BEIRUT: Parliament’s ratification of the international Arms Trade Treaty last week was not directly targeted at Hezbollah, but could make it harder to transfer illicit weapons in Lebanon, experts said.
The ATT is “really focused on government-to-government sales,” said Rachel Stohl, managing director of Washington-based policy think tank the Stimson Center. “It’s not setting out rules for nonstate actors.”
Nevertheless, Stohl suggested that as more states accede to the ATT, which was debated and ratified by the Lebanese Parliament last Tuesday, the harder it will be for nonstate actors to acquire weapons.
“Arms don’t just magically appear on the illicit market; there’s some level of government complicity or diversion that occurs to move things from the legal to the illicit market,” Stohl said. “If you have a more responsible, accountable and transparent legal arms trade that does make it more challenging to divert weapons to the illicit market ... you are strengthening the system as a whole globally.”
The treaty, which describes as its object the prevention and eradication of “the illicit trade in conventional arms and [the prevention of] their diversion,” entered into force in 2014. It sets out strict rules for state-to-state arms deals and introduces reporting requirements. Lebanon is the latest of nearly 100 states to ratify it.
According to Bassem Shabb, the bill was signed by the Lebanese state approximately 3 1/2 years ago, while he was an MP for the Future Movement and a member of Parliament’s National Defense, Interior and Municipalities Committee.
He suggested that Hezbollah’s allies had the group’s tacit approval to ratify the bill in Parliament.
“Hezbollah had to say no because they had to show some consistency in their position, but I think the understanding was that their allies in [the] Amal [Movement] and the [Free Patriotic Movement] would go ahead,” Shabb said.
While Hezbollah voted against the treaty, Amal Movement MPs abstained. Most FPM MPs voted in favor, along with their peers in the FM and the Lebanese Forces.
A Hezbollah spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, while party MP Ali Ammar, who walked out of the parliamentary session in which the treaty was endorsed, declined to comment. The Daily Star contacted two Amal MPs, neither of whom commented.
Fadi Abi Alam, a security adviser to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, emphasized that the treaty “will not affect the right of a state to defend itself.”
While Hezbollah’s weapons are not officially recognized by the Lebanese state, the passage of the ATT by Parliament may put pressure on the group to increasingly operate within international norms. “If the resistance keeps complying with international humanitarian law ... there will be no problem,” he said.
Echoing Stohl, Shabb said the treaty would “enable the Lebanese government to be part of a network,” while Abi Alam emphasized that it “organizes such a commodity [arms] globally.”
Abi Alam said the ratification of the treaty was a positive step for Lebanon, which would lead the way among its regional partners.
Other than Lebanon, Palestine is the only other country in the region to have ratified the treaty.
Stohl voiced her agreement. “I think it’s really interesting and important that Lebanon has acceded because this is a part of the world that is underrepresented in the ATT. You have many other countries from other regions that are party to this treaty and the Middle East as a whole is very underrepresented ... It’s a very welcome step.”