On Sept. 2, 2004, the U.N. Security Council passed a little-noticed resolution sponsored by the United States and France calling for all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon, disarmament and disbanding of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, and for free, fair presidential elections.
In the following 10 months, to nearly everyone’s surprise, two of the three major directives were accomplished. In the face of Lebanese resolve and international pressure, the Syrian troops that had occupied Lebanon since 1976 departed in April. A month ago, Lebanon held its elections, free of foreign control.
Joining Lebanon’s newly elected 128-seat Parliament are 14 members of Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamist organization that many Lebanese and others regard as the chief violator of the one directive of Resolution 1559 yet unfulfilled: the disarmament and disbanding of all militias.
An Iranian-sponsored militia based in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah was the only Lebanese militia permitted by Syria to remain armed after the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1989. Hezbollah used arms supplied by Iran and Syria to engage in a protracted war with neighboring Israel from 1982 until the present. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, but the border conflict continues to this day.
In large part because of this continuing fight with Israel, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah rejects Resolution 1559’s call for disarmament of all militias, calling his organization a “resistance movement.” Nasrallah stated recently, “We do not consider ourselves a militia.” Whatever term he chooses to use, Hezbollah remains a sizable and armed force in southern Lebanon. Its presence prevents the Lebanese Army from deploying in the area, including along the border with Israel.
Nasrallah went on to say, “The Lebanese government does not consider us a militia, the parliament does not consider us a militia, and most of the Lebanese people do not consider us a militia. Therefore the resolution does not apply to us.”
Is he right about popular support among Lebanese? Nasrallah has misjudged the popular will before, most memorably in the March 8 Hezbollah-organized demonstration supporting Syria’s continuing control over Lebanon. Speaking to the crowd of 500,000 pro-Syrian and Hezbollah supporters, Nasrallah crowed, “Isn’t this Western democracy? The majority is rejecting Resolution 1559.”
Apparently not, for less than a week later twice as many Lebanese citizens — mostly Christian, Sunni and Druze — gathered to demonstrate their opposition to Syrian rule.
In the aftermath of Syria’s military pullout and last month’s election, Nasrallah says that patience for “one or two years” is needed on the question of resistance (i.e. his militia). With Hezbollah’s seats in Parliament and a newly appointed cabinet position, he now speaks of his “hope that we are all represented,” and his wish for a national unity government.
That sounds like a political party. But can Hezbollah keep its militia and be part of the new national government? Lebanese journalist Khairallah Khairallah doesn’t think so, and he’s not alone.
“Hezbollah cannot undergo fundamental change and become a political partly like all other Lebanese parties,” he writes. “What is distressing, in light of all this, is that Hezbollah will not be the only loser in Lebanon if it continues to cling to its current position, (i.e.) refusing to move on to political activity following disarmament. The loser will be Lebanon — the country with no majority, merely groups of minorities that either win together or lose together.”
The same fate applies to the United States, France and the other members of the Security Council that courageously passed Resolution 1559 last September. To win together with Lebanon, they must work with its newly elected government and support efforts to disarm Hezbollah and curb the destabilizing influence of Iran and Syria in region. If instead, France, the European Union, the Arab League and others continue to recognize Hezbollah as it is, Lebanon may well return to what it once was. Everyone would then lose.
Marshall J. Sana is a research fellow of Discovery Institute, based in Seattle.