Is Hezbollah trying to spark a confrontation between the army and the Lebanese Forces?
While the Lebanese are talking about Samir Geagea as the leader who slapped Hezbollah in the face, the reality might be much more complex than that. In a televised interview, Marcel Ghanem told Geagea that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah offered the Lebanese Forces president popularity on a silver plate, which Geagea promptly rejected.
While people around the country erected pictures of Geagea as the leader who could stand against Hezbollah, it is not him specifically who stood against the group. Before him, regular people in Khalde and Showaya took a stand. The confrontation in Tayouneh happened simply because people were fed up with Hezbollah’s show of power. It has been either the group’s way or the highway, and they have the power of arms to dictate what they want. In May 2008, they proved that they could use their military power to force their will on everyone else. They imposed a change of government by the power of arms and reversed decisions regarding the security of the airport. However, as time passed and as the situation worsened, the fear barrier fell. People are ready to say no to Hezbollah, and this is what drove confrontations in Khalde, Showaya and Tayouneh.
Nasrallah made a two-hour speech targeting the Lebanese Forces, accusing them of being a militia that wants to spark a civil war. In his speech, he also said that he would not let the blood of their martyrs go in vain and made the veiled threat that if justice were not served through the judiciary and the army, they would see what would happen.
A video clearly shows a soldier shooting an armed Hezbollah fighter who had a rocket-propelled grenade pointed at a building, about to fire. If such a soldier is prosecuted, then no soldier will ever dare face Hezbollah or any other armed militia. Such a trial will weaken the army and prop up Hezbollah. The problem is that Hezbollah and Amal have a lot of influence on the military court, which is not under the jurisdiction of the army commander. Though the investigation has not concluded yet, word on the street is that three out of the dead were shot with army ammunition.
The confrontation in Tayouneh happened simply because people were fed up with Hezbollah’s show of power.
Dania Koleilat Khatib
While people are happy celebrating what is seen as a slap for Hezbollah, it is important to determine whether there was a plan behind it. Al Jadeed announced that, based on the testimony of some who were arrested, military intelligence found ground on which to summon Geagea for questioning. When asked about this during the interview on MTV, Geagea said he is ready to be questioned if there is a fair investigation. However, if the investigation is biased and he is targeted and framed, he will use all legal methods available to fight back. The host alluded to the Sayidat Al-Najat case that was raised against Geagea in 1994. At that time, Lebanon was under Syrian influence, and a file was constructed around the bombing of a church with Geagea’s supporters saying that all the evidence was fabricated to frame the Lebanese Forces leader and put him in jail. As a result, Geagea spent 11 years in jail and was set free only when Syrian forces left Lebanon following mass protests and international pressure resulting from the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. If, on the other hand, Geagea is framed with a case of sedition, as Hezbollah is claiming, and the army is sent to Meerab where Geagea resides to arrest him, then this will spark a clash between the army and the Lebanese Forces. This might be what exactly Hezbollah needs to diffuse popular anger. People will no longer see Hezbollah as the enemy of law and order but the Lebanese Forces.
On the other hand, this can serve as a huge favor to Hezbollah’s ally, Gebran Bassil, who has seen his popularity plummet due to corruption charges and his unconditional alliance with Hezbollah. While people were cheering on Geagea, saying “No one protects the eastern part of Beirut except the Lebanese Forces,” if a confrontation sparks between the army and the Lebanese Forces, many will think twice about this claim. When Hezbollah was under pressure following the assassination of Hariri, as it was and still is a close ally of the Assad regime, the confrontation with Israel made people forget about those accusations, and Hezbollah emerged stronger, as the hero who was able to stand against Israel. Now that the port blast investigation — which Hezbollah wants so badly to shut down — is taking its course and is very unlikely to be stopped, an internal clash might be exactly what they need to create the necessary distraction. This will justify Nasrallah’s claim that the greatest threat to Christians in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its leader.
Nabil Halabi, a lawyer and a human rights activist in Lebanon, said in a tweet that the group will use the case of Tayouneh to pressure the judiciary into letting go of the port blast case. Though it might not take this path, it will be interesting to see how Hezbollah politically exploits the Tayouneh incident and the fact that some of its members lost their lives.
The army, as well as the international community, should be aware of all those factors and make sure there is no prosecution of the military members who were doing their job, that there is no confrontation between the Lebanese Forces and the army, and that no pressure is exerted on the judiciary to shut down the port blast investigation.
• Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliate scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.