Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat talks exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat about Hezbollah’s ‘Deterrence Theory,’ UN peacekeeping troops and the adoption of the ‘Syrian Model’ in the Golan”
The following is the text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) what direction is the situation in Lebanon going?
(Fatfat) I think we are moving toward the complete implementation of Resolution 1701. I think that all sides are now convinced that this resolution is the best solution. The problem today is that Israel – as usual – looks down on the UN resolutions and tries to encroach upon them. The most prominent of these encroachments are not lifting the siege it imposes by sea and air on Lebanon, not ending the hostilities, and prevaricating about the withdrawal.
However, the more important question is: At the strategic level, in which direction are we moving? There are many differences between the situation before and after 12 July. When Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah says that he did not expect the magnitude of the Israeli reply, this means that the studies on which the principle of deterrence was based ought to be revised, because Lebanon has paid a frightening price for the deterrence theory. At the same time, no one can deny that there is a victory at the military level. Israel considered itself defeated merely because of the fact that it was not able to achieve complete victory. What is new is that the Israeli public opinion now realizes after 50 years of being in an impregnable fortress it cannot stay isolated from the effects of war, and that war can reach it at any time. Israel used to settle all battles quickly without affecting its home front, but now the Israeli public suddenly realizes that the war could reach their homes, and every facility they have.
We in the Arab world celebrate any victory, because since 1948 we have been living in a state of major psychological destruction. These feelings of humiliation and injustice motivate many people to follow extremist directions. Twenty years ago, I was partly thinking like this; I left my home and my school and joined the Palestinian resistance, because we felt oppressed and humiliated. Every generation grows up to be fiercer than the one before it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) how has the Israeli bombardment effected the domestic situation?
(Fatfat) Israel wagered on creating a rift in Lebanon between the resistance and the people. This has not happened, and will never happen. Even if the Lebanese people were not in agreement with what happened, we would not create a rift that benefits Israel. The Lebanese people’s steadfastness and unity, not to mention the government’s steadfastness and stances, were part of the victory.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But there are clear political differences?
(Fatfat) This is another issue. These are the laws of political life. Like in any other country, political differences do occur. However, in pivotal issues, the Lebanese become unity.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are many politicians who blamed Hezbollah during and after the war?
(Fatfat) The people did not. Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah said that Hezbollah had miscalculated. Therefore, blame is no longer an accusation. Hezbollah’s fighters have performed a marvelous job, and showed important steadfastness, in addition to the people’s steadfastness. This subject is no longer a taboo, and it could be discussed through political and democratic procedures. For instance, the questions that ought to be addressed are: In what direction are we moving? Why were not everybody consulted about the decision to go to war?
On the morning of 12 July, Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora met an official of Hezbollah, and asked him about what was happening; after the latter answered, Al-Siniora said: “Israel is going crazy,” but the official answered: Israel will not do anything. I heard the same thing from Deputy Hussein al-Hajj Hasan, who said to me that Israel’s reaction would be limited.
Moreover, the part of the weapons used by Hezbollah in the battle was tactical; we can say that Hezbollah on its own could decide the use of such weapons. However, the use of strategic weapons to strike at the depth of another country is tantamount to inviting that other country to strike at the Lebanese depth. This is something that cannot be delegated to a single side within the state; it is the right of the state to decide this.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is the alternative to the “deterrent theory,” which you said it collapsed?
(Fatfat) There are alternatives in the region. I am not talking about the Egyptian or Jordanian models, i.e. through a peace treaty. We cannot sign a peace treaty for a very simple reason – in addition to the national and emotional reasons – namely that we have 500,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, and we cannot do anything before resolving their situation, because we cannot absorb them. There is the Syrian alternative; the situation in the Golan is very comfortable for the Syrians, and for 32 years not a single bullet has been fired.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But this option has not restored for the Syrians a single inch of their territories?
(Fatfat) They have regained some destroyed houses, which they have not restored so far, in Al-Qunaytirah. Once there are no occupied Lebanese territories, and the UN forces are at the borders, we will stop the state of war with Israel, there will be a no-war situation, and we will pursue a political solution for the Palestinian issue.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are international discussions about linking the Israeli siege to the situation at the Syrian borders in order to stop the supplies of weapons?
(Fatfat) The Lebanese Army has conveyed to the UN secretary general through Army Commander Gen Michel Suleiman that the Syrian borders are literally waterproof, i.e. not even water could pass through these borders without being observed. Israel has the air and space resources to ascertain this. However, this mission could be undertaken by the army now, but not after two months, because you cannot keep the soldiers at a height of 2,000 meters during winter. The army needs logistics and its aircraft need to be equipped with night sights and surveillance equipment to allow a reduction of the number of soldiers at the borders. Otherwise, the borders would be liable to infiltration. We do not need UN soldiers at the borders. We have conveyed this to the UN secretary general, he was satisfied with what we did, and he has been acquainted with the deployment maps.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the situation of the airport and the port?
(Fatfat) For years I have not heard of a security infiltration at Beirut Airport. As far as the passengers are concerned, the airport has been under control from a security viewpoint. We lack the equipment to examine the contents of the containers; however, bear in mind that all the containers that arrive at the Beirut Airport come from European airports, and would have been subject to examination. As for the port, there are measures that ought to be adopted, because the same as in all ports in the world not all containers are subject to examination, and only random checks are carried out. We have asked for scanners for comprehensive checks, and the UN team has been satisfied with the measures we adopted.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have established a supreme border-surveillance committee. Is this aimed at curbing the powers of “mistrusted” organizations in Lebanese security?
(Fatfat) This step has been distorted. We are not curbing the powers of anyone. What we are doing is a proper reading of Resolution 1701, which does not ask us to do anything other than to apply the Lebanese laws. The resolution prohibits any weapons entering Lebanon unless they are for the State of Lebanon. The role of these organizations is to implement these rules.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Then, what is the role of this committee?
(Fatfat) Its role is to coordinate between the organizations. The problem we used to face, and which made it necessary for the International Air Transport Association, IATA, to address a warning to us, was that there were many security organizations at the airport, while in the airports everywhere in the world there is one organization only.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) It is being said that Director of Public Security Maj-Gen Wafiq Juzayni and Airport Security director Wafiq Shuqayr are being marginalized because they are politically supported by Hezbollah?
(Fatfat) This is not true. It was the head of airport security who proposed his assistant as a coordinator of the security organizations operating at the airport. This committee doest not take away any of the powers of the chief of the airport security. As for the issue of the border surveillance committee, it has been established in order to be the contact point with the mission sent by the UN secretary general, and the role of this committee is advisory.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will there be an international presence at the airport and the other border crossing points?
(Fatfat) We do not feel that this is necessary. Resolution 1701 is clear in specifying that it is up to the Lebanese security forces to ask for international support in the form of equipment or troops. There is no need for this at the airport or the port. As for the border crossing points, we only need equipment; the army situation there is very bad, and the soldiers sleep either on the ground or in their vehicles.