Lebanon resumes defense talks on Hezbollah's military wing
The most powerful politicians in Lebanon resumed discussions on national defense, with questions of how to rein in Shiite political party Hezbollah's powerful military wing on the table.
Lebanon’s top politicians have resumed a series of round-table discussions to devise a national defense strategy, at the heart of which is finding a compromise over the militant Shiite Hezbollah’s powerful military wing.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Lebanon is enjoying a taste of political stability and a buoyant economy after several years of internal violence and a war with Israel in 2006, the rival political factions of this tiny Mediterranean country are still divided over Hezbollah’s continued armed status.
The dispute is underlined by persistent fears here that another devastating war is brewing between Hezbollah and Israel, possibly as an outcome of intensifying efforts to forge an international consensus to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Given the rising tensions and recent strengthening of an Iran-led alliance in the Mideast, a war between Hezbollah and Israel could expand to become a regional conflagration involving Iran and Syria, both of which support the Lebanese Shiite party.
“We have managed to put ourselves on the frontline of the main critical issue that will dominate the international agenda for the next three or four years,” says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center in Beirut.
In this strained regional atmosphere the national dialogue session, grouping Lebanon’s top 18 political leaders, met Tuesday under the auspices of President Michel Suleiman for the first time since before the parliamentary elections last June.
But the meeting only lasted two hours and mainly affirmed what was previously agreed at earlier sessions. A final statement said that a military committee formed during an earlier session in December 2008 would continue to examine proposals “in an effort to find common ground among the different parties and eventually reach a unified national defense strategy”.
Will Hezbollah disarm?
Skeptics of the national dialogue process – and there are many in Lebanon – say that the debate over crafting a policy of national defense is simply a smokescreen to avoid having to deal with the intractable problem of Hezbollah’s weapons. But, analysts say, in a country of myriad political persuasions where compromise usually is key to maintaining stability, the national dialogue does serve a purpose.
“It does seem a bit farcical,” says Elias Muhanna, a political analyst and author of the influential Lebanese affairs blog Qifa Nabki, in an email exchange. “On the one hand, it’s easy to deride it as little more than a glorified back-room for deal-making. On the other hand, given the problems of political representation within the Lebanese system, the talks give everyone something to take home to their constituents.”
Hezbollah’s critics “get to show that they are putting pressure on Hezbollah while the latter demonstrates that it is open to a process of nationalizing its [military wing],” Mr. Muhanna added.