Beirut – Former Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called on the new government to defend the country’s foreign relations, in the wake of recent attacks by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Suleiman said: “Lebanon’s relations with Gulf states are a key factor in the resilience and resistance against Israel.”
“One of the main pillars of this resilience is represented by our children, who are working in the Gulf, and without whom Lebanon would not be able to overcome decades of instability and turbulence,” he added.
Suleiman, who also served as Army commander for nearly nine years, said that no internal party has legitimized Hezbollah’s engagement in the Syrian war.
“It is only the resistance against Israel that has been legitimized,” he stated, adding: “This confusion has toppled the tripartite equation of the army, the people and the resistance [as mentioned in ministerial statements], because when [Hezbollah] took its arms to Syria, the equation collapsed.”
Asked about his opinion on President Michel Aoun’s recent reaction to Israeli threats, Suleiman stressed that the president did not say that the Lebanese Army was weak, but that it was not strong enough to face such threats.
He noted in this regard the need to implement a defense strategy to confront Israeli and terrorist threats, as well as to tackle the issue of armed groups on Lebanese territories.
The former president said that in September 2012, he presented his vision on a defense strategy that defines the means to deal with Hezbollah’s arsenal, among other issues.
“According to this strategy, [Hezbollah’s] arms should be placed at the disposal of the Lebanese army, when needed, through a defined mechanism,” Suleiman noted.
“The fundamental principle is that the Lebanese army takes advantage of the resistance’ capabilities and weapons against any Israeli threat on our territories,” he continued, stressing that the military should have the sole right to use the force elements via a mechanism that receives consensus through dialogue among all factions.
“It is not right to say that we consider Hezbollah’s arms to be part of the defense strategy,” Suleiman said, adding: “The strategy was put in place to discuss this matter.”
Commenting on Nasrallah’s latest televised speech, in which he lashed out at Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the former president warned that nobody had the right to attack friendly countries, underlining the deep and historic ties between Lebanon and Gulf states.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he stated.
He noted that the defense strategy highlighted the importance of Lebanon’s economic and diplomatic relations in fighting dangers posed by Israel.
Suleiman explained that Arab investments in Lebanon should not be ignored and highlighted the great assistance provided by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other states in rebuilding the country following the 2006 Israeli aggression on the country.
He added that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 also called for resolving the issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal.
“I can say that the Lebanese army is very strong in terms of international legitimacy,” the former president said. “But it certainly needs weapons,” he added.
He noted that there was a Saudi intention to support the army through a “big and surprising” financial donation, but relations between Lebanon and the Kingdom had compelled Riyadh to go back on its decision to offer a military grant.
“In the past, when the Saudis offered us such donations, they did it without hesitation; but attacks against the Kingdom and skepticism about the grant have led us to the current situation,” Suleiman said.
Back to Hezbollah, the former president said that the armed group has, on several occasions, acted on a unilateral basis, without referring to the Lebanese government.
He raised in this regard the issue of the so-called Ayoub drone, which was sent over Israel’s Negev desert in 2012.
Suleiman said that at that time, Hezbollah did not inform the government of this issue but later confirmed responsibility for the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which was sent over Israel, only after the Iranians said they have received reports and pictures of the drone.
“Such actions weaken the both resistance and the government,” the former president said.
He added: “I urge the State and the new government to adopt the banner of defending our foreign relations, the same way it responds to threats against Lebanon, whether they were Israeli or terrorist threats.”
Lebanon’s legitimacy is much more important than the weapons, Suleiman said.
He added that the Lebanese army would be able to stand up to Israel through a “unified national will, international legitimacy and the Lebanese people’s support”.
“Israel knows that it cannot occupy Lebanon whether the army was weak or strong,” he stressed.
Suleiman said that during the national dialogue sessions, which were held under his term, Aoun was the first leader to present a defense strategy based on the Lebanese people’s support.
“We cannot exclude any party from the defense strategy,” he added.
Commenting on internal disagreements over the drafting of a new electoral law, the former president warned of the dangers of political vacuum should the new government fail to hold parliamentary elections within the constitutional deadline.
“The new government should not allow such things to happen,” he stated, stressing that the international community was looking forward to the holding of democratic elections in the country.
When asked to evaluate the performance of the current presidency and government, Suleiman said: “Political forces are seeking their interests; as for the presidency and the government, it’s early to judge their performance.”
He said that politicians should be aware that their interests could be best achieved when the country’s interests are sought.