Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: No More Illusions about an “Occupied Lebanon” | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this November 12, 2010 file photo, Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags, as they parade during the opening of new cemetery for colleagues who died in fighting against Israel, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

If the sentence passed by Lebanon’s Military Court against former Lebanese MP and cabinet minister Michel Samaha is to stand, he will be set free within just seven months. This is all he will serve of the official four and a half year “prison sentence” that was initially issued against him.

For those interested, “one year imprisonment” in Lebanon means nine, not 12 months, and Samaha (who has already been in custody for a couple of years) admitted, in live testimony, that he brought explosives into Lebanon with the specific aim of targeting rallies and iftar celebrations and murdering prominent Muslim and Christian politicians and religious leaders, not to mention any innocent individual who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Samaha also admitted, again live on camera, that he collaborated with General Ali Mamlouk, one of Syria’s top security chiefs, in this murder conspiracy.

Furthermore, the evidence showed that the Samaha-Mamlouk conspiracy aimed at inciting sectarian strife and bloodshed in Lebanon. This would have allowed the well-known Iranian-backed Syrian–Lebanese security apparatus to reclaim control of Lebanon after President Bashar Al-Assad was forced to withdraw Syrian troops from the country in 2005 in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, and the popular uprising the crime provoked.

The Military Court’s “too lenient” sentence has understandably shocked many Lebanese who are aware that Samaha’s crime was much more sinister than merely “transporting explosives.” There is the issue of attempted mass murder and the incitement of devastating sectarian strife with untold repercussions. There is also a travesty of justice, bearing in mind that many people have been held in Lebanon’s infamous Roumieh prison for years without being accused of any specific crime.

However, without over-elaborating on technical legal matters, it has to be said that Samaha would not have been able to partake in this conspiracy—alone or in collaboration with Gen. Mamlouk—were it not for the fact that Lebanon is truly an occupied country.

No understatement or polite allusion can change anything about the reality of this occupation. Indeed, while most Lebanese were pointing the finger of accusation at the Syrian regime after the Hariri assassination, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was presenting gifts to senior Syrian officers at a mass rally in the heart of Beirut under banners proclaiming “Thank You, Syria.” The security and intelligence apparatus these officers represented controlled the lives of the Lebanese for three decades, and under the orders and directives of Iran, contributed to creating the de facto Hezbollah statelet, whose true size, role and allegiance were not clear at the time.

The symbolism of that Beirut rally on March 8, 2005, goes beyond words. Sure enough the “Thank You, Syria” rally stirred up a spontaneous massive popular response on March 14 which filled the same Beirut squares with flag-waving men, women and children who re-discovered themselves and stood up for their dignity. The March 14 mass rally provided the momentum that forced the Syrian regime’s troops out, and produced the eponymous independent, cross-sectarian, non-partisan March 14 Alliance.

Unfortunately, as would later become clear, the Tehran–Damascus axis had only lost a battle, not the war. In fact, it turned out that this was a minor “battle” that did not exceed the true nature of Hezbollah being brought out into the open after it had been well concealed by the shadow of the Syrian–Lebanese security apparatus. Hezbollah was openly handed the task it had previously been accorded in secret, after it had spent several years silently working, recruiting, building and expanding across Lebanon.

Following the withdrawal of Syrian troops, Hezbollah had no choice but to unmask and reveal its animosity to a sector of the Lebanese people, after this section of society had long believed its slogans of “resistance” (against Israel), and had not even been perturbed by its reservations regarding the Taif Accords.

Soon afterwards, the Tehran–Damascus axis, through its Christian functionaries, began its attempts to infiltrate the Christian bloc inside the March 14 Alliance with the intention of destroying its unity. It succeeded spectacularly with Michel Aoun, whose followers had always taken to heart his grand slogans of “sovereignty” and “independence,” as well as his feigned deep hatred of the Syrian regime and his assertions of being the “father” of the US Congress’s Syria Accountability Act (2003) and UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (2004).

With Aoun joining the Hezbollah camp, the Tehran-Damascus axis gained the Christian cover it always needed to give it a false consensual façade. This has become even more important after questions began to emerge about Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination of Hariri, as well as the subsequent assassinations targeting March 14 figures.

Now benefitting from its newly acquired Christian fig leaf, Hezbollah refused to cooperate with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (set up to investigate the Hariri assassination) and launched a vicious counter-attack against its political adversaries. True to form, Hezbollah began to behave like a state within a state. In the summer of 2006, and without the knowledge of its government, in which it was represented, Hezbollah attacked an Israeli detachment across the UN blue line with the aim of kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Israel responded to this with a massive war that caused great destruction to Lebanon’s infrastructure, damaging its economy and pushing many Lebanese to seek their livelihood abroad.

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s massive military response was further agitation, occupying Beirut’s city center with the backing of its allies and demanding the resignation of the legitimate cabinet after it refused to give them one third of all cabinet posts. This, in effect, would enable Hezbollah and its allies to bring down any government if its ministers resigned en masse.

Political assassinations continued amid doubts about the role some security agencies were playing, particularly at the Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport. The government ultimately took the decision to dismantle Hezbollah’s private communication network and suspend the Beirut airport security chief, a Shi’ite with pro-Hezbollah leanings. Hezbollah responded on May 7, 2008, by sweeping through predominantly Sunni West Beirut and attacking the Druze strongholds in Mount Lebanon. It also continued to occupy central Beirut and block the election of a new president, until an agreement was finally reached thanks to Arab mediation in the Qatari capital Doha, and army chief Michel Suleiman was elected president.

Still, Hezbollah’s open warfare against the legitimate Lebanese state was not over yet. Under the excuse of dealing with what it described as “false witnesses” testifying at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Hezbollah and allied ministers resigned en masse, bringing down the “national unity” cabinet of Prime Minister Saad Hariri which has been formed after the Doha Agreement.

It is also worth mentioning here that Hezbollah alone, among all Lebanese parties and militias, was exempted from surrendering its arms to the state under the pretext that it was a “resistance” movement fighting continued Israeli occupation. Yet even after the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah insisted that it should keep its arms since—as it claimed—the withdrawal was incomplete; Israel still occupied the Sheba farms and Kfar Shouba heights.

It also kept its arms, under the same claim of “resistance,” after the 2006 war even though the UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Israeli war, stipulated that Hezbollah must have no armed presence south of the Litani River in order to negate any chance of military confrontation with Israel.

Despite this, and even after using its war machine against its fellow Lebanese in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and later against the uprising of the Syrian people in opposition to Bashar Al-Assad, Hezbollah continued to claim its arms were the arms of “resistance” against Israel.

As such it becomes obvious that Hezbollah’s occupation of Lebanon does not differ much from the occupation of Syria by the militias’ of Bashar Al-Assad and Iranian general Qassim Suleimani.

In both the cases of Syria and Lebanon, it is impossible to have a proper legal system, achieve justice, compensate victims, or punish criminals under such circumstances.