Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qasim says briefly and confidently: “At this stage, Hezbollah feels more satisfied with its situation than at any previous stage.” He considers that some of the rhetoric Hezbollah hears about its weapons “passes as raindrops.”
Sheikh Qasim considers that the objectors [to Hezbollah weapons] are a political minority with little popular support that does not represent the government decision, and cannot impose its opinion. As for the dialog about the weapons, it is not mere “dialog for the sake of dialog,” but from Hezbollah viewpoint the dialog falls between two limits: the first is the clouds of hysteria, and the second and most remote is reaching a result and a strategy, and the party accepts both extremes.
Qasim does not see in the latest developments a proof of a “new Israeli adventure.” He answers the accusations that Syria provides Hezbollah with Scud missiles by saying that this is an Israeli attempt to cover up the deteriorating relations with the United States and its nuclear dossier. However this does not mean that Hezbollah is not prepared with equipment and material, whose details Sheikh Qasim – the same as the rest of Hezbollah officials – refuses to discuss. He restricts himself to hint at the abilities of Hezbollah, and showing a great deal of confidence in making Israel regret “any adventure it tries.”
Qasim admits that Syria and Iran have benefited from the victories of the resistance in Lebanon, but he rejects the claims that Hezbollah is linked to an Iranian system, and he considers such claims to be “merely a provocation attempt.”
As for the Lebanese internal arena, there are more “factors” of satisfaction for Hezbollah, be they the stances of the president toward “protecting the resistance even with our eyelashes,” the change of position by Democratic Gathering Leader Deputy Walid Junblatt, or the latest words by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri about the role of the resistance. Qasim describes the relations with Saad al-Hariri as “reasonable,” but they need more development and detailed crystallization.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are the Israeli claims of weapons smuggling and border measures an indication of future tensions and a possible military operation?
[Qasim] Relying on media news reports in the issue of armament, and building on these reports to formulate a structure of challenge and threats is an integral part of the attempt by Israel and the United States to distract the views from the troubles through which the US-Israeli relations are going. It is also an attempt to remove the focus from the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons, the aggressive acts taking place in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and also from the domestic dilemma that has been reflected in the international image of Israel. Here, I reiterate that with regard to the issue of weapons, we have never denied or confirmed the details of presence of weapons in the possession of Hezbollah, neither the quality, mechanism, and contents of such weapons. Therefore, raising this issue at this stage, and in the way it has been done, is political sensationalism regardless of any contents.
We are dealing with the Israeli threats as being an escape to the front. However, this does not mean that the war is imminent. Had Israel been ready for war, it would have chosen the timing it considers suitable, and the fictitious pretext it wants regardless of its validity or size. However, as a way of dealing with the Israeli dilemma of initiating war, Israel resorts to threats and to the attempt to distract the eyes from the fact that the problem is somewhere else. I stress that as far as Hezbollah is concerned these threats are meaningless, and will not change our way of being prepared and ready for any emergency even if we exclude the possibility of war at this stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Scud missiles claims, which has been a source of great speculation?
[Qasim] Notice the way this news was leaked. It was a news report in a Gulf newspaper attributed to a US source that lacked accuracy and information. On the words of that source all these analyses have been based, analyses that deal with the situation as if it is an inevitable fact. This means that there is an Israeli need to arouse political noise in order to distract the eyes from the problem in Israel, and from the US problem in the way it follows the various dossiers in the region. We do not see in this sensationalism anything other than an attempt to distract the eyes from what is taking place within the occupied Palestine. Therefore, regardless of the talk about Scud or other weapons, the resistance has the right to have its strength, and we ought to pay attention to the Israeli armament and its volume, which has progressed to a huge extent; why is not the Israeli armament a problem, and this fabricated sensationalism becomes the problem?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Israeli intensive moves at the borders?
[Qasim] From these moves, we understand two basic things. The first is that Israel is trying to snatch the opportunity to bite into Lebanese territories hoping that this will pass without commotion; this is something that encourages Israel to go farther. The second is that it is a step to provoke Lebanon in order to create an issue and a partial subject that will distract the attention from the daily airspace violations undertaken by Israel. These violations are considered a proscribed aggression if we know that there has been more than 12,000 airspace violations since the Israeli war stopped in 13 August 2006, i.e. at the rate of more than four violations every day. We will deal with these violations through a stance in support of the population, and which rejects accepting these violations as a fait accompli. We will see what the UN Security Council and the UN forces do, and how they will shoulder their responsibility in implementing Resolution 1701 about this issue, and about other things. This issue is subject to following up, and Israel cannot be allowed to expand and swallow territories.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you assess the performance of the UNIFIL [UN Interim Force in Lebanon] regarding this issue?
