For the past two days, their troops have been moving through Beirut’s neighbourhoods, overtaking positions held by Saad Hariri’s Future Movement men. Walid Jumblatt’s PSP militia has been a harder nut to crack, but crack it will.
Life in the heat of battle was new to the younger generation, for whom the reactions ranged from disbelief to fear. But the actual fighting was nothing new to older people, and reactivated dormant memories of the past.
The battle was similar to Hezbo’s intifada against the Lebanese army in the 80s, when scores of well-coordinated Hezbo troops were able to overtake Beirut’s southern suburbs. The army’s battle-hardened troops were able to maintain strongholds back then, although many had switched sides to their sectarian allegiance. Perhaps Lebanon’s army chief General Suleiman is fearful of such a similar break-up, as he apparently refused to follow the government’s order to impose a state of emergency and curfew.
Perhaps he is concerned about the rumored 300 Iranian Pasdaran that had just landed in Beirut Airport the day it was being closed. More likely, he has little real control over the army, much infiltrated by Hezbo. Facing a foe like Hezbo that had just presumably defeated Israel – the once most powerful force in the region, Suleiman may have preferred not to find out the extent of this infiltration.
It should be noted this battle is different from what happened in the 1980’s in several key aspects, and victories would not achieve much. In fact, there would be major consequences to Hezbo if they achieve victory.
First, in crass sectarian terms, such a victory would represent a Shiite takeover of a Sunni city. The Sunni Mufti of Beirut has already warned of the consequences of such an act. Gone are the days when the assassination of Hassan Khaled could easily cow a population into submission. With Rafic Hariri, Beirutis have tasted greatness, and far too many will forget its sweet taste and contend with Hezbollah’s sour grapes. In his speech yesterday, Nasrallah tried to paint the battle as one against Jumblatt, but everybody saw it as a war against Sunnis.
Second, in political terms, it is a victory that will have essentially destroyed the last shreds of Lebanon as a state. All Nasrallah’s eloquence will not hide the fact that Hezb has become no different from the Syrian army of old: an arrogant occupier with a birthright complex. The presidency will remain vacant even if the seat is filled; General Suleiman has proven himself to be unworthy of the presidency he has been longing after.
Third, in simple economic terms, Hezbo is taking over an economy they are ill-equipped to control. When the parasite takes over the host, it kills the host and dies with it. While the thugs were taking over their positions, people were changing their Lebanese liras back to dollars.
Finally, in simple national terms, the defeat of the government would represent a defeat of the UN. With no chance of being implemented, UN resolution 1559 will wither away and Hezbo will keep their cherished weapons. But Resolution 1559 is now part of 1701, which also links the resolution to the armistice agreement with Israel and, more importantly, to Lebanon’s border demarcation. So Nasrallah will get to keep his weapons, and the Israelis will get to “redefine” the border.
As a result, we Lebanese may end up with a resistance without a people, an economy, or a land.
What are we fighting about, then?
* Jeha lives in Beirut and blogs at Jeha’s Nail. He refers to Hezbollah as “Hezbo” because he doesn’t believe in a “Party of God.”