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.
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Few expect an imminent advance in the national dialogue, which first convened in March 2006, but workable solutions could be drawn up over time, some analysts say.Skip to next paragraph
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“There is a team of experts working on this and that is where the credibility of the dialogue will rest,” says Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “It will become a thinking machine that could offer solutions. But we are navigating in troubled waters at this point and there is no climate for a breakthrough.”
Hezbollah says it needs its weapons
Hezbollah argues that its mode of guerrilla-style warfare, in coordination with the Lebanese army, is the best means of deterring future Israeli aggression against Lebanon.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, on Sunday pointed to the party’s role in ending Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 and its robust challenge to the Israeli army during the month-long war in July 2006.
“How would the situation be without the resistance?” he asked, referring to Hezbollah’s military wing. “Without the resistance, [southern Lebanon] would not have been liberated and Israel would not have been defeated in 2006... Today, tourism is doing well, the security situation is stable and political stability is available.”
But Hezbollah’s opponents insist that national defense is the responsibility of the Lebanese state, not a political party even if it does coordinate with the Lebanese army. Critics fear that Hezbollah’s ideological and material links to Iran, which supplies much of the party’s funds and weaponry, make it beholden to the policies of Tehran rather than the interests of the Lebanese state.
Such views hardened following a summit in Damascus on February 25 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were joined by Sheikh Nasrallah. The summit was seen as a strengthening of the “axis of resistance” against Israel and a snub to US efforts to encourage Damascus to break its three-decade alliance with Tehran.
The Phalange Party, a Christian group opposed to Hezbollah, complained that Lebanon had been represented at the summit by “the head of a [political] party” and that it “forces Lebanon to stand at the forefront of the military Arab-Israeli conflict in absence of any official Lebanese decision in this regard."
The next national dialogue session is scheduled for April 15. But many Lebanese worry that the protracted negotiations between Lebanon’s bickering politicians may become overshadowed by mounting tensions in the region.
“We are dealing with an issue that is linked more to the region than to just Lebanon,” says Mr Safa of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “There is an escalation in the region in terms of the arms race, rhetoric and the psychological war which will not bring positive dividends to the national dialogue.”