Lahoud Fears an International Force

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud spits out his words as if Arabic was not his native tongue. Actually, none of Lebanon's leadership triumvirate - Lahoud, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Beri - was president of his high school debating club. But Lahoud's meaning is plain enough: "We are now winning because we are united, but if foreign troops come, then divisions will begin," he said in an interview to Al Jazeera. He took care to stress that he opposed the deployment of French troops, to prevent France from influencing Lebanese political developments. What is Lahoud (who is pro-Syrian, pro-Hezbollah and whose position is antithetical to Siniora's) afraid of?

Lahoud's position is all about planning for the future, when the time comes for deciding on his presidency, on renewing the international investigation into the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and on the country's political-military power, which should remain in the hands of Hezbollah. Currently, the government does not have the military strength to challenge Hezbollah. Not only is the Lebanese Army too weak militarily, but it is headed by a pro-Syrian commander, Michel Suliman, and even though the chief of staff is a Druze, he is not strong enough to stand up to Suliman.

In these circumstances, the proposed international force could function as an alternative national army in addition to its policing duties. Putting French troops into this mix could definitely create problems for Lahoud and for Syria, which views France as hostile for sponsoring UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

Hezbollah is willing to discuss a multinational force as long as it is under the auspices of the UN or considered an expansion of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). Hezbollah has built a strong, give-and-take relationship with UNIFIL, it is familiar with its meager equipment and, above all, knows that UNIFIL has no intention of getting involved in the activity in Southern Lebanon. An overly ambitious multinational force is liable to interfere with Hezbollah's complete control of the civilian population, with its receipt of funds, training camps and, of course, with its weapons stores.

This explains Hassan Nasrallah's deep concern for the composition of the multinational force. He does not want his political power to be transfered to the Lebanese government under the umbrella of the multinational force. And he definitely does not want to lose the fat contracts for reconstructing the south, with contributions for it already pouring in from Arab states. Hezbollah owns a huge construction firm that is sure to want the lion's share of the rebuilding projects. To get them, the organization will have to keep away potential competitors, especially companies close to the Beirut government. A multinational force could mess up Hezbollah's plans to profit from the ruins.

Accordingly, Hezbollah is likely to adopt the argument that a multinational force is nothing but an occupation force unless its term of service and its leadership are determined in advance. This argument also contains a veiled threat by Nasrallah of the consequences to the force if it does not play nice with his organization.