plus ça change....
7 years ago, on the first anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, a leftist group that I used to belong to issued a statement entitled “Hezbollah with 'bare' arms” that was signed by 8 of us. At the time, the political landscape in Lebanon was radically different in many respects to what it is today. Syria still had a free reign, and its troops were spread all over the country. Most of the 14th of March forces were still publicly supporting the Syrian presence.
Reading the statement again today confirms that Hezbollah has not altered the course of action that it embarked on since the Israeli withdrawal which took it by surprise. As we put it at the time, Hezbollah was choosing to ‘escape forward’ in trying to find a justification to keep its weapons. Perhaps the aims have changed slightly, but Hezbollah is still compensating for its lack of a political project with high rhetoric and even more insistence on holding on to is military machine.
At the time, we asked: ‘And yet the question grows more pressing. If the Hezbollah party enjoyed in the last ten years a range in maneuverability founded on a number of factors, is it still able to do so after the Israeli retreat from south Lebanon?’ The past seven years have proven that Hezbollah strove hard to find that space, but at increasingly higher costs.
In May, Hezbollah publicly contradicted its own claim that its weapons shall never be used against other Lebanese. The scenes of Hezbollah militia men roaming the streets of Beirut proved that this was another promise that Hezbollah could easily fail to keep if its military machine was even so much as contemplated by the state. Now Hezbollah has raised the stakes even further by shooting down the Lebanese army helicopter and effectively prescribing where the army can operate.
Yet, despite the appearances, Hezbollah’s acts mask its political bankruptcy. Hezbollah’s ferociousness in defending its weapons will increase even further, but will ultimately fail in preserving Hezbollah’s role in the long term. As we ‘predicted’ seven years ago, Hezbollah is living on borrowed time.