March 11, 2015 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1147

Lebanese Elements Furious Over Hizbullah's Activity In Golan, Shebaa Farms, Critical Of Nasrallah's Statements About Uniting Lebanese, Syrian Resistance Fronts

March 11, 2015 | By E. B. Picali*
Lebanon, Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1147


Senior Lebanese politicians from the Lebanese March 14 Forces, chief among them former Lebanese prime minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, as well as press columnists and writers affiliated with this stream, have recently renewed their criticism against Hizbullah and its activity in Syria and the Golan. This new wave of criticism was sparked by the military escalation in the Golan and on the Lebanon-Israel border,[1] and also by Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah's recent statements regarding a change in the rules of the struggle with Israel and about uniting the South Lebanon and Golan fronts.[2] The critics accused Hizbullah, inter alia, of being loyal to Iran and the resistance axis rather than to Lebanon, of harming the state's authority and sovereignty and putting Lebanon at risk of another unwanted war, and of violating UNSC Resolution 1701, which bans all armed activity south of the Litani except by the Lebanese military.

At the same time, elements close to the March 14 Forces also directed internal criticism at the Al-Mustaqbal faction, which heads this camp. They accused it of ambivalence in its dealings with Hizbullah, pointing out that, on the one hand, Al-Mustaqbal condemns Hizbullah for its refusal to disarm, for its presence in Syria, and for attacking Israel from South Lebanon, but at the same time it sits with Hizbullah in a unity government and even holds a dialogue with it, thereby implicitly legitimizing its armed activity and its policies.

This report reviews the recent criticism in Lebanon against Hizbullah, and against Al-Mustaqbal for its attitude towards this organization.

A. Criticism Of Hizbullah

Criticism of Hizbullah's involvement in Syria was heard from senior members of the March 14 Forces, including Sa'd Al-Hariri, and from columnists and writers in the Lebanese press which are affiliated with this stream.

Al-Hariri: Hizbullah's Involvement In Syria Is Lunacy

Al-Mustaqbal chairman and former Lebanese prime minister Sa'd Al-Hariri came out against making Lebanon part of the resistance axis along with the Syrian regime, Iran and Hizbullah. In a February 14, 2015 speech marking the 10th anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafiq Al-Hariri, he said: "As for the repeated claims that Lebanon is part of an axis that stretches from Iran to Palestine through Syria and Lebanon, we say that Lebanon is not part of this axis or of any other axis. Most of the Lebanese people say no to this axis and to any other axis. Lebanon is not a bargaining chip in anyone's hand, and the Lebanese are not goods to be placed on anyone's table... We shall not grant Hizbullah any rights that give it precedence over the state in taking decisions of war and peace - [decisions] that transform Lebanon into a military and security arena and make a laughingstock of the state's capabilities and of the lives of the Lebanese in order to save the Syrian regime and defend Iranian interests... In the past we said to Hizbullah: Entering the Syrian war is lunacy in itself. It has brought the terrorist insanity into our country. Today we say to it that connecting the Golan [front] with the South [of Lebanon] is also lunacy, and another reason for us to say to it: get out of Syria. Stop importing Syrian conflagrations into our country, first a terrorist conflagration, then a conflagration from the Golan, and tomorrow a conflagration from who knows where."[3]<![]-->

Sa'd Al-Hariri speaking on the 10th anniversary of the assassination of his father (Al-Liwa, Lebanon, February 19, 2015)

On January 15, 2015, the day Nasrallah declared that Hizbullah had the right to respond to any Israeli operation in Syria, the Al-Mustaqbal daily, which is owned by Al-Hariri, called Nasrallah's statements "grave" and "unprecedented" and said that they "expose Lebanon to additional immense and fatal dangers [only] in order to protect Bashar Al-Assad and his criminal regime." The paper added that "the clear meaning of Nasrallah's words is that his party's weapons are not Lebanese and are not intended for Lebanon's defense. Rather, they are regional weapons that belong to Iran and Assad... and are used according to the interests of their owners, not according to the supreme national interests [of Lebanon]."[4]  

On January 29, one day after Hizbullah's attack in the Shebaa Farms area, the paper expressed even harsher criticism: "From the Syrian Golan to the Lebanese south, all roads lead to Iran's aspirations... Yesterday Hizbullah had no choice but to obey Tehran's order... to avenge the death of [the Iranian] general from the Lebanese front... Hizbullah's role was just to form the Quneitra Martyrs' Unit [which carried out the attack] and to press the trigger, shooting at an Israeli military convoy in the Shebaa Farms [area]."[5] A statement issued by Al-Mustaqbal on January 28 said: "The security of Lebanon and wellbeing of the Lebanese must be the supreme consideration of all parties in Lebanon." [6]

