June 30, 2005 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 230

Disarming Hizbullah: The Public Debate in Lebanon

June 30, 2005 | By H. Avraham*
Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 230

Since the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, there has been public debate in the Arab and international arenas, particularly in Lebanon, on the future of the Hizbullah organization in southern Lebanon, and on disarming it in accordance with Article 3 of the resolution, which calls for the "disbanding and disarmament of all the Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."

Forces in Lebanon are divided over whether the organization should be disarmed. Some Christian opposition members as well as some Lebanese columnists support disarming Hizbullah, arguing that Lebanon is no longer occupied and that there is no need for weapons that are not the property of the state. On the other hand, top Lebanese officials and opposition members, such as Socialist Progressive Party Chairman Walid Jumblatt, argue that Hizbullah's weapons protect Lebanon from Israeli aggression, and that any debate on disarmament must be strictly Lebanese, not the result of external pressure or intervention.

Backed by the Lebanese government, Hizbullah has rejected the call for disarmament, stating that Resolution 1559 resolution does not apply to it because it is a "resistance movement," not an armed militia. Hizbullah also threatened to fight anyone who tried to disarm it.

Syria, for its part, stressed that whether or not Hizbullah should be disarmed was an internal Lebanese matter, and that it had no intention of intervening. Nevertheless, Syrian government newspapers published attacks on those calling for disarmament.

The following are excerpts from articles and statements on the question of disarming Hizbullah.

Lebanese Christian Opposition Members: Disarm Hizbullah In Accordance with 1559

Following the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, various Lebanese politicians, particularly Christian opposition members, called for Hizbullah's disarmament. Jubran Tweini, editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar and a member of the Christian opposition group Qornat Shahwan Gathering, [1] told students that "[from the political standpoint,] Hizbullah frightens not only the Christian [citizens of Lebanon ] but also the Sunni, Druze, and Shiite [citizens]... As long as Hizbullah continues [to hold] that Lebanon can be transformed into an Islamic republic, it endangers Lebanese identity. It must talk to us openly about this matter in particular. There must be no weapons outside [the jurisdiction of] the State of Lebanon, and there must be no state within the state." [2]

Qornat Shahwan Gathering member Fares Sa'id was quoted in Al-Mustaqbal stating: "Hizbullah has undoubtedly contributed to the liberation [of southern Lebanon ], and it would be unjust of us to deny its sacrifices. Nevertheless, the decision about peace and war in Lebanon must be out of the hands of Hizbullah and in the hands of the Lebanese. [We have had] enough of one group in Lebanon deciding exclusively about matters such as war and peace. Hizbullah's future should be subject to internal Lebanese debate." He added: "Hizbullah's argument that these weapons should remain [in its hands] lacks all political basis, and cannot be defended either from within [Lebanon] or from without... The weapons must return to Lebanese legitimacy, and the Lebanese army must deploy its forces throughout the Lebanese lands." [3]

Leader of the oppositionist Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun was quoted by the Lebanese daily Al-Safir stating: "There cannot be a centralized state and another army parallel to [that] of this state." Aoun stressed that he could persuade Hizbullah to disarm in accordance with Resolution 1559 and with U.S. demands, and that talks on disarmament should start immediately after parliamentary elections. [4]

On another occasion, in an interview with the Egyptian English-language Al-Ahram Weekly on June 16-22, Aoun said:" …In order to be able to explore ways of dealing with Hizbullah's weapons, we have to understand what [its] endgame of remaining armed is, and then we can propose ideas that can preserve Hizbullah on the one hand and protect Lebanon on the other…. Defending Lebanon is not the exclusive responsibility of Hizbullah."

Explaining why disarming Hizbullah is an international matter, Aoun added: "The disarming of Hizbullah should go hand in hand with commitments from Israel made through the U.N.…. Disarming Hizbullah will require international input because even if it is a Lebanese issue, it will have major regional and international consequences."

With regard to why Hizbullah wants to remain armed, he said: "My reading from the party's rhetoric is that it wants to continue its struggle against Israel. But if most Arab countries are moving towards signing peace deals, we will be confronted with the issue once again."