[Qasim] So far, the UNIFIL has been playing the role of submitting reports to the UN Security Council, and sometimes these reports have been playing down the Israeli violations. At the field level, we do not feel that there is a problem with the UNIFIL. From the beginning we agreed to adhere to Resolution 1701, which includes the presence of the UNIFIL. However, we wish that its presence is more effective against the Israeli violations and aggressions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people consider the UNIFIL to be hostages in your hands in Lebanon?
[Qasim] The UNIFIL has a specific duty, when they perform it, the UNIFIL would have played the role allocated to it. I do not see how the analysts consider the UNIFIL to be a hostage. Anyway, there are political analyses of what is expected of the UNIFIL, and of the two parties at the borders, be that party Lebanon or the Israeli entity. We deal with the UNIFIL as part of the implementation of Resolution 1701, and there is nothing else.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When the issue of the accusation leveled by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon [STL] at Hezbollah was raised, your ally, former Minister Wiam Wahhab, said that the UNIFIL would be turned into a two-way postbox?
[Qasim] We are not responsible for any statement by any friend or ally. We are responsible only for our statements and stances.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It has been attributed to Hezbollah sources that Israel will be surprised by a surface-to-air missile network if it enters Lebanon. Have you obtained anti-aircraft missiles?
[Qasim] I have said before that we usually do not talk about the issue of the military structure and military capabilities. This is a part of the policy of the resistance, and also of its strength. Not revealing our capabilities is in itself a part of the strength. Also the other side’s understanding that we are capable of doing many things is also another part of the strength. What the sources and leaks, with which we have nothing to do, say does not express anything. Thus, I am not confirming or denying any military information, but what I can say is that the resistance has progressed a great deal, and has its ability to confront the Israeli aggression. As for the details of how and what, this is something left for discovery in the field.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After 2006, a major change occurred at the level of armament and equipment in Hezbollah. Why this strategic change?
[Qasim] If we check the history of Hezbollah from its beginning in 1982, we will find that the absolute priority is the priority of resisting Israel on the basis of liberating Lebanon and preserving its effective ability to prevent the Israeli aggressions or deter them so that Israel does not achieve its aims. This has required us to prepare, build, and develop gradually, and at every stage we have increased our strength. Therefore, today we are not as we were in 1982. After the difficult and complex experiences we have been through with Israel in defending and deterring, starting from the 1993 aggression, through April 1996 aggression, until the liberation in 2000, and finally in the major aggression of 2006, at every stage we have been getting stronger and more impregnable within the strategy that we had originally drawn up within the priority of confronting Israel. We believe that any other priority will collapse as long as the occupation is present, and the Israeli danger is perching in this region, against Lebanon, and as long as these dangers threaten the reality in the region. On this basis we cannot say that we have a new strategy, but we are using the same strategy to increase our capabilities, improve our structure, and learn from the experiences we are going through. We say it very clearly, we have benefited from the 2006 experience, as we have plugged some of the loopholes, and improved the good things, and hence we are facing development experiences that push us forward. What we found to be needed as a result of the aggression, we have done whether at the manpower level or at any other level. Now, we certainly are more impregnable, and more at ease in managing our situation and in preparing to confront the possibilities of an Israeli aggression than at any previous time. This has nothing to do with a new strategy, but is linked to learning from previous experiences and with providing the requirements of the confrontation in order to be able to face up to the challenges, especially when these challenges escalate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It is said that next time Israel won’t have any alternative but a full-scale ground invasion. Is this escalation linked to this probability?
[Qasim] Israel says that it has leaned from its previous experience, and that it found out that aerial bombing is not sufficient, and it has to be more daring and undertake a land storming. It is not known whether the land storming will be in the interest of the Israeli project, especially as the resistance youths are much more capable on land than anywhere else, the experience (of the border villages in 2006) in Marun al-Ras, Ayta, and Bint Jubayl are still in our memories. Therefore, we consider that the land-storming operations are not going to be easy; they can choose the way of aggression they consider best for them, but I believe that the standard of the resistance will constitute a significant surprise for Israel, whether in losses or in the plans that are capable of confronting any type of aggression.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will Hezbollah position be if a Syrian-Israeli or an Iranian-Israeli confrontation erupts?