Other Lebanese Officials: Hizbullah Has Usurped The State's Prerogative To Take Decisions Of War And Peace

Lebanese officials claimed that Hizbullah had appropriated the prerogative to take crucial decisions, such as decisions on war and peace, behind the government's back and without considering the opinion of large parts of the Lebanese people. Samir Geagea, head of the  Lebanese Forces party, which is part of the March 14 Forces, said at a January 29 press conference: "How come Hizbullah allows itself to take military and security decisions that the Lebanese do not agree on and which could have far-reaching  implications for Lebanon?... We must be blunt and say that Hizbullah has no right to embroil the Lebanese people in a conflict with Israel."[7]

Similar criticism was heard from the head of the Al-Mustaqbal party and former Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Al-Siniora. One day after Nasrallah's speech in which he said that Hizbullah did not recognize any rules in the conflict with Israel and would respond whenever and wherever it saw fit, Al-Siniora said: "We are [all] partners in this country with equal rights and duties, and it is neither acceptable nor permissible for anyone to appropriate [rights and duties] for himself... What [Nasrallah] said yesterday showed no respect the will of the Lebanese people. It did not [respect] the logic of coexistence or human rights, but attempted to impose the logic of weapons, violence and hegemony. [Our] experience in Lebanon shows that whoever takes this path ends up failing and harming himself and others and inflicting more damage upon Lebanon and the Lebanese."[8] MP Ahmad Fatfat, also from Al-Mustaqbal, told the Lebanese OTV channel: "Hizbullah has again messed with Lebanon's sovereignty and security without the permission of the state."[9]

On February 1, 2015, Mt. Lebanon mufti Sheikh Muhammad 'Ali Al-Jozo, who is a known opponent of Hizbullah, said: "We oppose Iran turning Lebanon into its own arena that it can use as it pleases, and turning its people into hostages who act according to its interests. Lebanon is not just Hizbullah and it does not belong to any single sect. It is an independent state with its own essence and its own people, not a province of Iran... What will be the result if we enter into a new war with Israel and South [Lebanon] is destroyed again[?] Is it not enough, what Iran has done in Syria, Iraq and Yemen? Does it also want to destroy Lebanon all over again?"[10]

Lebanese Columnists: Hizbullah, Complying With Iran's Orders And Interests, Is Risking An Unwanted War With Israel

Columnists and writers also stressed that Hizbullah's actions and policies did not serve Lebanon's national interests but rather those of Iran, the Syrian regime and the resistance axis, and could drag Lebanon, against its will, into a destructive war with Israel. Al-Mustaqbal columnist 'Ali Noun wrote on January 29, 2015: "[Hizbullah's] resistance has one prominent unique characteristic: it has become a sacred icon in its own right... All national resistance comes to serve the homeland and its people, except [in this case. Here] it is the homeland and the people that serve the resistance."[11]

Lebanese columnist Renda Taqi Al-Din wrote in the London daily Al-Hayat: "Hizbullah's entrance into the quagmire of Iran's and Assad's war against the Syrian people poses a great danger to all of Lebanon - Christians, Sunnis, Shi'ites and Druze [alike]. Hizbullah cannot defend Assad's regime and at the same time carry out its so-called resistance in Lebanon. True, it managed to defeat Israel in 2006, but [the cost was that] Israel destroyed Lebanon. Hizbullah's drunken [euphoria] over its victory had better abate, because the homeland is in danger, and it must not be dragged into another destructive battle arena, as is happening to Syria. Is it not time for Hizbullah to withdraw from the fighting in Syria, which increases the burden upon [this organization] and its young warriors, who are killed by Israel?... Common sense and loyalty to Lebanon say that Hizbullah should withdraw from Syria. But [Hizbullah's] ally Iran, Mr. Barack Obama's new friend, does not want this, because it needs these bargaining chips [for its dealings] in the bazaar of the international arena."[12] 

Prominent Lebanese journalist May Chidiac, who is affiliated with the March 14 Forces, wrote on her Facebook page on January 19: "Many believe that what happened in Quneitra surely heralds a turning point in the open confrontation between Hizbullah and Israel. They say it will [now] be a direct and unprecedented conflict on Syrian soil between the resistance and its representatives and Israeli enemy and its representatives... Now it is our turn to ask: Will this direct confrontation be confined to Syria, or will its sparks fly into Lebanon, forcing the entire Lebanese people to pay a price they do not wish to pay? Allah save us! When will we wake up?"[13] 

