BEIRUT: March 14 officials criticized President Michel Sleiman's proposal for a national defense strategy Friday because it allows Hezbollah to keep its arms – albeit under the command of the Lebanese Army, which would have the exclusive authority to use force.
“When it comes to the national defense strategy, the only reference should be the constitution and the Taif Accord,” March 14 General Secretariat Coordinator Fares Soueid told An Nahar daily in remarks published Friday, asserting that Sleiman’s proposal is “unconstitutional.”
On the other side of the political divide, the response was positive. Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Walid Sukkarieh said he considered Sleiman’s proposal an attempt “to embrace the resistance and join it to the army,” in remarks to Al-Manar television Friday.
Soueid said that Sleiman’s proposal completely contradicts the constitution because it acknowledges an institution that Lebanon’s most important legal document does not recognize – namely, the resistance.
Under the proposal, Hezbollah would not hand its arms over to the Army, as demanded by the March 14 coalition, nor would there be coordination between the resistance and the Army, which Hezbollah is willing to accept as a compromise.
Sleiman’s proposal also states that until the Army’s capabilities are reinforced, a consensus must be reached on the appropriate means to manage Hezbollah’s arsenal and put it at the Army’s disposal.
“No matter how important the Lebanese Army becomes, it will not be able to defeat the Israeli enemy, because the people are the primary defenders of Lebanon,” Sukkarieh said.
He added that the resistance should be the main pillar of any national defense strategy.
While the March 14 coalition has repeatedly called for giving the state exclusive authority over issues of defense, the March 8 forces say that the Lebanese state and army are not capable of facing Israel alone in case of any attack on Lebanon, and thus Hezbollah should keep its arms.
Hezbollah is backed by the Syrian regime and Iran. The group’s military arsenal is one of thorniest issues in the Lebanese political realm.
Lebanese Forces official Gen. (ret.) Wehbe Katisha told Al-Jadeed TV that his group rejects legitimizing Hezbollah’s arms, noting however that the LF does not totally reject Sleiman’s proposal.
“President Sleiman is trying to unite the Lebanese in all possible ways, however we cannot accept to have a party allowed to carry arms in Lebanon,” Katisha said.
He also said he expects several more National Dialogue sessions before participants plunge into the topic of Hezbollah’s arms.
“The March 8 forces refuse to admit that there is a real problem pertaining to Hezbollah’s arms. There is nothing in the whole world called resistance outside official institutions,” Katisha said.
The LF official said that former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora tried to extract a vow from the March 8 figures attending Thursday’s dialogue session that they would not involve Lebanon in any conflict between Israel and Iran, but that he could not get a clear answer.
“This is the biggest evidence that such arms are not here just for the sake of Lebanon,” said Katisha.
LF leader Samir Geagea refrained from attending the dialogue session yesterday, as his party doubted it would be fruitful, and asserted that Hezbollah is not yet “serious” about discussing its arms.
Following the session, participants agreed to consider the proposal made by the president a starting point for discussion of a national defense strategy that includes the issue of Hezbollah’s arms.
The discussion is expected to resume in the next session, which is scheduled for Nov. 12.
Future MP Michel Pharaon told the Kataeb-run Voice of Lebanon Radio that the March 14 coalition will not accept any proposal that violates the principle of the state’s right to control the arms on its territory.
“Sleiman’s proposal is not a decision, but a starting point [for a discussion],” said Pharaon.
The MP added that the evaluation of the proposal would be linked to how different rivals understand and implement it.