The Army, the Resistance, and the Myth of Lebanese Sovereignty

Picture taken at the October 17 revolution in Lebanon.

Article A of the preamble of the Lebanese constitution declares that Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country. The Lebanese population is put to sleep to tales of conspiracies aiming to take away this sovereignty. Warnings of wideranging Zionist, Masonist, Islamist, Christian Supremacist, Saudi, Syrian, Iranian, Russian, American, French, Qatari, Turkish, and even Tuscan conspiracies fill  airwaves and conversations. Yet if one truly wants to see the threats facing Lebanese sovereignty one does not have to look farther than the two primary defensive forces of the nation.

The Army, the People, and the Resistance has long surpassed being a mere mantra and has become the de facto defensive policy of the state. But through the same process that has allowed for this formula to become a ground-level reality, Lebanesese sovereignty has also been allowed to erode as the army and the resistance were slowly transformed into non-sovereign entities.

The Lebanese army is known to be reliant on military aid from the United States for a good portion of its operational spending, and the Trump administration has made no secret of its admiration for Israel and its indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Through the powers of sanctions and threats of halted funding, the Trump administration has been successful in exerting its influence on the Lebanese state. The release of notorious war criminal Amer Fakhoury and Trump’s subsequent thanks to the Lebanese government for its cooperation on the matter shows the extent of the United States’ influence in state matters. 

Since 2006, the US has pledged $1.7 billion to the Lebanese Armed Forces and it has also made itself one of the army’s primary arms suppliers. The United States sees funding the Lebanese army as part of its grander proxy war against Iran and Hezbollah and, with increasingly harsh economic conditions potentially affecting the military budget, the army’s reliance on US funding is expected to increase.

Despite its significance to US foreign policy, military aid to Lebanon has been a bone of contention for Israel for a while now with November 2019’s $105m aid suspension potentially linked to Israeli lobbying and Israeli officials repeatedly attempting to put restrictions on how this aid should be distributed. This leaves the army, for all intents and purposes, powerless to stop the barrage of Israeli violations out of fear of the United States’ retaliation. To illustrate, the Lebanese army and its military and civilian commanders have shown themselves to be very reluctant to stem Israel’s constant encroachments which in 2018 saw it violate Lebanese airspace 550 times in less than four months.

The Lebanese army seems to have forfeited its responsibility to perform as basic a task as defending national sovereignty due to its financial dependency on the United States, or, more realistically, the promise of financial assistance. The army has also effectively ensured that while it remains in this partnership with the US, it will never realistically be allowed to build up an armed force capable of effectively fighting Israel.

These doubts that surround the Lebanese army’s abilities have created an environment in which a force such as Hezbollah can continue to justify their need to be armed to defend Lebanese sovereignty. However, their mere existence destroys the concept of Lebanese sovereignty.

The Resistance pre-dates the existence of Hezbollah and is in theory a multifaceted alliance struggling for the liberation of Lebanon and, depending on who you ask, Palestine from Israeli occupation. In practice however, and especially after the liberation of the south in 2000, Hezbollah has almost completely monopolised the cause and turned the name into a synonym for its organisation. While one cannot discredit the effective role Hezbollah played in the resistance pre-liberation, one can argue that it has deviated from and distorted its original mission statement.

The original mission statement of the resistance is hard to trace at this point. Whether the goal of this resistance is to liberate just Lebanon or also Palestine or something even bigger remains up for debate. The multitude of actors that have been part  or claimed the mantle of the resistance make it impossible to formulate a unified goal for the movement. Initially Hezbollah, as part of this resistance, declared three objectives as part of its open letter from 1985 (translated):

  1. to expel the Americans, the French and their allies definitely from Lebanon, putting an end to any colonialist entity on our land;
  2. to submit the Phalanges to a just power and bring them all to justice for the crimes they have perpetrated against Muslims and Christians
  3. to permit all the sons of our people to determine their future and to choose in all the liberty the form of government they desire. We call upon all of them to pick the option of Islamic government which, alone, is capable of guaranteeing justice and liberty for all. Only an Islamic regime can stop any further tentative attempts of imperialistic infiltration into our country.

