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The Ceilings of a Hypothetical Dialogue with Hezbollah

In light of the current impasse in Lebanon, there has been a lot of talk about dialogue. However, there are differences around the nature of this dialogue: Is it a dialogue or consultation? Between groups or a duo? The country will be back in the labyrinth of futile debates.

Meanwhile, the Quintet Committee holds its meeting, and American and French joint initiatives and proposals are presented. Some of them are aimed at restoring calm in the southern border through deals or understandings, and others to resolve the conundrum of the presidential elections.

With the momentum of these initiatives and the winds of regional settlements that must reach us, one matter that remains outside the scope of discussion is the future of Hezbollah’s role and its actual position regarding these proposals. All of this amounts to nothing more than circling around the issue without addressing it.

Let us try to enter a hypothetical world in which the Lebanese opposition presents a cohesive and credible political front that has weight, and that it has decided to hold a dialogue with the party. What scenarios for a solution would the party engage with, from the most maximalist to the least demanding? What are the margins within which the party can operate with regard to two hypothetical themes of discussion: the party’s organic relationship with Iran, and Israel not launching a war on Lebanon?

First, we must account for the fact that it will be a year before matters are settled either way in the region, particularly in Gaza. It will be difficult to conclude the deals and settlements all parties are awaiting to understand where they stand. The Americans are busy with the presidential elections and the three tracks for the region they have already set up: ending the war and the day after in Gaza, deepening strategic ties with Saudi Arabia, and expanding Arab-Israeli normalization as part of a comprehensive settlement.

Israel will need a year to address the war, its aftermath, and the domestic issues tied to it, as well as its relations with the Americans and the international community. Iran is concerned about the fate of Hamas and its future in Gaza and beyond, in the many other places throughout the region it exerts influence. Questions regarding its nuclear program remain open, and Iran’s complex domestic issues have been complicated by the accident that killed its president and foreign minister, as well as the uncertainty around when the race to succeed the Supreme Leader will begin.

Against this backdrop, what are the different potential stances we could expect from Hezbollah regarding a serious and sustainable settlement with its Lebanese partners? The first scenario is that the party, under regional and international pressure, agrees to military arrangements, especially in southern Lebanon, in exchange for a Lebanese settlement that restructures the political system and its allocation of positions. This would not undermine the principles of sects’ rights and public sector quotas on sectarian grounds. Rather, it would account for local demographic changes and domestic and regional political developments, even if these shifts are not entirely in favor of its Iranian patron.

This settlement would require extensive legal and constitutional consultations and debates. However, it could grant the party the safeguards and reassurance it seeks. The deal would legitimize its arsenal and fighting force, allowing it to maintain them in one way or another, as well as ensuring that it retains the influence necessary to shape Lebanon’s foreign policy, international relations, and defense policy. This scenario is the most severe, as it undermines the Lebanese formula.

The second scenario is Hezbollah maintaining its current status. The party remains a political-military force that makes crucial national security and political decisions, as well as those related to Lebanon’s identity and its regional and international posture, without being granted official legitimate status, which would burden it with political responsibility. This would allow Hezbollah to engage in settlements or understandings like the deal to demarcate the maritime border with Israel. This scenario is most likely if the regional situation does not change.

The third scenario is unlikely in the near term because it requires a comprehensive regional deal that includes Iran. This deal would not necessarily involve peace with Israel. Rather, it would focus on regional security arrangements and the roles of influential countries. This scenario would ensure Hezbollah a significant share of influence with the political system because of the realities it has established on the ground and the political, economic, and social changes unfolding in Lebanon.

In return, Hezbollah’s weapons would be addressed after the regional settlement. Iran would probably retain the gains it has accumulated in such a regional peace deal. It is best placed to address the issue of Hezbollah’s arms. De-escalation would extend Lebanon’s relationship with Israel, and we would probably see a return to the 1949 Armistice Agreement or the emergence of a similar new arrangement.

This hypothetical exercise aims to achieve several objectives. First, it allows us to realize that there is no way to solve the conundrum posed by Hezbollah in Lebanon without a settlement that involves Iran and addresses its roles in the region. Second, it shows that all the activity in and around Lebanon addresses this matter purely from the perspective of Israel’s security. The domestic repercussions on Lebanon are disregarded. Third, any solution requires dialogue, but without political balance, dialogue is futile. The ultimate objective is to outline the margins of concessions Hezbollah would be prepared to offer, allowing the opposition to envision what it could offer in return as it seeks to bring Hezbollah back into the national fold if that is possible.

Source: Asharq Al-Awsat