Future-Hezbollah verbal sparring raises stakes
The Daily Star /20 Monday October 2014/Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: A war of words erupted over the weekend between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, signaling a major political escalation as the country faced mounting security threats from Islamist militants.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk’s diatribe against Hezbollah, blaming it for the failure of security plans in Lebanon and the Shiite party’s swift response to the leading Future figure also threatened to throw the already divided government into further disarray. The government, ridden by internal divisions, has failed to cope with political, economic and security challenges facing the country.
The escalating rhetoric between the two sides comes against the backdrop of long-brewing tensions between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, caused mainly by the Shiite party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces. Hezbollah’s role in Syria has increased political and sectarian tensions in the country.
However, a senior Hezbollah official said he did not see the fate of the government in jeopardy following Machnouk’s campaign against the party. “I don’t see the Cabinet’s fate threatened as a result of Machnouk’s statement. We call for preserving the Cabinet and solidarity among its members because this will be in the interest of security and stability,” Mohammad Afif, head of Hezbollah’s media office, told The Daily Star.
Implicitly referring to Hezbollah, Machnouk said “partisan immunity” has led to the failure of the security plan in Lebanon, adding that security forces have primarily targeted members of his Sunni community.
“We won’t accept that we be turned into Lebanese Sahwa leaders similar to the Iraqi Sahwas specialized in imposing security on one part of the Lebanese, while the other part enjoys ‘partisan immunity,’” he said during a memorial service Saturday in honor of the late Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the Internal Security Forces Information Branch head who was killed in a Beirut car bomb two years ago.
The Sahwa is a network of Sunni tribal fighters in Iraq that were allied with the U.S. to combat Al-Qaida.
The security plan has been turned into a project that holds perpetrators of one community accountable while neglecting the others, Machnouk said, hinting that the plan’s implementation predominantly targets the Sunni community and turns a blind eye to Hezbollah-dominated areas.
He added that a certain security institution was biased in favor of Hezbollah, in a veiled reference to the Army Intelligence. According to Machnouk, discrimination practiced by the security forces has been a major factor in “increasing the feelings of injustice and frustration, which in turn also increases extremism.”
In a clear reference to Hezbollah, Machnouk said: “A Lebanese group that believes that its capabilities are greater than Lebanon, but it cannot deny that the hefty price of those capabilities must be paid by all the Lebanese,” adding that investigators were “on the verge of discovering the truth behind Hasan’s assassination.”
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish, one of the two Hezbollah ministers in the Cabinet, indirectly hit back at Machnouk, rejecting the talk about “security balance.”
“What does the talk about security balance mean? Does it mean that areas that do not witness support for takfiri and terrorist groups and do not witness attacks on the Army and security forces should be put on equal footing with groups that practice such terrorist acts?” Fneish said during a student graduation ceremony in the southern city of Nabatieh.
He said Hezbollah had never barred security forces from pursuing any criminal or attacker in areas where the party enjoys wide support.
Referring to Machnouk’s statement on “partisan immunity,” Fneish said: “Do we understand from this statement that it is a justification to find a safe passage to some terrorist groups that attacked the Army and are threatening security on a daily basis in the northern capital of Tripoli?”
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah also implicitly lashed out at Machnouk. “Those who want the state to shoulder its [security] responsibilities must first stop the political fire and sectarian incitement against the Army and the state’s institutions,” he said at a memorial ceremony in the southern village of Haddatha.
Fadallah said Hezbollah was keen on preserving the government, but warned that raising internal divisions and differences would harm everyone. “One of the duties of this government is to protect the state institutions and the country’s security,” he added.
Hezbollah came under fire by several prominent March 14 figures, including Justice Minister Asraf Rifi last week, who claimed that the party was implicated in the attacks on Army positions in Tripoli. Hezbollah has rejected the charges.
For his part, MP Walid Jumblatt said the Army needed absolute political backing to restore security in the country. “Before the tanks and airplanes, the Army needs political immunity,” Jumblatt said after meeting with a group of Arab tribal leaders in Khaldeh as part of his attempts to reach out to different communities. “Let us stand in one position behind the Army, which is engaged in a very harsh battle.”