Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qasim has warned the majority not to violate the constitution by electing a new president of the Republic with a simple majority of one, pointing out that this would abolish the only existing rule between the two groups. He asserted that the opposition will not remain silent if this happens and will deem the president’s post to be vacant and as a result will find itself forced to fill this vacuum.
Qasim maintained that if the majority selects a president in a political rather than in a constitutional way, this will open the door to the opposition to do the same. He said that the responsibility in this case will be laid on the shoulders of the party that was the first to violate the constitution. He stated that the majority has made a final decision to select former parliamentary deputy Nasib Lahhud and explained that the opposition rejects him because he has placed himself in the camp of one side against another, which strips him of his capacity as a suitable president. He pointed out that the same situation does not apply to Gen Michel Awn, who is the only candidate that the opposition now has.
In reply to a question about the likely eruption of a civil war against the background of the presidential election, he cautioned that leaving the country without rules that are common to both sides will let it fall prey to the law of the jungle, “which we cannot know in advance where it will take us.” He refused to give a definite answer regarding the direction in which Hezbollah’s weapons will be turned at that time.
He said that the general rule is that the domestic front is not a target for Hezbollah’s weapons but pointed out, however, that no one can foresee the details of what might happen in the country as a result of the government’s behavior.
Qasim strongly denied that Hezbollah is arming itself and training Lebanese groups. He accused the factions of the majority group of arming themselves massively. He asserted that the Lebanese Army’s Intelligence Department and the other security services are perfectly aware of what is happening. He also denied the remarks that US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman made about the “facts” of arms smuggling across the border from Syria. At the same time he asserted that Hezbollah is continuing to train its cadres and making preparations. He revealed that there has been a significant increase in the number of Hezbollah combatants since the war ended.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where is Lebanon’s domestic crisis going?
[Qasim] The opposition is trying hard to offer ideas and solutions that will in the end help to find remedies that will enable us to be partners in the homeland and uplift Lebanon. No single party can govern alone no matter how strong it is. The latest proposal by Chamber of Deputies Speaker Nabih Birri, which the opposition has accepted, calls for electing a president by a two-thirds majority. We discovered that the other side, represented by the government’s forces, rejects all positive solutions and proposals. We believe that the government’s forces do not want any solution that rests on a partnership relationship. They are trying to play for time in order to carryout certain unconstitutional actions, relying on the international cover that they are getting.
We believe that the most recent innovation that the government’s forces will use is to elect a president in an unconstitutional way, whether by a simple majority of one or by the votes of any deputies who attend. They have come up with the name of their candidate, who is Nasib Lahhud. They have agreed on this among themselves under US sponsorship and coordination with some regional countries. Such steps do not promote a solution but will further complicate the crisis. We still hope that they will relent and be responsive to Speaker Birri’s initiative. If the government’s forces continue to close all doors, this will mean that we will get harmful results. We will find ourselves in a situation, responsibility for which will be wholly laid on the government’s shoulders.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a personality that is qualified to be a compromise president?
[Qasim] Before we talk about names, we should talk about the possibility that the government’s forces might demonstrate a will that is independent of the Americans and that there is a willingness to make a joint decision with their partners in this country. As we see it, they are not free from this US hegemony so far. Their delay in answering Speaker Birri’s initiative for more than 10 days is proof that the Americans are hesitating to give an answer and wish to keep the matters unresolved for a long time. They then came up with the idea of a dialogue in response to the initiative, keeping in mind that the initiative adheres to the constitution and calls for a dialogue to agree on a compromise president. The issue is not who the candidate will be. The problem is whether there is a wish to reach an understanding and agree on a compromise. However, since agreeing on a compromise candidate means partnership among the two sides, the government’s forces has so far rejected the idea just as they previously rejected the idea of a national unity government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have any objection to Nasib Lahhud as president?
[Qasim] I do not want to play the names game. Generally, however, any person who represents one group will be unacceptable to the others. Such a person cannot be the solution. In his presidential platform, he adopts the concept of representing the 14 February group (the majority).Therefore he does not want to be the candidate of all the Lebanese. His political posture makes him representative of one group, not all of Lebanon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it not possible to adopt the same logic regarding Gen Michel Awn’s candidacy?
[Qasim] What I have heard General Awn saying so far is that he wants to represent all the Lebanese people. He is trying to present himself as a person able to propose a political platform that will satisfy the loyalists and the opposition alike and to create a special Lebanese condition that is free from regional and international pressure and influences.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is General Awn the candidate of Hezbollah and the rest of the opposition?
[Qasim] Hezbollah has so far not declared its final position. However, anyone who looks at the opposition front will find that General Awn is its sole candidate. We prefer to see the final and detailed answer coming when we are officially in the midst of the election.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will happen if the current stances remain unchanged and we reach the point of a constitutional “parting of the ways” in the event the majority elects a president by a simple majority of one?
[Qasim] If we assume that they elect one of their own as president in an unconstitutional way, this will mean that they have not selected a president for all Lebanon but a president who will administer their group. In this case, we will deem the post of president as being vacant even if they choose a person acceptable to them. We want a president for all Lebanon, not the leader of a group. We will take all the appropriate measures that will produce a president for all Lebanon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A president with half the votes minus one?
