x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Does Hizbollah put Lebanon's interests first?

Hassan Nasrallah's histrionics discredit the gains the party has made to serve Lebanon's dispossessed and be an advocate for them in the country's political system

When Israel devastated Lebanon during a one-month bombing campaign in the summer of 2006, Hizbollah stood firm, keeping the Israeli army at bay. When the guns eventually fell silent, many Lebanese, regardless of their faith or financial status, appreciated the militant movement and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for its fortitude. In the years that followed, Hizbollah steadily strengthened its position within the Lebanese political system and took on a bigger role.

That work is now in serious danger of being undone. The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon is reportedly preparing indictments against members of Hizbollah for their involvement in the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. If these indictments are handed down as expected, they will undoubtedly do some damage to Hizbollah's reputation. It is not the UN-backed tribunal, but what Mr Nassrallah has done in anticipation of its findings, that has caused far more damage, and not only to Hizbollah, but to Lebanon itself.

Mr Nasrallah issued his latest call for Lebanon to sever all ties with the Tribunal in a televised speech on Sunday. His address came four days after his party and its allies in the Lebanese cabinet pulled out of the government, causing its collapse. The decision has destabilised Lebanon's economy and battered its peoples' confidence in the country's future.

Many in the region have been willing to look beyond Hizbollah's history of violence on account of its efforts to assist the dispossessed. But Hizbollah's recent actions make its advocacy for the poor and vulnerable appear more a rhetorical construct than a real commitment. Hizbollah appears to value the fate of a few members who may have been involved in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri more than the lives of Lebanon's four million residents.

The international investigation into Rafiq Hariri's assassination has been far from perfect. Leaks of its proceedings have damaged its claim to be a confidential investigation. But the work of an international court, investigating the activities of several nations and organisations, is difficult from the start. Mr Nasrallah has not made that work, or the efforts of Lebanon to move beyond the animosities created by Rafiq Hariri's murder, any easier.

Those wary of Hizbollah have always argued that the organisation could not be trusted to put Lebanon's interests ahead of its own. Mr Nasrallah now risks proving them right.