After the liberation of the South in 2000, the need to ensure the continued existence of Hezbollah as an armed entity seemingly began to supersede its original goals. Hezbollah’s manifesto was updated in 2009 to reflect the new realities of the group. This update, while omitting the open letter’s numerous pledges to the Islamic Revolution then-led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamanei, created a more permanent basis and structure for Hezbollah. The manifesto devotes its first article to a condemnation of American and western hegemony. The article ends by stating that American imperialism has left the nations and peoples of the umma no choice but to resist.  Its second article emphasises the achievements of the resistance in Lebanon in liberation and in the 2006 July War and its commitment to participate in the defence and protection of the territory and people. Hezbollah also declares several other commitments such as to the Palestenian cause, the liberation of Jerusalem, and Islamist visions. But, away from the politics and practicality of it all, what this manifesto clearly sets out to say is that Hezbollah believes it is a permanently armed force and one whose struggle extends beyond the initial goals of the 1985 open letter.

 Whether this is in harmony with the intentions behind the foundation of the resistance is up for question. The fact that Hezbollah often emphasises the liberation of the Shebaa Farms, Kfarchouba, and Ghajar in its messaging post-2000 suggests that it recognises the independence of the liberation of Lebanon from that of Palestine and the legitimacy Lebanese liberation provides. However, in a bid to stem the ambiguities and discussions on the topic of its continued armament, Hezbollah did not work to clarify its intentions but instead moved to create, through a combination of arms and politics, a de facto legitimacy for itself.

 This led to Hezbollah taking a more active role in domestic politics in an attempt to solidify its position and establish a political status quo friendly to its organisation. This in turn led to infamous events such as its armed mobilisation onto the streets of Beirut on the 7th of May 2008 and its participation in numerous anti-revolutionary campaigns after the 17th of October 2019. The latter provides an interesting insight into the priorities of Hezbollah as the self-proclaimed leftist group worked very hard to ensure Saad El Hariri, and the economically liberal status quo he represented, remained in power after the protests erupted.

Hezbollah has also taken a bigger role in regional affairs; fighting alongside and assisting its main ally and supplier Iran in countries such as Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. The latter example again proves to be the most insightful as Hezbollah’s unequivocal support for the Assad regime and its widespread oppression, numerous chemical weapon massacres, and multitude of other war crimes in Syria once again displayed where Hezbollah’s priorities lay. Despite the many roaring speeches that Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has unleashed warning of an American-Zionist conspiracy to take over Syria and the oppression their imperialism would create, Hezbollah itself has played a strong role in ensuring the continued existence of a criminal and oppressive regime in Syria in the name of geopolitical interest. 

Hezbollah advocates a binary world view where you can either be a supporter of the resistance or a foreign agent. It uses this argument to justify almost all its actions; from its involvement in the Iran-Saudi-US-Israeli proxy war to its crackdown on protest movements at home. Yet the evolution of Hezbollah into a shadow state that participates in regional and even global conflict is in itself a grand betrayal of the original purpose of the resistance. Using the unblasphemable mantra of liberation which is nothing more than a means of ensuring its continued existence, Hezbollah has taken the cause of the resistance hostage and become a state-recognised Iranian-backed militia that is a force of popular oppression.

Stuck between the claws of American and Iranian imperialism, The People, who are the true representation of the state and sovereignty, have had their demands and desires dismissed and their existence turned into a mere chess piece in the never-ending game of global conflict.

This shift from the interest of the people being the primary motivator for the actions of the army and the resistance to the interest of foreign actors virtually marks the end of Lebanese sovereignty. A state cannot claim to be sovereign while it capitulates to the United States from one side and to a militia from another. Sovereignty is not only imaginary lines drawn up on maps, it is the authority a state possesses to self-govern. The golden formula revered as the defensive savior of the nation no longer reads as the Army, the People, and the Resistance but as the Army, the Resistance, and the Geopolitical Interests. This substitution negates and nullifies any possible existence of Lebanese sovereignty and no amount of ground to air missiles can change that. 

So for how long can the Lebanese state continue to advocate the myth of Lebanese sovereignty? For how long can it prioritise the demands of foreign actors over that of its people? For how long can it claim to possess national and popular legitimacy? For how long can it falsely accuse protests of treason and threatening sovereignty when they demand the most basic of rights? For how long can a non-sovereign state last? 

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