Lebanon News

Hezbollah will not react after Samaha arrest - analysis

Former Lebanese Cabinet minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah will not resort to retaliatory action after the arrest of its close ally, former minister and MP Michel Samaha, out of keenness to preserve stability in the country in light of the bloodshed in Syria, politicians and analysts said Friday. “It is highly unlikely that Hezbollah will rock the boat,” said Randa Slim, scholar at the Middle East Institute. “They will adopt a wait-and-see attitude until solid evidence emerges.”

She added that Hezbollah and its leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah were very clear about not undermining the current stability in the country. “[Hezbollah is thinking] if the price is going to be Michel Samaha then let it be,” said the analyst.

Pro-Hezbollah political and military analyst and former Brig. Gen. Amin Hoteit agrees. He argued that the wisest conduct was to wait until the “circumstances that led to the arrest are revealed.”

“Resorting to the street is demagogical and only contributes to reinforcing lawlessness,” Hoteit said.

A close adviser and friend to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, Samaha was arrested by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch Thursday on suspicion of being involved in a plot to carry out terrorist attacks in north Lebanon upon orders from Syrian officials.

Slim said that Hezbollah will most likely allow the judicial investigation to take its full course, adding that the party will gradually distance itself from Samaha.

“In the end, Hezbollah does not want to be seen as supporting someone who is accused of plotting to kill other Lebanese.”

The three-time minister and former Metn lawmaker began his eventful political career as part of the Kataeb Party in the late 1960s before making a U-turn in 1985 when he endorsed the Syria-brokered Tripartite Agreement to end the Civil War in Lebanon between the Lebanese Forces of the late Elie Hobeika, the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.

Samaha’s durable ties to the Assad regime were coupled with equally strong ties to the French intelligence services, earning him a French Legion d’Honneur (Order of Merit). He is said to have attended since 1990 almost all the meetings between French officials and the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, and later on his son Bashar.

In parallel to his work as an adviser to Bashar Assad and his close aide Bouthaina Shaaban, Samaha has reinvented himself in recent years as a political and strategic analyst, actively lobbying in favor of the Syria-Iran axis and of Hezbollah.

However, Hezbollah’s vigilant stance with regard to the arrest has kept many wondering.

“I was literally shocked when I heard the news about Michel’s arrest and the accusations made against him,” said Karim Pakradouni, the former head of the Kataeb Party and Samaha’s close friend. “But in such circumstances and in light of such accusations one needs to be very prudent.”

Slim said that Hezbollah has been informed of the arrest, adding that the mere fact that the party let it happen “is highly revealing.”

Slim’s reading echoes the stance of the March 14 alliance with regard to the arrest.

March 14 sources privately argue that Hezbollah is opposed to attempts by the Syrian regime and its proxies in Lebanon to destabilize the country.

Head of the International-Lebanese Committee for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, Toni Nissi is unequivocal in claiming that Hezbollah stood behind Samaha’s arrest, adding that the party will not back the politician even if he is charged with operating upon the orders of the Assad regime.

“Unlike Assad who seeks to create instability in Lebanon to secure his regime’s survival, both Iran’s and Hezbollah’s strategic interests lie in stability and peace,” said Nissi.

Slim concurs, saying that both the March 8 and the March 14 camps sought to avoid the scenario of violence. “One common opinion between the two camps is that they want to avoid the unrest in Syria spilling over to Lebanon.”

Nissi said that the Islamic Republic would like to help the Syrian government against its adversaries in Syria “by maybe sending mercenaries [there] but not through creating instability in Lebanon.”

“Any instability in Lebanon, any Shiite-Sunni conflict in Lebanon is against the interests of Hezbollah,” Nissi added.

Although he disagrees with the theory that stipulates that Hezbollah and the Information Branch coordinated Samaha’s arrest, due to the long-standing rivalry between the two, Hoteit maintains that the arrest was another attempt to drag Hezbollah into an internal fight that will eventually degenerate into Sunni-Shiite strife.

“Hezbollah is well aware of the United States’ scheme to drag it into an internal war,” said Hoteit.

“Hezbollah has so far moved away from any violent reactions regarding attempts to force it to use its weapons on the internal scene, but I can’t tell how long this will last.”

According to Pakradouni, who defended Samaha by saying he “has never used arms,” the arrest was definitely a “signal or message” to Syria and the group he belongs to in Lebanon.

“This is definitely a moral blow to Samaha and the March 8 group,” said the veteran politician. “But neither March 8 nor Syria will be destabilized by this new development. I think they are strong enough to overcome it.”

While Slim ruled out the assumption that Samaha’s arrest was a message to the Syrian regime, saying it was strictly tied to the internal dynamics of the country, Hoteit contends that it was directly tied to weakening Lebanon’s Christian population.

But a source closely following up on the case told The Daily Star that the arrest was aimed at gradually disposing of all the figures that tie Lebanon to the struggling Syrian leadership.

“They cannot take it out on Hezbollah or [Marada Movement leader] Sleiman Franjieh, for example, who enjoy wide popular backing,” said the source. “They chose the weakest link, Michel Samaha, a Catholic Christian who has little if any backing among his community.” – With additional reporting by Van Meguerditchian

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2012, on page 2.




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