Thursday, April 8, 2010

Born-again “resister”.


by  Tony Badran


Walid Jumblatt returned from his long-awaited visit to Syria last week a born-again "resister." Completing the retreat from his previously-held positions, Jumblatt has adopted wholesale the Syrian and Hezbollah line on "supporting the Resistance." The Druze leader faces potentially damning consequences if a new war breaks out between Hezbollah and Israel.


Well before Jumblatt went to Damascus, Syria had repeatedly made clear what would be expected of him with regard to Hezbollah. Indeed, upon his return, Jumblatt dutifully reported that he and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had "drawn a political diagram for the future that begins with supporting the Resistance and protecting the Resistance in defending Lebanon and in the continuation of the liberation process."


Jumblatt started adjusting his approach to Hezbollah after the clashes of May 2008, and increasingly so after parliamentary elections last June. He dropped his support for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. Yet Jumblatt tried to balance this by backing Resolution 1701, which recalls Resolution 1559, and continuing to voice a desire to revive the Israel-Lebanon Armistice Agreement of 1949 (also mentioned in Resolution 1701), though not a peace treaty. He also repeated a general appeal for the eventual integration of Hezbollah into the Lebanese army.


This was not good enough for the Syrians. Sure enough, Jumblatt's "political diagram" dropped all reference to Resolution 1701, the Armistice Agreement and Lebanese state authority. Since last year, the Druze leader has also expressed unease with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon by implying that it might indict Hezbollah members. Given that Jumblatt's visit to Damascus was orchestrated by Hezbollah, this was not surprising.


In fact, Jumblatt repeated two key formulations from Hezbollah's lexicon, namely "the Resistance defending Lebanon" and "continuation of the liberation process." These phrases tying the "Resistance" to "defense" and "liberation" were first laid down by Hezbollah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech delivered on May 26, 2008. Nasrallah at the time declared that Lebanon needed not only a "defense strategy" (of course, the exclusive realm of Hezbollah), but also a "liberation strategy" based on "resistance," not on diplomacy and negotiations.


What does Jumblatt's new course of action mean in operational terms? We can only make an educated guess. However, an interesting item appeared in the Kuwaiti daily As-Seyassah ahead of Jumblatt's meeting with Assad. Citing "informed sources," the newspaper claimed that one of the conditions Jumblatt would have to face was allowing Hezbollah fighters to position themselves on the summits of the Barouk Mountain, which they tried unsuccessfully to take by force during the fighting in May 2008. The paper speculated that Hezbollah intended to place anti-aircraft units there, as well as on Mount Sannine, for use in a conflict with Israel.


Such claims, whatever their veracity, are not new. Following the July War in 2006, Hezbollah's military assets south of the Litani River were by many accounts dispersed north. There have been unconfirmed reports going as far back as summer 2008 of Hezbollah setting up positions on Mount Sannine – allegedly to prepare early warning equipment. Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel made statements to that effect after individuals driving in the area were detained by Hezbollah militants.


What was abundantly clear in the May 2008 fighting was that Hezbollah sought to secure strategic points and communication routes linking its strongholds in southern Lebanon to its new fortifications in the Bekaa Valley, which meant guaranteeing access through Jumblatt's fiefdom in the mountains, where the Barouk overlooks the Bekaa. Moreover, in the event of a domestic conflict, by controlling the heights of the Chouf and Metn regions and gaining access to the coastal road through the mountains of Jbeil, where a friendly Shia community resides, Hezbollah could link predominantly Shia enclaves, breaking them out of their isolation, and surround the main areas of concentration of other Lebanese communities.


Jumblatt always understood the implications of this, and in summer 2009 he relayed to Progressive Socialist Party cadres his concerns over a future war between Hezbollah and Israel and its domestic ramifications. He expected that Hezbollah would "need to expand to areas where it doesn't have a presence in order to protect is political existence." Jumblatt added that "this requires us to deal with flexibility and openness, moving on from the problems that arose from this during the July 2006 aggression."


It's unclear whether Hezbollah would restrict its presence to the Barouk mountaintop, or whether it would deem it necessary to make logistic use of Druze villages that it assaulted two years ago. This, of course, would expose these villages to massive devastation by the Israel Air Force, which could provoke entirely new dynamics inside Lebanon.


Jumblatt's perennial concern is the protection of his community. It is for that reason that he called for a ceasefire in May 2008 and moved, much to the displeasure of many of his followers, to "reconcile" with Hezbollah and Syria. Ironically, the price he pays might take the Druze out of the frying pan of Hezbollah's guns into the fire of Israeli retaliation. Jumblatt will have to deploy all his skills to avoid the worst if war comes.



Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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