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Leonhardt van Efferink is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. For more information about his PhD, please check:
He holds Master’s degrees in Geopolitics, Territory and Security (King’s College London) and Financial Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam).
Lebanon has known a history of weak governments, foreign interference and porous borders. Not surprisingly, many analysts have claimed that Lebanon’s sovereignty is structurally weak. This article discusses Hezbollah’s role in that regard by applying four sovereignty concepts of Stephen Krasner: domestic, interdependency, Vatellian and international legal sovereignty.
This is the second part which addresses the emergence of Hezbollah, followed by an overview of its military, social and political roles in Lebanon. Part 1 briefly introduces a history of Lebanon's territory, people and political system, while part 3 consists of the conclusion and the literature list.
This article is based on my conference paper "How Hezbollah affects Lebanon’s sovereignty". A pdf file of the complete article is available on the PSA website:
Before putting the Hezbollah’s military, social and political roles into perspective, the foundation and aims of the organisation need explanation. Already before Hezbollah existed, the emancipation of the Shia community in Lebanon had been set in motion. In the 1960s, Musa al Sadr, an Iranian born Shia cleric, sought to develop religious autonomy and a political platform for the Shias (Mackey 2008). Subsequently, the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 led to the establishment of the Shia militia AMAL (Owen 2004).
Following the Iranian revolution (1979) and Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon, Islamist Shia clerics became increasingly influential in AMAL circles (Mackey 2008). This influence would eventually lead to the foundation of Hezbollah. Although officially founded in 1982, Hezbollah only became properly organised by the mid-1980s (Norton 2007).
Hezbollah’s primary aim is the establishment of Islamic rule in Lebanon (Saab 2008), as soon as the majority of the Lebanese citizens support this idea (Hamzeh 2004). Given Hezbollah’s past behaviour towards its opponents, Norton (1997) doubts whether the organisation will always abstain from using violence to reach its aims.
Another aim is the complete annihilation of Israel (Zisser 1997) as this country is deemed illegitimate. Furthermore, Hezbollah considers fighting against Israel a religious duty because Shias have been hardest hit by Israel’s aggression (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009) and Israel’s presumed threat to an Islamic order (Saab 2008).
The Shia community in areas that currently form Lebanon had already established ties with the Safavid Empire in Iran in the sixteenth century (Harris 2006). This partially explains Iran’s leading role in the creation of Hezbollah (Norton 2007). Harik (2005) argues that Iran’s generous financial support has been instrumental in all of Hezbollah’s achievements. Furthermore, Iran has a strong religious influence as Hezbollah recognises Imam Ali Khamenei as official leader of the Shia faith (Saab 2008).
Four geopolitical agents are instrumental in Hezbollah’s military role: Israel, Iran, Syria and the Lebanese army. Starting with Israel, this country became militarily active in Southern Lebanon in 1968 in response to Palestinian guerrilla activity aimed at Israel. In 1978, Israel attempted to defeat the Palestinian troops in South Lebanon by using massive firepower (Mackey 2008).In 1982 followed a full military invasion where Israel’s army occupied a large area and eventually reached Beirut (Stoessinger 2008). The invasion aimed at defeating the Palestinian guerrillas and limiting Syria’s influence (Stoessinger 2008). Israel’s distrust of Shias (Mackey 2008) and its cooperation with the Maronites (Zisser 1997) swiftly made the Shias become hostile towards Israel’s presence. Israel withdrew its troops from most Lebanese territory in 1985, but created a self-declared security zone in South Lebanon (Norton 1998).
Hezbollah’s military actions in the 1980s involved a guerrilla war against Israel, participating in the civil war (including occasional clashes with AMAL) and terrorist activities aimed at Western targets (Mackey 2008). The 1989 Taif Accord recognised Hezbollah as the legitimate organisation to fight against the Israeli occupation and allowed Hezbollah to keep its arms (Salem 1998). Hezbollah continued its guerrilla activities against Israel (Owen 2004), despite Israeli bombing raids and ground offensives in 1993 and 1996 (Mackey 2008). Mackey (2008, p. 176) relates Hezbollah’s resilience to "...the same advantageous conditions shared by all guerrilla organizations: a geographic base, local support, a decentralized military structure, mobility and tactics that included ambushed and hit-and-run attacks."
