LEBANON-ISRAEL

Border Developments Contribute to the argument of Positive Neutrality

The escalation at the border is an illustration of what Lebanon wants to avoid by claiming for itself a status of neutrality, according to Maronite Church sources.

Border Developments Contribute to the argument of Positive Neutrality

A UNIFIL post along the blue line. Jalaa Marey/AFP

"The need for a neutral status for Lebanon, demanded by the Maronite Patriarchy, is vividly il-lustrated by the border incident between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. Here is a whole coun-try forced to live the tensions inherent in the risk of war, while it is completely unconcerned with the incident that caused it, namely the death of a Hezbollah fighter in the Israeli bombing of a military target near Damascus (on July 20)," said sources close to Bkerki, who spoke on condition of anonymity but welcomed the opportunity to clarify the positions of the Maronite Patriarchate.

The sources were referring to the shelling that took place on Monday at the Lebanese-Israeli border, near the Shebaa Farms. The Israeli military said it had foiled "an infiltration attempt by a terrorist cell" and opened fire on gunmen, just after they crossed the northern border with Lebanon. Hezbollah, for its part, denied any such an attempt.

"This incident clearly shows what the Maronite Patriarchate means by Lebanon's positive neu-trality vis-à-vis regional axes and conflicts. Lebanon does not have to assume the consequences of a conflict to which it is not a party but dragged into it by an armed party that takes its orders from Tehran," the sources said.

"The tension created by this incident is a typical example of what Lebanon wishes to avoid by demanding a neutral status from the international community," the sources explained. "(Mon-day's) operation is not a Lebanese attack designed to liberate a piece of Lebanese territory; it is just a response, in part psychological, to an Israeli attack in Syria" to which Hezbollah has pledged to retaliate and thus make the whole population pay the price.

The escalating tension on the border came after Israel carried out strikes near Damascus, Syria on July 20, in which a Hezbollah fighter, Ali Kamel Mohsen, was killed, according to the Shiite party.

The Resistance Movement Loses Its Raison D'être

"Involvement in Syria is causing the resistance movement to lose its raison d'être," said an ec-clesiastical source close to civil society. In essence, "no one has the right to make the Lebanese population live days of suspense linked to the possibility of Israeli aggression, much less to im-plicate them in a geopolitical conflict that does not concern them."

Asked to comment on the visit of Iran's ambassador to Beirut, Mohammad Jalal Firouznia, to Dar el-Fatwa on Monday, the source said: "The diplomat said Lebanon's neutrality is 'a Leba-nese affair,' but that 'all ideas raised must consolidate Lebanese national unity.' However, Hez-bollah's presence in Syria does not help strengthening Lebanese national unity; it does quite the contrary."

Mona Fayad, a university professor and founding member of the Democratic Renewal Move-ment who denounced some "insulting attacks" against the patriarch, said she was surprised that Hezbollah supporters demand that the call for Lebanon's neutrality be unanimous, without thinking for a moment that their actions deeply divide the Lebanese people. "What is Hezbollah doing in Syria?" she asked, noting that an increasing number of Lebanese of all faiths are asking the same question and are weary of the arguments provided by the pro-Iranian party. Fayad compared Hezbollah's presence in Syria, on Tehran's orders, to the presence of Syrian fighters in Libya, on Istanbul's orders, highlighting the extent of the Shiite party's regional involvement.

Against the Resurgence of the Concomitance of the Two Tracks

Moreover, the patriarchal proposal for Lebanon's neutrality continues to receive local political support. Backing came from Walid Jumblatt's party, the National Liberal Party (NLP) and for-mer minister Michel Pharaon.

A Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) delegation, which included Marwan Hamade and Henry Helou, visited the patriarch in Dimane and handed him a copy of the memorandum delivered by Taymour Jumblatt at the recent national dialogue conference in Baabda. "We have agreed with the patriarch on the need to resume talks on a national defense strategy and the imple-mentation of (UN Security Council) Resolution 1701. We also agreed to revive the resolutions of the national dialogue conference convened by (Parliament Speaker) Nabih Berri in 2006. Apart from the resolution on the creation of an international tribunal to reveal the truth behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, these decisions have remained ink on paper. In today's memoran-dum, we reject the attempt to resurrect the so-called concomitance of the two tracks (linking together Lebanese and Syrian positions against Israel) and call for strict measures to be taken to monitor the border and for ending smuggling," Hamade said. On the Patriarch's proposal, he added: "We have always been in favor of a positive neutrality that restores to the state its solid-ity, internal unity and healthy foreign relations, and the freedom of its sovereign decision on peace and war, while sustaining respect for just national causes, primarily the cause and rights of the Palestinian people."

Patriarch Bechara el-Rahi also received the head of the NLP, Dory Chamoun, and Pharaon. Pharaon said neutrality is in the genes of Lebanon, which in 1943 asked the Arab League to vote unanimously that no Arab country exercises its hegemony over the other. For Pharaoh, it is necessary for Lebanon to develop a special strategy for its southern territories, but on condition that it is kept under the command of the army, and to remain faithful to its Arab environment. "We consider that it is in Lebanon's interest that the international community support its neu-trality. The patriarchal proposal also has an economic dimension: restoring Lebanon to the Leb-anese investors, which is something as important, if not more important, than any agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)."


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour the 28th of July)



"The need for a neutral status for Lebanon, demanded by the Maronite Patriarchy, is vividly il-lustrated by the border incident between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. Here is a whole coun-try forced to live the tensions inherent in the risk of war, while it is completely unconcerned with the incident that caused it, namely the death of a Hezbollah fighter in the Israeli bombing of a military...

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