He continued: "According to the Al-Taif accord, all Lebanese militias should disarm and Hizbullah was at that time one of those militias. It was not then classified as a resistance movement. None of the militias which existed then was excluded from this classification. Now we should redefine Hizbullah as a resistance movement and not as a militia, but we should define the limits of the resistance's activities… I believe we should have a continuous dialogue with Hizbullah and listen to what they have to say on all these thorny issues." [5]

Former Lebanese president Amin Al-Jumail told Lebanese daily Al-Nahar: "One of the first issues [to be dealt with] after the [Lebanese parliamentary] elections will be the dialogue with Hizbullah about the deployment of the [Lebanese] army in the South. When the army takes responsibility, disarming the [Hizbullah] movement will be inevitable." [6]

In an interview with the Lebanese English-language The Daily Star, Jumail's son, Phalange Party member Sami Al-Jumail, stated resolutely: "A civilized country is one with a single army. It has no militias and armed groups when it is at peace. Lebanon is no longer occupied; Israel withdrew its forces because of U.N. Resolution 425. Now we must let the Lebanese build their country in peace, and, for once, live a life of peace. Why must we always live in a state of war when we are no longer at war? If our goal is to liberate Palestine, that is another issue. Personally, I don't think this small country and some 10,000 armed Hizbullah men can liberate the Palestinians from occupation while 450 million Arabs are signing peace accords with Israel... This situation [and] these armed groups and militias are preventing us from building the country." [7]

Lebanese Columnists: "Liberating the Shab'a Farms" – A Weak Pretext

Some Lebanese columnists also called for disarming Hizbullah. Lebanese journalist Khairallah Khairallah harshly criticized Hizbullah policy, saying it was damaging to Lebanon: "One cannot ignore the fact that since [southern Lebanon] was liberated [from Israel], Hizbullah has maintained a policy... aimed at perpetuating Lebanon as an arena for regional struggle. [It does this] by insisting on keeping its weapons, under the pretext of liberating the Shab'a Farms – thereby bringing Lebanon into conflict with the international community.

"There is no need to reiterate that Israel occupied the Shab'a Farms in 1967, that they were under Syrian control at that time, and that [U.N.] Resolution 242 – which applied to the occupied Golan Heights – applied to them [the Shab'a Farms as well].

"The stage following the liberation of the South revealed the extent of Hizbullah's connection to an agenda unrelated to Lebanon. Sometimes this is a Syrian agenda; sometimes it is an Iranian [agenda], and often it is a Syro-Iranian [agenda]. Otherwise, what could explain [Hizbullah's] objection to the [Lebanese] army's being sent to southern Lebanon, to the cease-fire line with Israel – which is the line that the U.N. has stated corresponds to Resolution 425?...

"It is time to call a spade a spade. [It is] perhaps even time to recognize that, regrettably, Hizbullah cannot undergo fundamental change and become a political party like all other Lebanese parties. What is distressing, in light of all this, is that Hizbullah will not be the only loser in Lebanon if it continues to cling to its current position, [i.e.] refusing to move on to political activity following disarmament. The loser will be Lebanon – the country with no majority, merely groups of minorities that either win together or lose together." [8]

Lebanese journalist and intellectual Radhwan Al-Sayyed told the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "It is unnatural for the party [i.e. Hizbullah] to remain a small country within a country [Lebanon], to control an area within it, and to possess independent weapons superior to those of the Lebanese army – under the weak pretext of liberating the Shab'a Farms or defending Lebanon against possible Israeli attack...

"The negotiations conducted by [assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq] Al-Hariri before his death, which were revealed by [Hizbullah Secretary-General] Hassan Nasrallah, were clearly aimed at disarming Hizbullah non-violently and within a political framework, [either] during or after Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. But where is Al-Hariri now, to continue where he left off and to take care of what has been neglected?! One of his assassins' goals may have been to make [this] internal settlement difficult or impossible!" [9]

Lebanese Government: Hizbullah Defends Lebanon

The Lebanese government, as well as top Lebanese officials and other Lebanese columnists, rejected disarming Hizbullah, arguing that it is defending Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They said any discussion of this issue should be an internal Lebanese discussion, not an international one.

