ANALYSIS / Who will stop Hezbollah? Not the Lebanon Army
Hezbollah’s rapid and savvy raids of recent days brought to light the true balance of power in Lebanon, and, at the same time, the close connection between the Lebanon Army and Hezbollah.
Witness accounts of Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon in the course of the incidents demonstrate not only that the Lebanon Army is refraining from trying to bar Hezbollah from operating throughout the country, but is in fact carrying out orders from the organization and granting it media cover.
Lebanese media reports clearly indicate that Hezbollah is practicing censorship over broadcasts of the various networks. Nonetheless, it can be discerned at times that the picture as broadcast from Beirut is not telling the story in full. While camouflage-spotted Lebanon Army armored personnel carriers take center screen, Hezbollah men manning roadblocks can often be seen on the margins, checking the identity papers of passersby.
Friday morning, Lebanese television stations were allowed to broadcast calming footage of armored personnel carriers standing outside the Al-Mustakbal Television building, owned by the Hariri family. The station’s operations had been halted by Hezbollah.
The actual story, of course, was much more serious. According to one version of the events, the Lebanon Army had ordered the workers there to leave their offices, solely to allow Hezbollah men to enter immediately thereafter to destroy equipment and other property. Two hours later, cameras were allowed into the area, but only to film the APC’s standing guard over the building.
The close ties between the army and Hezbollah go beyond the recent battles. They also extend to south Lebanon. Under UN resolution 1701, the Lebanon Army was to deploy in the south and thus take up places occupied by Hezbollah, something that had raised hopes in Israel. Today, UNIFIL and the Lebanon Army respond to every incident in south Lebanon, but the presence of the army has no real significance there. At the moment of truth, the army will follow Hezbollah’s orders, diplomatic sources believe.
The Lebanon Army is in practice a reflection of the ethnic partition of this divided land. The army commander is a Maronite, his deputies are Shiite and Sunni, and the chief of the general staff, a Druze. It is estimated that some 35 percent of the soldiers and officers are Shiites, and Christians leave the ranks relatively quickly.
Moreover, in recent days, there have been reports that senior officers, Sunnis and Druze, have asked to resign from the army in response to its involvement in the violence. Government supporters have severely criticized the army and its commander, Michel Suleiman, who was in line to turn into president of Lebanon. Discussions on the issue suggest that some of the officials have reconsidered their support for the government.
Analysts in Lebanon believe that other actions on the part of the army would have led to its being dismantled. “Greater involvement by the army would have meant that perhaps no army would have been left,” sources in Beirut told Haaretz by e-mail. “And that would have been the end of Lebanon,”.
Commentary: Ha’aretz is an interesting newspaper. I read it daily. In many ways, there is some really excellent information and analysis in Ha’aretz, in particular if one is savvy enough to skip over the clearly propagandistic stuff. In the article above, I have highlighted the interesting stuff in red and the silly stuff in green. Setting aside the ‘censorship issue’ and the conflation of Phalangists and the Aounists into some vague ‘Christians’ category, the rest of the article is a good expression of the Israeli’s concern, if not panic, at the fact that the Lebanese Army is clearly not to puppet force they hoped for. Keeping in mind that the English edition of Ha’aretz is primarily aimed at an American Jewish readership and that Ha’aretz itself is considered a “liberal” newspaper in Israel, one can only imagine the level of frustration, disgust and panic which has gripped the Likudnik circles over the recent events in Lebanon.