May Chidiac's Facebook post

Hizbullah Is Violating UN Resolution 1701

Another accusation directed at Hizbullah was that its attack on the IDF force near Shebaa, and its declaration that the rules of the conflict with Israel had changed, were a clear violation of UN Resolution 1701, which forbids the presence of any armed forces south of the Litani except the Lebanese military. March 14 Forces secretary-general Fares Sa'id called Hizbullah's attack "a miscalculated escapade and a violation of Resolution 1701,"[14] and a statement issued by the Al-Mustaqbal party called Nasrallah's statements "a unilateral renouncement... of international resolutions, in particular Resolution 1701."[15]

Conversely, two Al-Mustaqbal officials who are known to be more lenient towards Hizbullah adopted this organization claim that its operation against Israel was legitimate because the Shebaa Farms area is occupied Lebanese territory.[16] These officials were Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who said that "the [Shebaa Farms] operation was legitimate and was carried out on occupied Lebanese soil," [17] and Foreign Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who said that Resolution 1701 and the so-called  blue line were irrelevant to this operation, and that "no Lebanese would relinquish the liberation of the Shebaa Farms." [18]

The March 14 Forces secretariat, headed by a representative of Al-Mustaqbal, tried to sidestep this controversy. In a January 29 statement, it said: "What happened transcends the legal debate about whether or not Hizbullah has the right to fight for disputed territory and all the technical talk about the 'blue line.' It goes to the heart of the question that the Lebanese have been asking themselves since 1969, namely who takes decisions about war and peace in Lebanon? Should the state be the exclusive sovereign body or not? And are the interests of the Lebanese, their livelihood, their economy and their security subjugated to the calculations of Iran, Syria and Israel?"[19]  

B. Criticism Of Al-Mustaqbal, The Government And The Media: They Are Backing Hizbullah's Presence In Syria

Other voices associated with the March 14 Forces criticized not only Hizbullah but also the Al-Mustaqbal stream itself and the government it heads. These voices, including columnists for the daily Al-Nahar, condemned Al-Mustaqbal for sitting in a unity government with Hizbullah and even conducting a dialogue with it while Hizbullah does as it pleases without consulting the government or the Al-Mustaqbal stream at all, and without the latter holding Hizbullah accountable for its actions.

Among these critics was Sabine Oueiss, a columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, who rebuked Al-Mustaqbal for opposing Hizbullah's policy in Syria, the Golan and South Lebanon while at the same time sitting with Hizbullah in the government and maintaining a dialogue with it outside the government.[20] She wrote: "[What] is the use of a coalition government [including both Hizbullah and Al-Mustaqbal] if Hizbullah insists on exclusively taking decisions on war and peace that affect Lebanon and the Lebanese before anyone elseÔǪ? Hizbullah tried to create a good impression [by] renewing the dialogue with the Al-Mustaqbal stream, which sparked hope for some serious and genuine progress that would bring about a breakthrough [in resolving] the crisis. However, it soon became apparent that the dialogue would yield no results beyond the removal of some [propaganda] posters and a toning down of the political discourseÔǪ The question that concerns March 14 circles and their representatives in the government is this: What is the use of dialogue between Al-Mustaqbal  and Hizbullah if the strategic issues - primarily Hizbullah's arms, its involvement in Syria and recently also its exclusive [unilateral] decision on confrontation with Israel - are left out of the discussion[?]ÔǪ And what about respecting UN Security Council Resolution 1701[?] Can the government ask Hizbullah about the commitment [it gave] a week ago to respect this resolutionÔǪ[?] Will the ministers discuss the operation and its implications with Hizbullah's representatives [in the cabinet], and demand an accounting for [Hizbullah's] making decisions on an exclusive basis?"[21]

Al-Nahar columnist 'Abd Al-Wahhab Baderkhan also criticized the Lebanese government, and implicitly Al-Mustaqbal, which heads it, when he addressed the issue of the government's official condemnation of the January 18 Quneitra attack. He wrote: "The problem isn't the Lebanese government's condemnation of the Israeli attack on Syrian soil. [The problem is] that this condemnation conveyed a [tacit] agreement by the government to the presence of Hizbullah soldiers in the Golan, as if [the government] is the one who sent them. Although this organization [Hizbullah] is in the government, the government is the last to know about its movements.[22]

