Lebanon says it doesn't control Hezbollah
Lebanon says it doesn't control Hezbollah
By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer Thu Jul 13,
5:58 PM ET
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel has held Lebanese leaders
responsible for Hezbollah's capture of two soldiers,
but the government here says it has no real control
over the guerrillas and taking action to rein them
in could tear the country apart.
Wracked by divisions over relations with Syria, the
Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad
Saniora has yet to muster the political will, or the
courage, to disarm the guerrillas of the Shiite
Hezbollah, allowing them to continue to operate with
almost total autonomy in southern Lebanon.
Successive Lebanese governments have maintained that
replacing the guerrillas by Lebanese army troops would
be tantamount to offering Israel a free service
protecting its northern border from guerrilla attacks.
Many in Lebanon particularly opponents of its ally
Syria resent Hezbollah's free hand and feel that the
government should do more to assert its authority.
However, the dangers of taking on the group over its
arms and the state-within-state role it has assumed in
southern Lebanon carries serious risks.
"The 'state of Lebanon' held responsible by Israel for
yesterday's Hezbollah operation does not exist and may
never exist in the foreseeable future," wrote Sarkis
Naoum, political editor of the Beirut daily An-Nahar,
in a column Thursday.
"How can such a state exist when the war-and-peace
decision is not in its hands and its influence on the
Lebanese who have it, that's if indeed they have it,
is little or in fact nonexistent?"
Denouncing Hezbollah as a "group of terrorists,"
President Bush alluded to the weakness of the Lebanese
government in comments made in Germany on Thursday. He
said Israel had a right to defend itself, but also
expressed worries the Israeli assault could cause the
fall of Lebanon's anti-Syrian government.
"We're concerned about the fragile democracy in
Lebanon," he said.
The Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah is seen by
Lebanon's 1.2 million Shiite Muslims, the largest
single community among Lebanon's diverse 4 million
people, as the fruition of a long and painful journey
to empowerment, emerging from the fringes of a society
long dominated by Christians and Sunni Muslims to
become a power to be reckoned with in the last 30
With the name Hezbollah, or party of God, almost
synonymous now with Lebanese Shiites, any attempt to
disarm the organization or undermine its leverage in
the Shiite-dominated south and east of Lebanon could
firmly place Lebanon on the road to a second civil
war, with the Shiites sure to feel that others are
seeking to send them back to the political wilderness.
Disarming Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist
organization by the United States, was called for in a
U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in 2004, but
Lebanese authorities, perhaps with an eye on the
consequences of any unilateral action, have not
implemented it, trying instead to reach national
consensus on the issue.
Hezbollah's charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan
Nasrallah, has presented Lebanese leaders with a
blueprint for a strategic defense strategy. The
document, of which very little is known, remains on
the agenda of national reconciliation talks that have
made little progress since they started in March.
Still, the government has sought to distance itself
from Hezbollah's latest action, saying it did not know
in advance of the cross-border raid and doesn't
Anticipating the government's stance, Nasrallah served
it a warning Wednesday. "No one at home should act in
a way that encourages the enemy to escalate against
Lebanon," he told a news conference, adding that
Hezbollah had no intention to drag Lebanon or the
entire region to war.
Nasrallah, a cleric, has in the past used strong
language when touching on the question of disarmament,
recently warning that anyone who attempts to
unilaterally take away his guerrillas' arms would have
his arm cut off and eyes gauged.
Founded in 1982 with Iranian help, Hezbollah has
evolved from a secretive group linked to a series of
suicide bombings targeting U.S. installations in
Lebanon and the kidnapping of some 50 Westerners in
the 1980s. It later became a national resistance
movement, waging a war of attrition against Israeli
forces occupying a southern Lebanon border strip.
Faced with rising casualties, Israel withdrew its army
in 2000, ending a 22-year military presence there.
The withdrawal crowned Hezbollah as a heroic
organization seen by many Lebanese as a liberator that
won back territory without negotiations or
concessions. The group has since focused on charity
work in the south and the eastern Bekaa Valley,
operating schools, hospitals, dental clinics and
rebuilding roads and houses destroyed in fighting in
It continues to fight for a small, disputed border
area, the Chebaa Farms, through sporadic attacks in
the area. But its association with Syria, widely
blamed in Lebanon for the assassination last year of
former prime minister Rafik Harairi, has hurt its standing.