Lebanese parties entered a “national dialogue” Monday to discuss the country’s defense strategy, focusing on the use of weapons by Shiite party Hezbollah.
President Michel Suleiman has been conducting private meetings with members of the government and opposition last week in an attempt to set guidelines for Hezbollah’s use of weapons, so far with limited results.
Hezbollah finds itself in a vulnerable position as its main regional ally, neighboring Syria, is struggling to suppress a domestic uprising. Analysts say that Suleiman is conducting the delicate negotiations with utmost care, fearing that Hezbollah may feel “pushed to the wall” and rely increasingly on its weapons as a source of stability.
‘We support sitting around the negotiating table to form a defense strategy comprised of the military, the people and the resistance [Hezbollah],’ Yazbak said.
Suleiman may offer Hezbollah the option of forgoing its weapons within the country and limiting their use to confrontations with Israel, London-based daily Al-Hayat reported Monday. But a Hezbollah official said the organization was fighting through “the will of God” and will never give up its weapons.
“God wanted this resistance to be, and it was,” said Sheikh Muhammad Yazbak, head of Hezbollah’s Sharia committee, during a memorial service. “It uses weapons and continue to do so, despite what people say, here and there.”
Yazbak added that he supported dialogue with the government, but believed the issue of weapons in Lebanon should be debated as part of a wider framework.
“We support sitting around the negotiating table to form a defense strategy composed of the military, the people and the resistance [Hezbollah],” he said. “Some people claim that the problem is only with the weapons of the resistance.”
Omri Nir, an expert on Lebanon at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said there is no chance Hezbollah will give up its weapons.
“The question today is whether Hezbollah integrates into the Lebanese army, becoming some sort of southern command,” Nir told The Times of Israel. “The topic did not come up in this round of talks, but was discussed back in 2006, just before the Lebanon War broke out.”
Some say Hezbollah may want to ‘cash its chips’ and take over Lebanon by force if Assad falls, but there is no indication of that, Nir said
Nir said that many Lebanese have grown increasingly suspicious of Hezbollah’s weapons when they were directed against Lebanese citizens, for the first time, in May 2008.
In light of the volatile situation in Syria, most Lebanese politicians have adopted a wait-and-see policy, Nir said.
“If Bashar Assad’s regime falls, it will be a serious blow to Hezbollah and its March 8 political camp,” Nir added. “Some say Hezbollah may want to cash in its chips and take over Lebanon by force if Assad falls, but there is no indication of that. For now, Lebanon is acting like an ostrich; it buries its head in the sand and stays out of the debate on Syria in all international fora.”