during clashes with Hezbollah protestors, leading to the deadliest sectarian violence in the capital in over a decade. The party was also among those who campaigned on the issue of sovereignty in relation to Hezbollah’s powerful influence in the country.
Happy Liberation Day to our Lebanese comrades!
On May 25, 2000 – 22 years ago today – the Israeli occupation troops were forced out of Lebanon by the Lebanese resistance after 22 years of illegal occupation. pic.twitter.com/NxujtXZYd0
— US Palestinian Community Network (@uspcn) May 25, 2022
The timing of the latest round of calls by the opposition for Hezbollah to disarm is interesting as the movement and its supporters commemorated Resistance and Liberation Day on Wednesday, marking 22 years since the end of Israel’s illegal 22-year occupation of South Lebanon. This feat was the result of 18 years of armed resistance against the occupation forces who were compelled to withdraw in a state of “chaos and humiliation”.
During this occupation it was the LF and the other Christian-dominated South Lebanon Army (SLA) who were allied with the Israeli military. The SLA and LF militia were notoriously complicit in the Sabra and Shatila massacres. It is therefore ironic for Geagea to be lamenting Lebanon’s supposed loss of sovereignty at the behest of an Iranian-backed movement, when it was this same movement which liberated the nation from Israeli occupation, the first time this was achieved.
— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) May 24, 2022
Speaking on this year’s anniversary of the historic liberation, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that the victory had “shattered Zionists’ superiority and ended the myth of their invincibility”.
Dismissing prospects of disarmament any time soon, Nasrallah went on to state that “It is true that any attempt to disarm Hezbollah by force would lead to civil war,” adding that “This resistance is stronger than you can imagine, it’s stronger than any time before.”
The country is falling into an abyss, there might not remain a state to hand over our arms.
Crucially, the Hezbollah leader said that “The victory of the year 2000 destroyed the Zionists’ major project and raised Palestinians’ hope for the liberation of their homeland”.
With tensions rising in occupied Palestine in recent months, there are further chances of escalation with provocative gestures planned this weekend in the form of Flag March through occupied East Jerusalem, something both Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance factions have warned against.
Lebanon’s political and economic future remains uncertain and as the elections have shown, foreign meddling will be a permanent fixture of the country’s domestic political scene for the foreseeable future. With regards to the Iranian-backed movement however, one thing is for certain, far from violating Lebanon’s sovereignty, Hezbollah was the faction which restored Lebanon’s territorial integrity through means of armed struggle. This not only illustrated that it was possible, but also offers a blueprint for Palestinian factions still committed to the national liberation struggle.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.