Disarming Hezbollah

Advancing Regional Stability

Courtesy Reuters

On November 9, some five months after Lebanon's parliamentary elections, the country's two main political blocs finally formed a governing cabinet. Until then, negotiations between the two -- Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Western-backed coalition and the powerful opposition led by Hezbollah -- had been deadlocked over several issues, including Hezbollah's disarmament. One month after reaching the deal, the government adopted a bill allowing Hezbollah to keep its weapons. The Hezbollah bloc controls 10 out of 30 cabinet seats in the new government, which means that many are pessimistic about Lebanon's future prospects.

Hezbollah is one of the best equipped and most capable militant groups in the world. Its decades-long resistance against Israel served it well, winning it favor among Lebanon's Shia Muslims, who constitute about 40 percent of the population. Although Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah has partially transitioned to a political party, Hezbollah leaders remain resolutely anti-Israel for reasons of principle and pragmatism. Meanwhile, its charitable programs and community involvement have further reinforced its domestic credibility.

This situation is not stable. In 2006, for example, even though the Lebanese government never declared war, Hezbollah used its large weapons stockpile to fight Israel for over a month. And in May 2008, when then Prime Minister Fouad Siniora moved to shut down Hezbollah's communications network, the group responded by seizing much of Beirut, which triggered fears of renewed civil war. To end the confrontation, Hezbollah was granted veto power in the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah leaders no doubt understood this as affirming their right to keep their weapons. The absence of further discussions on disarmament in the cabinet has only strengthened this view. But as long as it is robustly armed, Hezbollah not only poses a threat to Israel but also to Lebanon.

Although Lebanese parliamentarians have so far been unable or unwilling to compel Hezbollah to give up its arsenal, other parties have been trying. Last June, six months of behind-the-scenes disarmament discussions culminated in a meeting between Frances Guy, the United Kingdom's ambassador to

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