LAHOUD: PRIORITY IS TO DEFEND LEBANON, NOT DISARM HIZBULLAH – ‘Israel is the enemy of all the Lebanese people’ – Abu Faour

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 18, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

by Nicholas Kimbrell – Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: A successful national defense strategy is not about disarming Hizbullah, but about protecting THE ISRAELI WALL IN PALESTINELebanon, Minister of State Nassib Lahoud said Friday at a conference on the future of Lebanon’s national defense strategy. “We do not want Lebanon to be a battlefield for Israel or a comfort gift for a loser in the region,” he said.

Lahoud delivered his comments during a plenary session, entitled “The Regional Environment and its Effects on Lebanon,” on the first day of a national defense conference at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center.

The conference, hosted by the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), aims to contribute to the ongoing national defense strategy talks in Lebanon – the centerpiece of national dialogue sessions chaired by President Michel Sleiman.

Speakers and attendees at Friday’s session included a collection of parliamentarians, Cabinet members, retired military brass, and academics.

The two-day conference comes at a pivotal time for Lebanon’s fledgling defense strategy talks – in the wake of Sleiman’s suspension of national dialogue sessions until late December and as the rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions debate competing defense proposals presented last week.

At the opening ceremony, Arab League representative Hisham Youssef, speaking on behalf of the organization’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, said that the conference was in a position to provide “recommendations and proposals that will enrich the national dialogue.”

The primary national duty of the Lebanese people and the citizens of the Arab world is to “put our efforts into preventing the vicious cycles of conflict and tension,” Youssef said, adding that Lebanon must commit itself to civil security and restrain from violent rhetoric and actions.

Many speakers followed suit, highlighting the ongoing threats facing Lebanon and the vulnerability of its state institutions. Ali Fayyad, a professor at the Lebanese University and president of the Consultative Center for Studies and Documentation, noted Lebanon’s fragility and the precariousness of its internal divisions.

“Lebanon is a very fragile state … where institutions are incapable of absorbing political divisions,” Fayyad said. He cited Iraq and Palestine as other places where populations are forced to handle domestic discord, abetted by regional sponsorship.

Fayyad was one of the few representatives of the March 8 opposition bloc, and his commentary sparked lively responses from the audience, particularly remarks concerning relations with Iran and the importance of direct democracy.

Given the politically motivated spirit behind much of the discussion on Lebanon’s national defense policy, several partisan themes and disagreements were revisited Friday. Questions over Hizbullah’s arms, and over relations with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia and the preeminent threat posed by Israel extended seminar blocks well beyond their allotted times.

Minister of State Wael Abu Faour said Israel remained the chief enemy of all Lebanese, regardless of their confessional and political affiliations.

“We are all convinced that Israel is the enemy of all the Lebanese people,” he said. “Of course, there are different enemies for different parties, but Israel is the common enemy.”

This sentiment was echoed by Lahoud, who noted that “we know Israel is the enemy.”

In his opening remarks Youssef saluted the success of the resistance in defending Lebanon from Israel, but said that the Arab League would like to see it operate in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to bolster the legitimacy of the state.

Michel Nawfal, the foreign editor of the Mustaqbal daily, a newspaper owned by the March 14-aligned Future Movement, argued for the need of a new conception of national security. Hizbullah should not be allowed to make decisions of war and peace without first consulting with the government, he said.

Nawfal proposed the idea of a “critical red line” with Israel, one that when violated could authorize the use of the resistance’s military capacity.

Speaking about the threat posed by Israel, professor and retired General Elias Hanna emphasized the importance of distinguishing between enemies and dangers.

“An enemy [can] bring us problems and a friend can bring us problems as well,” Hanna said in a tacit reference to both Israel and Syria. Due to these divergent dangers, he added, “defense strategy is a living thing.”

Mohammad Abbass, also a retired general and defense analyst, noted the many difficult choices facing the state and the Lebanese Army.

He noted that integrating Hizbullah into to the army could have negative consequences like diminishing defensive flexibility and potentially realigning the political orientation of the LAF.

Ultimately, Abbass said, the state must exercise control over the country. “Building the identity of Lebanon should go through building the army,” he said. But he added that “in its current state [the army] is unable to address these threats.”

Other panelists suggested that pursuing a national defense strategy before Lebanon’s spring parliamentary elections and Israel’s snap elections planned for early 2009 seemed a bit premature.

INEGMA, the host of the conference, which continues Saturday, will be opening an office in Beirut in the coming months.



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