Journalist May Chidiac directed her criticism at the Lebanese media for its extensive coverage of the funeral of Hizbullah operative Jihad Mughniyah, who was killed in the Quneitra attack, on the grounds that this coverage granted legitimacy to Hizbullah's presence in Syria: "I was disturbed as I flipped through the Lebanese channels [and saw them] competing with each other in broadcasting the funeral of Jihad 'Imad Mughniyah... [with all the calls of] 'death to Israel, death to America' and praise for the resistance, and vast crowds waving Hizbullah flags and shouting 'at your command, Nasrallah, at your command, Hizbullah, at your command Khomeini' What does it signify that all the Lebanese channels, except for one, broadcast the funeral live? Has Lebanon - the state and all its political and popular components - granted legitimacy to Hizbullah's participation in the Syrian battles? What was the martyr [Mughniyah] doing in Quneitra together with the Iranian IRGC commander? According to the press, this region is 'a Syrian region situated in the burning border-triangle between Lebanon, occupied Palestine and Syria.' Excellent, so this is a purely Syrian region. Does the live broadcast [mean that we have] surrendered and conceded that Lebanon, with all its sects, has become a side in the Syrian war, part of the Syrian Ba'th regime-Iran- Hizbullah axis? Have we buried the policy of neutrality once and for all? Is it time to concede that Hizbullah has gradually managed to place the Lebanese authorities and media [exactly] where it wants them? God help us. If we do not stand up quickly and oppose what is happening, we will be dragged into war When will we wake up?"[23]


* E.B. Picali is a research fellow at MEMRI.


 [1] On January 18, 2015, a convoy of Hizbullah and Iranian forces was targeted from the air near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan, killing six Hizbullah operatives, among them Jihad Mughniyah, as well as several Iranian operatives from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), including General 'Ali Allahdadi. Hizbullah and Iran held Israel responsible for the attack, and 10 days later, on January 28, Hizbullah fired rockets on an Israeli military convoy in the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov area, killing two soldiers. On Hizbullah's and the IRGC's activity in the Syrian Golan, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1138, "Following Killing Of Hizbullah Operative Jihad Mughniyah, New Information Comes To Light Regarding Hizbullah, Iranian Activity In Syrian Golan On Israeli Border," January 28, 2015; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1146, "From The Mediterranean to the Golan, Iran Builds Active Front And Direct Military Presence On Israel's Border To Deter Israel And Further Ideology Of Eliminating The Zionist Regime," February 16, 2015.

[2] In an interview on the Lebanese channel Al-Mayadin TV, aired on January 15, 2015, three days before the Quneitra attack, Nasrallah alluded to airstrikes on Syrian soil that were attributed to Israel, targeting Iranian missiles intended for Hizbullah. He said that the resistance axis at large, and not just Syria, would have the right to respond to any future Israeli attack on Syrian soil. Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 15, 2015. In a speech he delivered on January 30, two days after the Shebaa Farms attack, Nasrallah declared that his organization no longer recognized the "rules of engagement" in the confrontation with Israel, nor the distinction between the South Lebanon front and the Golan front. He added that Hizbullah would respond to any Israeli attack or assassination against its troops in any place, at any time and in any way it pleased. Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 31, 2015.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 15, 2015.

[4] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 15, 2015.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[7] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[8] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 1, 2015.

[9] Similar accusations were made in a statement issued by the Al-Mustaqbal party on January 28, 2015. Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[10] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 2, 2015.

[11] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[12] Al-Hayat (London), January 21, 2015.

[13], January 19, 2015.

[14] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[15] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 4, 2015.

[16] The Shebaa Farms area, originally Syrian, was occupied by Israel in 1967 and was annexed to Israel along with the Golan in 1981. In 2000, after Israel agreed to withdraw from South Lebanon in compliance with UN Resolution 425, UN representatives traced the border between Israel and Lebanon (the "blue line"), leaving the Shebaa Farms in Israel's hands until an agreement between Israel and Syria is reached. This is contrary to Lebanon's position, which regards the area as Lebanese soil that was occupied first by Syria and later by Israel. UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Lebanon war, included a clause calling on both Israel and Lebanon to respect the blue line and calling on the UN secretary-general to examine the issue of the Shebaa Farms and suggest possible solutions. Since Israel's withdrawal in 2000, Hizbullah has used the Shebaa Farms issue to justify its existence and its refusal to disarm, claiming that there are still Lebanese lands that must be liberated from Israeli hands by means of armed resistance.   

[17] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 30, 2015.

[18] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 30, 2015.

[19] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 30, 2015.

[20] The Hizbullah-Al-Mustaqbal dialogue was launched on December 23, 2014 with the stated aim of easing Sunni-Shi'ite tensions in the country, which had intensified for several reasons, including the indictment of senior Hizbullah officials for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, Hizbullah's military involvement in Syria, and the issue of Hizbullah's weapons. The parties to this dialogue agreed - each from its own considerations - to discuss easing the tensions without addressing the roots of the conflict, which are apparently insoluble. Hizbullah wants the dialogue in order to guarantee domestic calm while it operates outside Lebanon, and the Al-Mustaqbal  stream wants it - despite opposition from elements within the movement who contend that it legitimizes Hizbullah - in order to check the increasing influence of radical Islamist organizations in Lebanon who are eating away at its power on the Sunni street.

[21] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 29, 2015.

[22] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), February 4, 2015.

[23], January 19, 2015.

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