Lebanon: Hariri Tribunal and Ghajar withdrawal
The situation in Lebanon has been heating up in the past few months as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating former prime minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination wraps up. Hizb’allah is widely expected to be (at least partially) implicated in Hariri’s murder and its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has promised to “cut off the hand of anyone who tries to arrest any Hezb’allah fighter” named in the indictment. Nobody really knows what to expect should such a scenario play out, but the consensus is that it wouldn’t be good for the fragile democracy. Lebanon’s Daily Star this week reported about Syrian-Saudi efforts to prevent a violent fallout from the upcoming STL indictments.
On Saturday, the talk coming out of Lebanon was about the planned Israeli withdrawal from the disputed, and theoretically-divided border town of Ghajar. A Lebanese diplomat and a Hezb’allah MK spoke about what Lebanon’s response to an Israeli withdrawal would look like. The consensus was that the move would be inadequate. The diplomat said that any withdrawal would be incomplete until Lebanese Army forces are deployed inside the town, certainly a deal-breaker for Israel. It’s not clear under what conditions – or when – Israel will withdraw from the northern half of the town, but most reports are laying out expectations for the town’s northern (Lebanese) border to be sealed, essentially making it a no-man’s-land. Also over the weekend, Hizb’allah declared that their armed presence in the country would still be necessary even if Israel withdraws from Ghajar. (The group was established to drive Israel out of the country after the 1982 invasion. Following the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, the group said that Ghajar and the near-by Shaba Farms were still occupied and therefore they were still needed to liberate Lebanese land.) Israel had hoped to undermine the group’s legitimacy with the move, but the prospects of actually removing the their raison d’être were fairly non-existent to begin with.
Although Lebanon has been unstable for decades, these two issues especially threaten regional stability. While it is not a likely scenario that war will break out once again between Israel and Hizb’allah, any time Hizb’allah feels threatened, the possibility of it using external aggression to distract from internal turmoil grows. The logic in the region in recent years has been that Hizb’allah’s patron state, Iran, would prevent the group from jeopardizing its unprecedented armament by starting a new war. This probably still holds true today, but instability in Lebanon is always dangerous.