Engaging Lebanon without Engaging Hezbollah is not Possible

This week brought news that Hezbollah is briefing the United Nations on Lebanon’s political landscape.  Joanna Wronecka, a Polish diplomat who has been serving as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Lebanon since 2021, publicly thanked the head of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations unit, Ammar Al-Mousawi, for giving her a “tour d’horizon on issues of priority for Lebanon.” Almost as if to stress the point, she expressed her appreciation to al-Mousawi in both Arabic and English.

Setting aside the appropriateness of a UN official seeking to understand Lebanon through the perspective of an organization loyal primarily to Iran, the lack of international reaction to Wronecka’s comments is telling.

For years, the Israelis have pushed an understanding of Lebanon that equates the country with Hezbollah. In the words of then-Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett: Hezbollah is Lebanon is Hezbollah.

As critics have claimed, such an equation may oversimplify Lebanon’s social and political complexity and overstate the degree of the group’s control over the country. After all, Lebanon possesses staunchly anti-Hezbollah political parties, whole areas of the country oppose the group, and Hezbollah does not fully control even those apparatuses of the Lebanese state – like the airport or Lebanese military intelligence – where it possesses influence.

But Wronecka’s need to engage Hezbollah reinforces the fact that the group — as it routinely claims — is and remains an integral and inseparable part of Lebanon’s social and political fabric. Engaging or aiding Lebanon” or its civil society, or even understanding Lebanon absent Hezbollah, remains impossible given the group’s total integration into all aspects of Lebanese life. Even Hezbollah’s staunchest Lebanese opponents — such as the Lebanese Forces party, or the much-celebrated “independent” legislative candidates from the last parliamentary election cycle — have found themselves forced to bow to this reality and even reached their own modus vivendi with the group. Otherwise, Lebanon would be ungovernable.

Understanding this reality is necessary for all foreign actors who wish to engage with or aid Lebanon.