[Qasim] With regard to the issue of an Israeli aggression on Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Iran, a number of them, or on them all, there are a number of scenarios. It is not appropriate to review these scenarios in the media and to expose our plan. Therefore, we restrict ourselves to saying that we will determine our stance in the light of the Israeli aggression according to what we consider to be appropriate; we will not lay down rules of what is allowed and what is not, on the one hand so that we do not restrict ourselves and bind ourselves with specific rules and controls, and on the other hand so that the enemy does not know the way we are thinking. Previously I have said that the region can become inflamed if an Israeli aggression takes place against it; I do not know to what extent the various sides will intervene to repel the aggression and how they will coordinate among themselves. At this stage, Israel does not have a comfortable option against one of the sides, or against them altogether; Israel is confronting challenges she has never seen before the 2006 aggression, and it will have to be very precise in its calculations before undertaking any adventure. Israel can decide the time and place of the aggression, but it cannot control the result of this aggression, or the price it will have to pay.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In this case, can we consider the Damascus meeting as tantamount to a “joint defense treaty” between Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah?
[Qasim] The Damascus meeting is not a joint defense treaty, but it is an expression of the meeting of visions, and of preparedness to cooperate in facing up to the challenges confronting the region. On this basis, let Israel and those behind it understand what they want. What is important is that we do not hide that we all are against the Israeli practices, and the US bias in favor of Israel; we have common issues from which we all suffer, and these issues need to be dealt with. As for the way the details will be worked out, this is left for time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Undoubtedly, Hezbollah’s military strength is increasing greatly. Can Lebanon bear two armies?
[Qasim] In Lebanon there is one army, it is the Lebanese Army, and there is a resistance, which is the Lebanese national Islamic resistance. Had it not been for the real need to defend Lebanon, this resistance would not have existed. Therefore, experience has proved that the cooperation of the resistance with the army is sufficient to prevent Lebanon from paying an exorbitant political price, or from having a large part of its territories occupied by Israel. This cooperation between the army and the resistance led to the liberation in 2000, and to repelling the aggression in 2006, and is hindering the cloud of Israeli control to impose repatriation, or to impose political solutions via Lebanon.
On this basis the duty of the national dialog is to create the defense strategy, which means in Arabic – for those who speak Arabic – finding the means, methods, and resources that Lebanon can use to prevent Israel from occupying or threatening it at any time. At the current stage there is no scope for this except through the cooperation of the army and the resistance, and utilizing the popular abilities and resources available to the resistance.
We are not usurping the role of anyone, because the army plays its role, but we help within the framework of the legitimate defense, and the state plays its role in all its domestic and foreign practices. Therefore, there is a viewpoint that talks about not wishing to confront Israel; we do not agree with this viewpoint, because we consider that Lebanon could be lost, as the experience of the past proves. There were those who considered interactive relations with Lebanon, and the result was the militias of Saad Haddad and of Lahd (both cooperated with Israel during its occupation of South Lebanon) under the headline, liberating Lebanon by Israeli hand and hirelings. We have a different experience, which is the resistance that liberated Lebanon without condescension from any one, and completely independently. Therefore, which way should we take? We believe that resistance is the honorable solution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the phenomenon of the existence in Lebanon of a resistance, which has regional alliances, and whose weapons are objected to by a group of Lebanese?
[Qasim] There has to be a criterion for talking about whether the resistance is accepted or not. If the criterion is the popular support, we can go back to the parliamentary elections, which proved that the majority at the popular level is in favor of the resistance option (the number of those who voted for the opposition lists compared to those who voted for the 14 March Forces, which won the majority of the parliamentary seats before Deputy Walid Junblatt moved to the center). After that Mr. Walid Junblatt and those with him joined, and we heard of the stances launched by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (toward the resistance), and the very clear stances of the president about “protecting the resistance even with our eyelashes.” We have a definite majority supporting the resistance, because unanimity cannot be achieved on everything. On the other hand, if we take the criterion as the government that includes nearly all the sides in Lebanon, we will find that the government statement stresses tripartite interaction: the resistance, the army, and the people within the framework of supporting the strength of Lebanon. This statement identifies Israel as the enemy. This government, which gained the confidence from the Chamber of Deputies, believes in legitimate defense by all means, including the resistance.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But some within the government and within the Chamber of Deputies expressed reservation over this statement?
