I never thought I’d say this, but there was part of Samir Geagea’s speech this afternoon that I agree with. He said that the use of Hezbollah’s weapons has delegitimized their very existence. I tend to agree with this idea, because Hezbollah has decided to use its weapons in an internal dispute between Lebanese actors. (Here, it’s important to remember that the myth that Hezbollah has never been part of inter-Lebanese fighting fails to include when Amal and Hezbollah fought each the during the civil war.) What has happened is that the March 14 government made a decision that Hezbollah disagreed with, and in reaction to this, they took up arms and occupied half of Beirut. This means that the weapons whose sole purpose is supposed to deter Israeli aggression and defend Lebanon has been used as a blunt political tool to try to force the government to resign, or at the very least, send it a far-from-subtle message.
The line being taken by the opposition now (at least as far as the talking heads of al-Manar are concerned) is that Hezbollah has helped the state put down militias (namely Mustaqbal, or the Future movement). This position fails to take into consideration, for example, the fact that there are still armed militia members of Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party walking around West Beirut.
Either armed militias are illegal or they aren’t. What’s happened is that the Army seems to have passively taken the side of Hezbollah, which means that their legitimacy will be decreased or destroyed in the eyes of other Lebanese communities, especially the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli. It has also sent the message that the most effective political tool is military force. I imagine, then, that the Sunnis in Saida and Tripoli, the pro-government Christians and the Druze loyal to Walid Jumblatt have likely decided that they can no longer count on the Army to be an impartial arbiter for the state. This will surely lead to increased militia training and arming. It wouldn’t surprise me if the lesson that the Lebanese Forces and the PSP have taken from the defeat of Mustaqbal (probably the weakest of the pro-government parties/militias, if one of the nastier ones on a local neighborhood level) is that they should be prepared for more of the same in the not-so-distant future.
So where does this leave us? Despite rumors earlier today, it doesn’t look like Saniora, or anyone else, will resign from the government. So what? There’s still no president, and the fundamental dysfunction of the Lebanese state has only been highlighted, not solved. If this all ends with Hezbollah and its allied militias pulling back to their territory in the next day or so, leaving a humiliating message for the other parties and their militias, we’ll be back to where we started. Back to where we started, except a big part of the population will have lost faith in the idea that Hezbollah and its allies can be dealt with within the norms of a democratic system.
Since there is no way that any of these groups can compete with Hezbollah’s military forces, look for them to embrace proxies. This might include the Sunnis accepting al-Qaeda militants and other groups hoping for more Israeli intervention. I’m sure that after the disaster that was the war in 2006, the Israeli establishment wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the situation for rematch. In any case, what this situation hasn’t done is foster an atmosphere where either side feels like it can compromise. If anything, this whole situation has pushed March 14 further into its corner and inflated the arrogance and confidence of Hezbollah and its allies in the country and abroad. Neither of which bodes well for peace or stability in Lebanon.
Amin Gemayel, whom I can’t stand, called Hezbollah’s victory a Pyrrhic one (actually, he said it in French, the snooty bastard). I tend to think that, on a national level and in the long term, he’s probably right. In any case, it’s enough to turn some Lebanese into bitter Mercutios.