Posted by Joshua on Thursday, May 29th, 2008
By Sami Moubayed (posted by Qifa Nabki)
Gulf News (May 27,2008)
Three weeks ago, I went to Beirut where everybody was talking of a hot summer and expecting war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Apart from talk of this looming military confrontation between these two parties, residents of Beirut assured me that despite the incredible tensions that have plagued Lebanon for months now, a domestic clash – a prelude for a civil war – was on nobody's agenda.
One friend scoffed, "The Future Movement doesn't even hold arms; they hold EMBAs from American University of Beirut (AUB), not machine guns!"
A neutral analysis of the mid-May conflict puts blame on both Hezbollah and March 14 for resorting to arms, a tactic which, as per the agreement reached at the Doha Conference, they have now promised to refrain from adopting.
I have always argued that disarming Hezbollah is close to impossible, regardless of whether or not its members have a legitimate right to bare such arms.
Napoleon Bonaparte's famed assertion, "I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up!" applies to Hassan Nasrallah. Someone with his ambition and character cannot and will not resort to becoming head of a parliamentary bloc in the Lebanese Parliament.
Ideally, since he can neither assume the post of minister or deputy or president, if disarmed, he could best exercise his power by nominating ministers and public officers, a modern-day za'im.
Nasrallah is uninterested in the materialistic world where he can go into retirement and spend the rest of his years in Switzerland. The man, selfless in every sense, is committed to a lifetime combating Israel and promoting, protecting, and empowering the Shiites of Lebanon.
Nasrallah is here to stay in spite of the grumbling of some world powers and regional players. A majority of Lebanese people support him (and his weapons) while those who don't are completely incapable of disarming him.
The United States cannot send United Nations policemen to arrest Nasrallah. Even Israel could not militarily manage to topple him in 2006. The Lebanese government could not disarm or even provoke the Hezbollah leader.
Nasrallah does not and need not take orders from Damascus: the Syrian influence in Beirut has waned, and hence Syria's favour is no longer as necessary to help him pursue his interests.
Nasrallah might, however, step down if given orders from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, which funds and provides the religious decree for Hezbollah to operate.
Nasrallah's ambition does not end with the liberation of the occupied Sheba'a Farms, just like it did not end with the Israeli withdrawal of 2000. Sources close to Nasrallah often say, "His ambition is Palestine: Anything short of that is unacceptable to him."
But what about the arms of 'the other?' More alarming than the appearance of armed men loyal to Hariri on the streets of Beirut was how easily they surrendered. There is nothing worse or more dangerous than an amateur militiaman who is neither steadfastly committed to his cause nor certain of his target.
Sa'ad Hariri, who is now recalculating the entire ordeal, must re-read the history of Beirut leaders to understand the nature of their relationships with weapons.
For example, in 1976, Tamam Salam created a militia – a common practice during the civil war – called Pioneers of Reform to fight Yasser Arafat's armed men, who had stormed the house of Tamam's father and ex-prime minister Saeb Salam.
When Saeb heard of his son's action he summoned the future parliamentarian and AUB graduate and angrily asked, "What is this you are doing? Use of arms, my son, is a double-edged sword. You will either kill or be killed! Are you willing to carry the burden of someone's blood?"
Tamam disarmed his short-lived militia and spent his days doing charity work for the residents of Beirut.
Whereas in Tripoli, Omar Karameh, another educated statesman from AUB, created his own militia called the Al Farouk Omar Bin Al Khattab Phalange during the war. His brother, prime minister Rashid, was enraged.
He summoned Omar and said, "We have always had faith in the state and its arms, not on the militias! Having blood on your hands is difficult Omar. Go and disband what you started!"
Omar Karameh, who became prime minister in 1992, complied.
Today, Sa'ad Hariri is a prime minister-in-waiting, likely to succeed Fouad Siniora. He must follow the advice of men such as Saeb Salam and Rashid Karameh and see to it that his followers hold EMBAs, rather than machine guns.
Time has yet to tell whether holding an EMBA and a machine gun are mutually exclusive phenomena in Lebanon. Indeed, Samir Geagea and Walid Junblatt, two veteran warlords, are graduates of AUB.
One reader, who studies in Lebanon, proved my point as she described to me of her journey out of Lebanon during the mid-May battle: "On Thursday, I was trying to escape, crossing the Masnaa borders by car, with the gun shots in the air and the chaos taking over.
"I looked over at a huge crowd whose members were gathered around burning wheels and cars. I recognised most of them: they were among my most brilliant young peers at the university with me.
"I couldn't help the tears running heavily down my face. I could not imagine those young men – Lebanon's future – were so foolish to think of killing their own brothers! And for what? It wasn't not for Lebanon!"
Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. This article appeared in Gulf News on May 27, 2008.