Israel ended its occupation of South Lebanon in 2000 under pressure from domestic public opinion. However, the Israeli army entered Lebanon’s territory again in 2006 to attack Hezbollah fighters and bomb Lebanese infrastructure and housing. Israel failed to stop the rocket attacks on Israel and defeat Hezbollah militarily. Its military activity in Lebanon in 2006 confirmed that Israel does not respect Lebanon’s sovereignty. If deemed necessary, Israel uses its military strength to control parts of Lebanon’s territory, air space and territorial waters, thereby eroding Lebanon’s Vatellian sovereignty. Israel’s continuous violations of Lebanon’s airspace in 2009, to gather intelligence (Daily Star 2009b), mean that Israel also limits Lebanon’s interdependence sovereignty.
The influence of Syria, whose army was present in Lebanon from 1976 until 2005 (Bennafla et al. 2007), has fluctuated over the years (Mansfield 2003). Syria has provided Hezbollah with arms and functioned as a conduit for Iran’s military equipment (Saab 2008), not being hindered by the porous border between Lebanon and Syria (United Nations Security Council 2009). Furthermore, Hezbollah’s control over Beirut’s international airport makes it very likely that Iranian planes have brought weapons to Lebanon (Saab 2008). Moreover, in November 2009, close to Cyprus, Israel seized a ship, travelling from Iran to Syria and carrying weapons for Hezbollah (Norell 2009). Iran also supports Hezbollah militarily through a small presence of its Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon (Stoessinger 2008). Iran’s and Syria’s military support to Hezbollah are an infringement of Lebanon’s interdependence sovereignty, because of illegal cross-border activities. Both countries also erode Vatellian sovereignty through their influence on Hezbollah’s military activity on Lebanon’s territory.
Lebanon’s army has never been capable of protecting the country as it was unable to define an enemy. Moreover, the business elite have always been able to prevent a comprehensive tax system that would enable the purchase of sophisticated military equipment (Hafez 2008). These factors support Hezbollah’s claim that its military force essential to Lebanon’s defence strategy, particularly since the organisation’s military power is stronger than that of the national army (Saab 2008). Hezbollah’s supremacy over the national army also follows from the army’s approval of the its strategy towards Israel (Hafez 2008) and the recent statement of its leader Hassan Nasrallah that the Lebanese army should cooperate with Hezbollah in its battle against Israel (BBC News 2009b).
Events in 2008 made clear that Hezbollah is willing to use its military power against other Lebanese communities for political gains. Hezbollah fighters showed their strength by temporary occupying West Beirut and a couple of other areas (Saab 2008). The violence was a protest against government plans to close down the central part of Hezbollah’s communication network and to dismiss the security manager of Beirut’s international airport, presumably a Hezbollah supporter. The government plans were not carried out (Saab 2008).
In 2006, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) received a mandate to disarm Hezbollah. Nonetheless, Hezbollah has managed to rebuild its military power since then (Norell 2009). The UN (2009, p.2) recently noted that "...the existence and activities of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias...challenge the need for the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces to exercise the monopoly on the use of force throughout Lebanon."
The decision to sanction the use of weapons by Hezbollah in the 1989 Taif Agreement makes it hard to assess the impact of Hezbollah’s army on domestic sovereignty. On the one hand, the State has used its authority to grant Hezbollah the right to maintain its military force, suggesting that sovereignty is not under threat. On the other hand, the national army has no authority whatsoever over Hezbollah’s military forces, pointing at an infringement by Hezbollah of domestic sovereignty. Hezbollah’s military showdown in 2008 that illegitimately interfered with democratic decision-making clearly eroded domestic sovereignty.
A weak infrastructure, related to a combination of weak local administrations and high priority on Beirut’s development (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009), provided Hezbollah with an opportunity to provide public goods in Shia areas (Harik 2005). Moreover, Hezbollah’s was not part of any clientelism network, forcing Hezbollah to supply social services to its supporters (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009). The provision of public goods and charity work has always played a vital role in Hezbollah’s strategy to establish an Islamist state in Lebanon (Saab 2008).
