The Day After / Lebanon - Hezbollah in No Hurry to Leave South Lebanon

The head of the Lebanese army, General Michel Suleiman, insists that his forces not go south as long as the Israel Defense Forces are there, and as long as he has no orders regarding Hezbollah and its materiel. He wants to know how to translate the directives of UN Resolution 1701 regarding the demilitarization of the south.

Suleiman does not want to deal with demilitarization since he knows the Lebanese army might have to stand an impossible military and ethnic test in the face of Hezbollah opposition. Therefore, he wants a DMZ with clear and recognized boundaries, clear rules of engagement and directives regarding the dismantling of Hezbollah arms, weapons and communications stores, innocent civilians who traditionally possess a personal weapon, and armed non-Hezbollah cells that might reach the area.

The dispute between Suleiman, who answers to the government, and Hezbollah, which is also a partner in the government, is that the organization claims there is nothing preventing the Lebanese army from deploying in the south, without reference to Hezbollah's standing there. After all, Nasrallah claims, the task of the army is to protect the country, and Hezbollah has no interest in clashing with Lebanon's national army.

Refugees going home

However, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has made it clear that only one army will operate between the Litani and the Israeli border - that of his government with UNIFIL assistance. Hezbollah says this can be implemented in stages: the Lebanese army will move south, Hezbollah will remain where it is at present, and a decision on a timetable for withdrawal, if taken, will be made in government discussions. Hezbollah also claims that over the past six years, it has operated alongside UNIFIL, and now is willing only to limit its military activities, not dismantle its facilities.

The thousands of Lebanese refugees on their way back to their villages may create a new equation for both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah: the state that accepted the mandate to extend its sovereignty over all Lebanon will not make do with merely dispatching its army to the south; it will want to regain civilian control there as well.

The Lebanese Council for Development and Construction has estimated the damage caused by the war to be about $2.5 billion, not including indirect damage, mainly to the south and southern Beirut. The Lebanese government now has close to $2 billion in contributions from the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments, as well as those of the donor nations that have been assisting the country since the IDF's withdrawal in 2000. That is huge economic leverage by which the government can set a new political, and subsequent, diplomatic agenda, if it so chooses.

Driving a bargain

The question will be what kind of bargain the government will drive regarding rehabilitation in the south, and what compromise will be reached with Hezbollah and how quickly. The Lebanese army's ability to function in the south and the nature of the status quo between Hezbollah and UNIFIL will also depend on this. However, pressure from refugees expecting quick compensation and reconstruction might turn them into hostages of the dispute between Hezbollah and the government, with the result favoring Hezbollah.

Therefore, the scenario of demilitarization in the south envisioned by Resolution 1701 might receive a far-reaching interpretation by which the government agrees at the first stage to the twin presence of Hezbollah and the Lebanese army until national consensus on demilitarization is achieved.