Lebanon is in trouble. There is discomforting movement between the ranks of its politicians and the media to inflame public opinion and spread a sense of fear and anxiety amongst the people of Lebanon (although what’s new about that?). This time the situation is connected to the report that is expected to be issued by the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, accusing some members of Hezbollah of being responsible for this crime.
Hezbollah’s supporters in Lebanon say that this would ignite a grand conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites, and serve as a prelude to a civil war the likes of which Lebanon has never seen before. Others believe this would be the spark that would ignite a devastating regional war in which Israel and Iran would both strongly be involved in.
The decision to accuse Hezbollah, if it comes, will not be a surprise, particularly following the leaked report in the prestigious German magazine “Der Spiegel” which indicated that strong evidence exists that directly incriminates Hezbollah of being involved in Hariri’s assassination. Lebanon is anticipating Hezbollah being accused of this, however we cannot overlook the fact that the state of tension within Hezbollah goes beyond anticipating the international tribunal’s expected accusation of its involvement in the Hariri assassination. Rather, this has more to do with Hezbollah trying to identify its future role in Lebanon, and its grand political project that clashes with Lebanon’s own political identity and the nature of the country’s [political] composition.
According to the movement’s leader, Hezbollah is ideologically, doctrinally, and politically affiliated to the Iranian doctrine of the Wali al-Faqih [Guardianship of the Jurists]. This puts Hezbollah in a quandary, as there is dual allegiance and a conflict of interest, especially with regards to the Lebanese Constitution and the Taif Agreement. We are all aware that Hezbollah previously announced that it is pursuing a project [to establish] an “Islamic Republic” in Lebanon; and this is a sectarian project that is not acceptable to a significant portion of the Lebanese people. This is likely to create a scenario of conflict in the future, especially as Hezbollah is extremely focused upon the internal agenda at the expense of the concept of resistance, which Hezbollah built its legitimacy upon, and which has been the reason behind the movement’s political presence and popularity over the years.
Regionally, there is a belief amongst certain parties that Hezbollah has outgrown Lebanon’s ability to absorb it, and that there is a need to develop a framework to deal with the movement’s expansion, to ensure that it does not grow beyond the state’s ability to control and subdue it.
On the Arab level, there is high level political movement to curb any reckless or impulsive reaction to capitalize on the sense of tension [in Lebanon] to achieve “specific goals” that would result in the situation further deteriorating.
The concern of Hezbollah’s reaction [to the expected accusation of its involvement in the Hariri assassination] cannot be separated from the greater unrest that has been caused by Iran’s policies in the region. Iran’s regional policies could also see Hezbollah being used as a playing card in a more comprehensive deal, with the Lebanese movement being sacrificed to ensure more direct Iranian gains.
Hezbollah’s well known identity, and some of the group’s most influential operatives could be the victim of such a deal, with newly emerging figures who have assumed an effective and strong role in directing the political orientation of the group in the Lebanese public arena taking advantage of this. One of the most prominent new faces is that of Naim Qassem who aspires to play a larger and more important role in the Hezbollah leadership, something that is obvious to many parties.
Those observing what is being published and broadcast by the Lebanese media outlets will have noticed that they are beating the drums of war and spreading panic amongst the public (which they might have been instructed to do by their sectarian or political leadership), believing that the situation today is ripe for implementing a long-awaited political change to alter the turbulent situation in Lebanon.
What is happening in Lebanon today goes far beyond any party being accused of Rafik Hariri’s assassination, but rather pertains to an abnormal political situation that must be redressed.