Hezbollah’s provision of social and public services is extraordinary in both scope and efficiency (Harik 2005). Hezbollah services include hospitals, education, low-cost housing, education, social security and infrastructural works (Harik 2005 and Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009). Flanigan and Abdel-Samad (2009) argue that the health and social services capacity of Hezbollah is far larger than that of the Lebanese state. Access to these services is however largely restricted to Hezbollah supporters.
Hezbollah’s social activities raise questions about domestic sovereignty. Providing public goods and social services are activities that theoretically belong to a national state. Accordingly, Hezbollah seems to limit domestic sovereignty. Nevertheless, since the Lebanese State was actually absent in the concerned regions before Hezbollah became active, how could Hezbollah possibly have a negative effect on non-existing authority? In this case, it may be more appropriate to say that Hezbollah’s social role is a reflection of limited domestic sovereignty rather than its cause.
Hezbollah decided to found a political party in 1990 (Zisser 1997), showing that the organisation had adapted its strategy to Lebanon’s political culture (Norton 1998). Iran had a decisive share in this decision (Saab 2008).
On the national level, Hezbollah has occupied 10 seats in parliament, compared to 12 seats for AMAL since the June 2009 elections (Psephos - Adam Carr's Election Archive 2009). Although the March 8 Alliance, comprising Hezbollah and its allies, held only 57 of the 128 parliamentary seats, it managed to obtain veto power over cabinet decisions. Moreover, the Alliance got hold of the Ministry of Telecommunications (Moubayed 2009) making it unlikely that the government will try to scale down Hezbollah’s immense communication network.
During its military presence in Lebanon (1976-2005), Syria had an enormous influence on Lebanese politics (Agnew 2005). The recent cabinet formation, where Syria supported the March 8 Alliance, illustrates Syria’s continued dominance in political affairs (BBC News 2009a). Syria and Saudi Arabia played a vital role in the eventual compromise between the March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Movement . These developments confirmed the view of Moubayed, (2009) who claims who claims that "[t]he complex world of Lebanese politics... has proven that regardless of parliamentary numbers, the country cannot be ruled without the consent of the Shias, who are overwhelmingly in favour of Hezbollah and its sister party, Amal."
The political influence of Iran and Syria is a clear infringement of Lebanon’s Vatellian sovereignty. However, Hezbollah’s national political activities do not limit Lebanon’s domestic sovereignty as Hezbollah conducts these activities in line with national legislation. It is however important to acknowledge that Hezbollah’s political position benefits from its military and social roles that do affect Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Syria further limits Lebanon’s sovereignty by its refusal to formally recognise Lebanon’s independence. This position stems from Syria’s resentment against "...the separation of Transjordan, Palestine, and Lebanon from what had been the prewar Turkish province of Syria..." (Alexander, 1957, p. 296). Accordingly, Lebanon has formally never enjoyed full international legal sovereignty, although most UN members have recognised Lebanon’s independence (Daily Star, 2009a). The establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria in 2009 makes clear that Syria is softening its stance in this regard (United Nations Security Council, 2009). Relevant for this analysis is the observation that Hezbollah’s activities have neither had a significant impact on Lebanon’s international legal sovereignty, nor provoked other geopolitical agents to do so.
On a local level, Hezbollah imposed Islamic rule in areas over which they ruled between 1982 and 1990 (Saab 2008). After becoming a political party, the results of municipal elections enabled Hezbollah to maintain an Islamic order in parts of Baalbek Valley, Beirut and South Lebanon. The 2004 local elections resulted in Hezbollah dominated local councils in 90% of all municipalities in the Bekaa Valley and 60% Southern Lebanon (Flanigan and Abdel-Samad 2009). Hamzeh (2004, p. 144) considers the municipalities with an Islamic order "autonomous enclaves".
The impact of Hezbollah’s implementation of local legislation that conflicts with national legislation seems ambiguous. The basis of the decision, where the Hezbollah (dominated) administration bases its authority upon the outcome of a nation-wide democratic process, points at respect for the sovereignty of the Lebanese State. The outcome of the decision, however, does not.
Part 1 briefly introduces a history of Lebanon's territory, people and political system, while part 3 consists of the conclusion and the literature list:
Leonhardt van Efferink, editor of EG, will be convening a Country Risk Analysis Summer School at Maastricht University in July/August:
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