BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s beefed up security measures in the southern suburbs drew concern from analysts and politicians about the party’s primacy over the Lebanese state and its independent security policies, with warnings that equivalent measures by other factions in Lebanon could lead to civil strife.
The swift progress in the investigations into attacks on the southern suburbs also raised questions about the state’s ability to resolve past political crimes, with many recent assassinations still shrouded in mystery.
“What applies to Hezbollah does not apply to others in Lebanon, and this is the crux of the problem,” said Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program in Chatham House.
Hezbollah installed checkpoints and inspected cars and pedestrians entering the southern suburbs – measures intended to protect the party stronghold from attack in the wake of the weekend bombing that claimed the lives of 30 people and wounded hundreds.
Another bombing a month earlier in Bir al-Abed wounded over 50 people.
The Future Movement condemned Tuesday what it said were “militia-esque” procedures, saying such attempts at “self-security” defy state sovereignty and create a rift among the Lebanese.
Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the party’s precautions after the attack were expected.
“ Hezbollah denies telling Dahiyeh residents to stay indoors right after the bombing, but they will take security measures in their strongholds,” he said. Dahiyeh is the Arabic name for Beirut’s southern suburbs.
After the attack last week, Levitt, who authored a book on Hezbollah, said the bombing would prompt questioning over its security arrangements by residents.
“If this continues, at a certain point you may need a passport to enter Dahiyeh,” he said at the time.
Shehadi said the measures showed that Hezbollah operates under different rules to other factions in Lebanon, warning that the approach could cause strife.
“If Hezbollah became the model for others then this would be a recipe for civil war,” he said. “So far this model is being rejected rather than emulated.”
He gave the example of firebrand Salafist sheikh, Ahmad Assir, who repeatedly clashed with Hezbollah in Sidon, where the preacher created his own security perimeter and stockpiled weapons, before an army operation drove him from the city.
“People like Assir have tried and did not get the support of their own community,” Shehadi said. “The pessimistic view is that sooner or later, if this situation continues, such people will gain ground.”
Hezbollah’s exceptionalism extends beyond the security arrangements in the southern suburbs, he added.
“The prime example is the [Taif Accord], which called for the dissolution of all militias, and Hezbollah became the exception for reasons that no longer convince everybody,” he said, referring to the agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War but allowed Hezbollah to retain its arms to fight the Israeli occupation. “Same with the Baabda Declaration and the government’s policy of disassociation.”
Lebanese factions agreed in June during a meeting in Baabda to disassociate themselves from regional crises, including the civil war in Syria. Hezbollah defied the pact by announcing earlier this year that it was fighting alongside the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
The swift arrest of individuals allegedly responsible for the Bir al-Abed attack and another car bombing ring was also in stark contrast to the lack of progress in the investigations into political assassinations that plagued Lebanon over the last decade.
Authorities arrested a Syrian man in connection with Bir al-Abed, and four suspects including the leader of an alleged car bombing ring were placed in custody this week.
In addition, telecommunications data relevant to the attacks on the southern suburbs were swiftly handed over to security forces investigating the incidents.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah refuses to hand over four men wanted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and accused of being responsible for the Feb. 14, 2005, attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others. Numerous other political assassinations remain unresolved.
“As for why some investigations go quickly and others not at all, that is usually a question of political will,” said Levitt, who authored a new book on Hezbollah.
Few expect the arrest of the four men. In its decision to try them in absentia, the STL’s trial chamber recognized the “sensitive political and security situation” in Lebanon that hindered the arrests.
Still, the court insists that Lebanon has an obligation to arrest them. Local authorities report every month to the STL on the search efforts.
“We are confident that the Lebanese government will continue to cooperate with the STL and to fulfill its obligations as outlined in the binding agreement with the U.N. Security Council,” said Marten Youssef, the court’s spokesman. “As the president recalled in his annual report, however, the fact remains that the accused have not yet been apprehended, despite the efforts.”