The current Lebanese government has espoused Hizbullah's claim that it is not a militia but a "resistance movement." In an announcement issued after the establishment of the government, the cabinet stated: "Lebanon's government believes that the Lebanese resistance and its arms are a loyal and natural expression of the Lebanese people's national right to defend its land and its honor against Israeli attacks, threats, and greed, in order to complete the liberation of Lebanese soil." [10]

Following a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Miqati said: "We believe that Hizbullah is not a militia but a resistance party, that has managed to expel the Israeli enemy from Lebanese soil through resistance. Some of the land is still occupied, and we await the liberation of all Lebanese soil... Hizbullah's disarmament will [be carried out] within the Lebanese framework." [11]

In an interview with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Miqati said: "We have no option today but dialogue, and finding the necessary solution that will satisfy most Lebanese. [This is] so that Hizbullah's weapons will not be directed against the Lebanese but against the Israeli enemy..." [12]

Similar views have been expressed by other Lebanese politicians and journalists. At a meeting of Al-Nabatiya Province's economic institutions and bureau of professional unions, Lebanese Parliamentary Chairman Nabih Beri said: "Let's not bury our heads in the sand and make the resistance and its weapons the topic of debate now, before a debate on the weapons of the aggression and the occupation. Lebanon must defend the South [both] officially and popularly. To this end, and taking into account Israel's wars against [Lebanon's] lands and the continuation of [Israel's] occupation and aggression, Lebanon should have established resistance organizations if none had existed, and, even more, [maintained] those [already in existence]…" [13]

In a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the liberation of southern Lebanon, opposition member and Socialist Progressive Party Chairman Walid Jumblatt told Lebanon's Al-Mustaqbal: "Any discussion of the issue of the weapons of the resistance, if it is essential, will only be in a context remote from the shady international resolutions, and with the aim of defending the homeland and strengthening its capabilities in any attack... Defending the resistance is defending memory, so that Lebanon will not be coerced into separate agreements with Israel that would undermine pan-Arab national security and constitute a prelude to the [Palestinian refugees'] naturalization [in Lebanon], and to capitulation." [14]

In an interview with Abu Dhabi TV, Jumblatt added: "There is only one way to deal with the issue of the weapons of the resistance, and that is through dialogue with Hizbullah, in order to determine together the fate of these weapons. [It must be] through dialogue and dialogue alone. If anybody within or outside Lebanon thinks that this issue should be dealt with by external intervention or by using the Lebanese army, he is crazy and stupid….. Afterwards, the practical [way to deal with the issue] will be by agreement with Hizbullah... The weapons of the resistance are meant to deter the Israelis, and later they will become part of the Lebanese army." [15] Elsewhere Jumblatt said: "Any discussion of the issue of [Hizbullah's] disarmament is irrelevant before Israel withdraws from the Shab'a Farms." [16]

During an elections convention in the village of Tibnit, Democratic Socialist Party Chairman Kamel Al-Assad, a Shiite, said that Resolution 1559 contains "a trap in the [call to] disarm the resistance and Hizbullah, and we will not agree to the resistance relinquishing its arms." [17]

Columnist Ali Fadhlallah wrote in the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Safir: "It is the right of the sovereign – in other words, the right of the state – to allow individuals or groups to carry arms and to use them for self-defense. This is set out in the laws of states and in the U.S. constitution... Why are there people who believe that reaching a mutual understanding with the international institutions and with some foreign countries is more important than the health and safety of the Lebanese in their own homeland? How can they so easily accept the eradication of part of Lebanon and of a group of Lebanese, merely to avoid violating a certain international resolution?

"The resolution calling to 'disarm the Lebanese militias' is mistaken as long as there is a constant aggressive onslaught by Israel... Why are some ashamed... of idolizing heroic, young, aspiring Lebanese who fought to protect their people and their nation? These young people are still organized. They know how to use weapons, and they have weapons... As long as there are no alternatives, why prevent them from defending their people against a very large military and security force with a history of aggression against them?" [18]

Journalist Ghaleb Abu Muslah wrote in Al-Safir: "Defending the resistance and ensuring its continuity and its escalation on all levels is the main mission in the near future for all national forces in Lebanon... The weapons of the resistance guarantee Lebanon's independence, freedom, and security. The weapons of the resistance are a cornerstone of Arab and regional security, not merely of Lebanese security, in confronting the American Zionist onslaught. Lebanon's security cannot be distinct from the security of the entire region. Removing the weapons of the resistance, or restraining it in any way or form, is removing the idea and path of the resistance." [19]

Hizbullah: We Are a Resistance Party, Not a Militia; We Will Fight Anybody Who Tries to Disarm Us

Hizbullah itself rejected the call for disarmament, claiming that U.N. Resolution 1559 does not apply to it because it is a resistance movement, not an armed militia. It said the movement would not relinquish its weapons as long as Lebanon was under threat by Israel.

