OSC: Lebanon — Both Sides Take Tough Line, Leave Room To Maneuver

The USG Open Source Center analyzes the Lebanese press on the crisis between the Seniora government and Hizbullah, suggesting that despite their harsh words, they have left wiggle room for a resolution.

OSC Report: Lebanon — Both Sides Take Tough Line, Leave Room To Maneuver
Lebanon — OSC Report
Friday, May 9, 2008 . . .

Lebanon — Government, Opposition Take Tough Line on Crisis While Preserving Room To Maneuver; Army Seeks Neutral Role

Both opposition and government figures are maintaining tough public positions in their dispute over Hizballah’s private landline telephone network. At the same time, despite continuing violent confrontations in Beirut between opposition and pro-government elements, both sides appear to be leaving themselves room for further political maneuvering. The Lebanese Army, meanwhile, is seeking to stay out of the dispute and remain neutral while maintaining its status as the guardian of national unity.

The crisis erupted after a 6 May decision by the Council of Ministers, led by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, calling Hizballah’s private telephone network “illegal” and “an aggression on the State’s authority,” thereby denying Hizballah’s right to maintain the network as part of its legitimate “resistance” tool against Israel. The government vowed to launch legal action against the network. On 8 May, unrelated labor protests in Beirut turned into violent demonstrations against the government. Nasrallah Vows Defiance

In a news conference on 8 May, Hizballah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah rejected the government’s demands and threatened a violent response if the government acted against Hizballah’s telephone network.

Nasrallah declared: “We have the right to defend ourselves,” and “we will cut off the hand” of anyone threatening to take away Hizballah’s “resistance weapons regardless of the person it belongs to…we will not be lenient with anyone no matter who he is” (Al-Manar TV, 8 May).

Free Patriotic Movement leader and Hizballah ally Michel Awn echoed Nasrallah’s comments by stating that “it is very serious to endanger the security of the resistance during operations” and by demanding that “all parties reverse the government’s decisions” (OTV, 8 May). In subsequent statements, Hizballah allies Former Minister Sulayman Franjiyah (The Daily Star, 9 May) and leader of the Lebanese Unification Party Wi’am Wahhab reiterated Nasrallah’s sentiments (Now Lebanon, 9 May).

Notwithstanding his threats, Nasrallah left the door open for a negotiated resolution.

Nasrallah stated: “There are two hands: one is outstretched for dialogue based on canceling the unfair decisions” and “the path to a solution is clear and open” (Al-Manar TV, 8 May).

He asserted his continued respect for existing institutions, in particular the Lebanese Army: “We are raising the slogan of partnership between the opposition and pro-government forces…the Army constitutes a genuine national guarantee” (Al-Manar TV, 8 May). Pro-Government Response

Pro-government leaders were equally adamant in asserting the primacy of state authority.

A 9 May statement made by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Ja’ja on behalf of the pro-government March 14 Forces declared that “what happened in Beirut, its periphery, and the International Airport is an armed coup carried out by Hizballah” and called on the Siniora-led government “to hold firmly to this independent position” (LBC, 9 May).

Communications Minister Marwan Hamadah, in an interview with the Pan-Arab television channel Al-Arabiyah, stated that “we will never go back on our decision” and that “we intend to defend what remains of the sovereignty of the Lebanese state” (8 May).

Nonetheless, pro-government also alluded to the possibility of a political resolution.

Prominent 14 March Forces leader and head of the Future Movement Sa’d al-Hariri, in a news conference following that of Nasrallah’s on 8 May, upheld the government’s position on Hizballah’s network while affirming: “We are not saying…that we want to stop protecting the resistance;” rather, “we are taking decisions to protect the state” (Future TV).

Hamadah, in his Al-Arabiyah interview, insisted that he “is not saying that we will dismantle the network by force tomorrow but that this is the right of the Lebanese state…the judiciary will pursue the case…we are not seeking a civil war.” Lebanese Army Tries To Remain Neutral

In the face of continued street clashes in Beirut, the Lebanese Army has sought to remain above the dispute and preserve its status as a guardian of national unity.

In a statement on 8 May, the Army Command called on all parties to find solutions to save Lebanon from the deadlock, adding that “the Lebanese Army puts itself at the disposal of all groups to help find these solutions.” The Army’s statement warned parties against “abandoning dialogue and insisting on positions” (Al-Manar TV).

In a 9 May interview with Al-Arabiyah TV, Minister of Youth and Sport Ahmad Fatfat confirmed that the Lebanese Army has deployed troops to protect cabinet offices from street violence.

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