Putting Lebanon Together

Today’s crisis in Lebanon is a crisis of the Lebanese state. It is this structural crisis that must be addressed if the violence is to stop.

When Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, the international understanding was that the Lebanese government would re-assert its authority in the evacuated area. Hezbollah, which led the armed struggle against Israeli occupation, was to disarm and re-invent itself as a political force, representing the Shiite community that was historically marginalized by Lebanon’s ruling Maronite, Sunni, and Druze elites.

None of this happened. Instead of deploying its forces in southern Lebanon, the weak government in Beirut acquiesced in Hezbollah’s determination to turn the area into a staging ground for attacks against Israel. Over the last six years, Hezbollah established a virtual state-within-a-state: its militia became the only military force in southern Lebanon, setting up outposts along the frontier with Israel, sometimes only a few meters away from the border. Occasionally, Hezbollah shelled Israel, and its leader, Hassan Nassrallah, continued his blood-curdling invective, not only against Israel and Zionism, but against all Jews.

UN Security Council resolution 1559, which explicitly called for the disarming of all militias and the reassertion of Lebanese government authority in the south, went unheeded. After the much-heralded “Cedar Revolution” of 2005, Hezbollah even joined the Lebanese government, while at the same time maintaining its armed militia and control of the south.