In a statement to Reuters, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said: "Resolution 1559 requires the disbanding of the Lebanese militias. All right. We do not consider ourselves a militia, the Lebanese government does not consider us a militia, the parliament does not consider us a militia, and most of the Lebanese people do not consider us a militia. Therefore the resolution does not apply to us." On another occasion Nasrallah said Resolution 1559 "constitutes foreign intervention, with the encouragement of Israel, which wants to get rid of our weapons and of the resistance so that it can do whatever it likes." [20]

At a Hizbullah ceremony in the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jubail marking the fifth anniversary of the liberation of southern Lebanon, Nasrallah added: "There is talk of disarming the resistance. Any thought of disarming the resistance is pure madness. Of all the people in Lebanon, it is we who strive most for peace, stability, and national unity. We do not want to attack anyone. We have never done so, and we will never allow anyone to attack Lebanon. But if anyone, no matter who, even thinks about disarming the resistance, we will fight him like the martyrdom seekers of Karbala. This is because any such step is an Israeli act, and any hand reaching for the resistance's weapons is an Israeli hand – and we will chop it off. We are ready for discussion [on the basis of] the national interest, [but] under no circumstances will we agree to discussion in the Israeli framework."

Nasrallah said that during a conversation with Rafiq Al-Hariri a week before his assassination, the latter had expressed his opposition to the implementation of the Resolution 1559 article calling for disarmament. According to him, Al-Hariri had said: "I believe in this resistance, and I am telling you that if I become prime minister again I will not implement the [disarmament] article] of Resolution 1559. I swear to you that the resistance and its weapons will remain until the day a comprehensive regional settlement is reached, not just until withdrawal from the Shab'a Farms and the release of the prisoners... On that day, when that agreement is reached, I will sit with you and say: 'Sir, there is no further need for the resistance and its weapons.' If we agree [on this], that's what will be, and if we disagree, I swear to you and before Allah – and he swore in the name of his son Husam: 'I will not fight the resistance, and will not allow Lebanon to become an Algeria. I will resign and leave the country [before that happens].'" Nasrallah then added: "I call upon all those who loved the martyred prime minister, Rafiq Al-Hariri – this is his position, his will, and his commitment to us." [21]

In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, Nasrallah's deputy Sheikh Na'im Qassem referred to the Taif Agreement article that calls for disarming militias: "Lebanon implemented this article, and the weapons of all the militias have been removed. Hizbullah is not a militia but a [movement of] resistance to the [Israeli] occupation, [which] is cooperating with the Lebanese state. According to the Taif Agreement, it is the Lebanese state's right to regain its lands in any way, and this is one of the ways... That is why the article [of the resolution that concerns] militias has already been implemented, and the Hizbullah as a resistance [movement] is not connected to this article." [22] In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, he said: "These arms have always been directed against the Israeli enemy, and they have never, at any stage in the ethnic game, been used [to affect] the internal balance of power in Lebanon or for internal political gains. This has continued from the liberation [of southern Lebanon] to this day." [23]

Nawaf Al-Musawi, head of Hizbullah's foreign relations unit, told the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly: "We are not, under any circumstances, ready or prepared to give up what we consider a necessity for Lebanon's stability and security against Israel's continuous aggression. For us, it makes no sense to give up our arms at a time when Israel is amassing arms on the other side of the border." [24]

Al-Musawi cited two other main justifications for Hizbullah's refusal to disarm: "[Firstly,] the resistance is strong and draws its strength from its popular base. Secondly, the relationship between the party and the popular base of the blocs of both Al-Hariri and Jumblatt is also very strong. I believe that by striking these alliances we have managed to close the door to sectarian disputes. The Americans have been working hard to manipulate such sectarian disputes in order to target Hizbullah. Under no circumstances will we allow any force to use sectarian differences as a way to fuel tension in the country..."

Regarding Hizbullah's continued resistance after the end of the occupation of the Shab'a Farms, Al-Musawi added: "The chief mission of the resistance is to stand up to Israeli aggression, whether it is in the form of attacks or occupation. Even if the occupation [of the Shab'a Farms] ends, the attacks and aggression are still there. I believe that Lebanon remains subject to this aggression." Al-Musawi further said that according to the Taif Agreement, Hizbullah "reserves the right to take appropriate measures in the case of an attack on Syria."