[Qasim] There are voices that do not accept the resistance; this is their opinion and their business, but they cannot control the policy of Lebanon. Therefore, we consider that the opinions against the resistance are political opinions that have the right to express themselves, but they do not represent the Lebanese decision, the state, or the people; they represent a part of this system, but they cannot take us to where they want. There are objective facts that need an answer, namely: How can we liberate Lebanon, and how can we defend ourselves? The answers to these issues are clear: We need the resistance in this confrontation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the regional dimension of the resistance, as many people say that Hezbollah represents a reflection of the Iranian policy on Lebanon?
[Qasim] The talk about the regional dimension of the resistance is a part of the accusations aimed at provoking us, and dragging us into arguments outside the domain of objectivity. If we examine the entire previous experience since 1982 until today, we will find that all that the resistance has achieved has been in the interest of Lebanon. Yes, Syria, Iran, the resistance in Palestine, and all those who love the resistance and do not want Israel have benefited from these achievements, but the fundamental thing is that we liberated our land, and Lebanon benefited from this reality. As for what can occur in the future, and how the equation of the region will be, these are ambiguous issues. However, ultimately, we in Lebanon are committed to the interest of Lebanon, and we act in a way that is compatible with our reality, and hence this depends on the objective circumstances. As for casting accusations at us from here and there, this is something for entertainment in salons, and is not suitable for objective discussion.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It seems that Lebanon is going through a new stage; how do you summarize this stage?
[Qasim] We are at a new stage in Lebanon whose indications started since the Doha agreement, and then it crystallized at the parliamentary elections and the consensus in choosing the president. This stage is not isolated from developments that took place in the region and in the world. There are power centers that have been changed, policies that have succeeded, and others that have failed. You cannot compare this to what the situation was in 2005. We are at a new stage on the domestic, regional, and international arenas, and we are facing new political equations different from those in the past. At least we are facing the United States, which is burdened with its preoccupations and mistakes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine. We are facing the revival of the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. We are facing changes in the view of the strength of Syria and its popularity. We are facing the dealing with Lebanon according to its balancing powers, and not according to wishes that make some powers in Lebanon seek help from abroad to deal with their lack of support within Lebanon. At this stage, Hezbollah feels more satisfied with its situation than at any previous stage. Some of the noise we hear passes just like raindrops.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would you describe relations with Prime Minister Al-Hariri?
[Qasim] Our relations are reasonable, but they need more development and more detailed crystallization. However, we have taken steps toward cooperation on the various dossiers, and there are discussions taking place, the most prominent of which is a recent discussion of this issue of the budget. We convened three specialized sessions about the way to deal with the requirements of the budget; experts from our side met with experts from his side together with the minister of finance, and discussions took place, which led ultimately to the abolition of the idea of the value added tax, which is one positive step of the discussion and cooperation steps.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the raindrops about which you are talking?
[Qasim] What is meant by raindrops is the insistence of some people to stir up the issue of weapons as a problematic issue in the country at the same time when the dialog table discusses the defense strategy. These raindrops have been dealt with within the National Dialog Commission, as it has been agreed that the discussion will be over the defense strategy and not anything else, and that the discussion will be at the dialog table and not through the media organs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a horizon for this dialog as you are engaging in a dialog over the strategy while insisting on the weapons that some people consider as a problem, or are we engaged in a dialog for the sake of dialog, and you are “deceiving” the conferees only in order to control the situation in the street?
[Qasim]There are two limits to the dialog. The minimum is that the sides get acquainted directly with the opinions of each other, and not to turn the disagreement into a cause for political tension outside the dialog table, but use the dialog as much as possible for the benefit of reaching common factors. The maximum is to reach a defense strategy at the dialog table. Between these two limits there are various levels. If the dialog table were to achieve only the minimum, it still would be a positive step, and if it achieves the maximum, Lebanon would have taken a very important step for itself and its future strategy. Let me be neither optimistic nor pessimistic about what can be achieved, because we accept the minimum and anything above it, and hence the dialog is considered beneficial whatever the results might be.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] To what extent are you disturbed by the leaks about the STL leaning toward accusing Hezbollah of involvement in the crime of assassinating Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and how are you going to deal with these accusations?
[Qasim] Within the party, we have decided to restrict the statements and stances on this issue to His Eminence Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. What His Eminence said in his latest interview represents our clear view of the way to deal with the STL on the basis of the steps it takes and their results, and we do not deal with the media leaks as facts on which we base our stances.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any new summons?
[Qasim] As His Eminence the secretary general said, there are summons for 18 individuals, and their hearings will commence within the upcoming days.