He denied that Hizbullah poses a threat to the Lebanese Christians, saying: "Historically, [Hizbullah's weapons] have never been used against any Lebanese. When Israel withdrew on May 25, 2000, we dealt honorably with the traitors who used to work for the Israelis. There could have been massacres, but we chose to turn them over to the Lebanese courts."

Official Syrian Position: It's an Internal Lebanese Affair

Syria's official position is that Hizbullah's disarmament is "an internal Lebanese affair," and that Syria has no intention of intervening. In an interview with Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shar' said: "The disarming of the Hizbullah organization is a Lebanese affair." He added, "Resolution 1559 is part of the American onslaught designed to rearrange the map of the Middle East." [25] Similar statements were made by Syrian Ambassador to London Dr. Sami Al-Kheimi: "Disarming the resistance or the Palestinian camps is an internal Lebanese affair in which the Syrian government will not intervene." [26]

Syria's official position notwithstanding, Syrian government papers published attacks on those calling for disarming Hizbullah. Columnist Ahmad Dhawa wrote: "[Within the Lebanese opposition], accusations were exchanged, revealing the true positions of some Lebanese officials regarding sensitive issues – especially the issue of the resistance. The call by some in the opposition bloc for the resistance to willingly give up its weapons constitutes a clear rejection of ideas proposed by the resistance in efforts to find an agreed-upon solution. In addition, this call [for disarmament] constitutes a covert threat, [i.e.] that there are alternatives – especially the 'stick' of external [sanctions]... It is no secret that some opposition leaders are negotiating on the issue of [the future of] the resistance, and are gambling that they will rake in political profits..." [27]

In another column, Dhawa wrote that some MPs and political representatives "do not hesitate to talk openly in the name of the Lebanese people, and to say that Lebanon is still suffering from the burden of the continued resistance – even though there is no official or popular agreement on this... It would be appropriate for those who talk about the need to disband and disarm the resistance to link their proposals... with the necessity of Israel's also ceasing its continued aggression towards Lebanon – because the continuation of the resistance is linked to the continuation of these attacks." [28]

In an op-ed in the Syrian government daily Tishreen, columnist 'Isam Dari wrote: "Whoever reads Resolution [1559] objectively and wisely today will immediately notice that it is directed against the [very existence] and soul of the resistance, and against the steadfast stance of Lebanon and Syria... What is needed today is the disarming of Hizbullah, so that Lebanon will remain without resistance and without a solid wall to curb the treason and aggression towards Lebanon... I fear that those who support the raising of white flags are volunteering to deliver the final death blow to the resistance by disarming it under a weak pretext, so as to avoid violating the international legitimacy and its virulent Resolution 1559!!

"The national resistance has managed to prove that the resistance option is the only option able to get rid of the occupation, and that the only language to be used when talking to Israel is the language of resistance. Moreover, it has proven that white flags only lead those raising them to shame, defeat, and surrender – even if it is under the slogan of false peace." [29]

*Hanna Avraham is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] The Qornat Shahwan Gathering, consisting of Christian opposition parties and politicians, was founded in the spring of 2001 under the auspices of Maronite patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, following the Maronite Patriarchal Synod's demand for a redeployment of Syrian forces in advance of a full withdrawal from Lebanon.

[2] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 6, 2005.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 29, 2005.

[4] Al-Safir (Lebanon), April 15, 2005; see also MEMRI TV Clip No. 660,

[5] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), June 16-22, 2005.

[6] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 31, 2005.

[7] Daily Star (Lebanon), April 21, 2005.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 11, 2005.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 11, 2005.

[10] Al-Safir (Lebanon), April 23, 2005.

[11] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 8, 2005.

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 9, 2005.

[13] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 23, 2005.

[14] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 26, 2005.

[15] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), May 22, 2005.

[16], April 4, 2005.

[17] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 23, 2005.

[18] Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 17, 2005.

[19] Al-Safir (Lebanon), May 14, 2005.

[20] Al-Safir (Lebanon), April 20, 2005.

[21] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), May 26, 2005; see also MEMRI TV Clip No. 684:

[22] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 10, 2005.

[23] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), April 1, 2005.

[24] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), June 9, 2005.

[25] Akhbar Al-Sharq (Syria), March 22, 2005.

[26] Al-Hayat (London), April 29, 2005.

[27] Al-Thawra (Syria), May 3, 2005.

[28] Al-Thawra (Syria), April 29, 2005.

[29] Tishreen (Syria), May 25, 2005.

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