[Qasim] I am saying that we will adopt all possible measures so that Lebanon will have a president after the other side decides to flout all Lebanese options and elect a president in line with international instructions. We do not want a president solely for our group, but a president of all the Lebanese. After the other side resorts to manipulating the presidency and chooses a person who is not suitable for the post of president, we will find ourselves forced to fill the vacuum to prevent the emergence of a constitutional vacuum.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would not such a course of action divide the country and heighten the risk of civil war?
[Qasim] You can if you wish review the opposition’s behavior in the past 10 months. We were patient for a very long time about the repeated violations that the government’s group perpetrated. We were patient because we still saw a constitutional position that would protect this country, namely, the post of president, which was protected by the presence of President Emile Lahhud. If we come to the end of the president’s term and they choose a president in just any way they please, it will mean that they will be selecting a president in a political rather than in a constitutional manner.
They will then have to expect reactions from the parties that wish to defend the country and preserve constitutional rules and restraints. When one side makes a political choice, you cannot prevent the opposite side from making a similar choice. It will depend on how they act. Whatever consequences follow will be the responsibility of the party that was the first to violate the constitution and manipulate the presidency. We are facing a crucial junction. If the other side behaves in a dangerous way that will drive the country to further complexities and ruin, it will bear full responsibility for the outcome. If the rest of the world recognizes a president elected contrary to the constitution, this will do them no good because a president needs the recognition of the Lebanese people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we facing the risk of civil war?
[Qasim] I am not speaking about the risk of civil war or anything like that. I hope that we will not face any of the likely and expected problems. However, any choice that the loyalists make outside the scope of the constitution will mean that they are leaving the country without any of the common rules that should govern us all. When that happens, we will find ourselves faced by the law of the jungle. Under the law of the jungle, one cannot foresee which point matters can reach. This is their responsibility. We are calling on them not to elect a president except in accordance with the constitution and not to allow a power vacuum to develop by letting the presidential election date pass without electing a president. We urge them to carry out this constitutional task in accordance with Speaker Birri’s initiative so that the current presidential term will not end without the country having a new president. They should do this to protect this country. This is our wish. If they make a different choice, they will bear responsibility. I do not know what the outcome will be then.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the opposition might elect a president contrary to constitutional provisions?
[Qasim] I will only say that we want an administration that is completely in agreement with the constitution. So far the constitution can serve as the arbiter between us and them. If they eliminate this arbiter and act in other ways that will leave the country without constitutional restrains, they should not expect the other side to remain hostage to their will. The other side will find it necessary to adopt measures to protect Lebanon. What the opposition will do will be for the sake of protecting Lebanon. You can interpret this as you wish.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Hezbollah has always said that its weapons are directed against the Israeli enemy. Is it possible that these weapons will be turned against a domestic target?
[Qasim] We have repeatedly said–and expressed our choice with our blood and our long experience–that we wish to fight Israel and liberate the land. We have repeatedly avoided the trap of internal conflict because we are convinced that our task is to confront the Israeli threat. The domestic front is not a target for our weapons. This is the general rule, but what will happen to the country as a result of the government’s performance? This is what no one can foresee because the other group is acting irresponsibly. We are telling them that their policy is bad and negative and cannot serve the country. Hence we urge them not to resort to actions that will hurt Lebanon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are accused of training and arming other Lebanese groups.
[Qasim] When I heard someone talking about this subject, I laughed a lot and was astonished why they were so late in making this joke, especially as the talk about the weapons and combat training of the government’s forces surfaced around four months before this claim. There are definite proofs that all the government’s militias without exception are being armed and trained. They used part of these militias on the general strike day in January2007.
This extensive arming is occurring under the cover of security firms and personal protection arrangements. One Arab country is helping to finance the operation. The training is taking place in another Arab country. We have sufficient information. The country’s intelligence service and the security services have information about the level of arming and training in the other group’s ranks. There are weapons in every Lebanese house as a result of the current chaos and the campaign that the government’s forces have sponsored, particularly after Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination. The militias had enough cover to arm themselves and train their members under direct protection from the state’s organs. The issue is the goal that the government’s forces wish to achieve through this arming and training. What do they want by provoking such issues?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman says that Hezbollah is conducting an extensive arming operation through the border with Syria.
[Qasim] All this talk is a propaganda ploy to focus attention on an issue that has no connection with the basic problem, namely, that Israel is still the aggressor that threatens Lebanon and poses a real danger and that the United States is meddling in Lebanon’s affairs to the point that it will ruin the country. They are trying to raise another issue called Hezbollah’s rearmament. They are inventing a state and speaking about certain information for which we can find no evidence. We witnessed a new assault on Syria last week, which proves that the problem is there and that Hezbollah has nothing to do with it. Of course Hezbollah has the right to remain alert, prepared, and strong because it faces unending challenges. It is not a crime to be prepared to confront any Israeli-US scheme.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has Hezbollah rebuilt its strength to the level that it had prior to last summer’s war?
[Qasim] As a resistance movement Hezbollah works constantly to maintain its strength, capabilities, and vigor. When the liberation occurred in 2000, the people thought that we were through with the confrontation with Israel. We told them, however, that it was only a stage. We are working hard on training and preparation to remain capable of deterrence and keep the bitter cup away from Lebanon. After Israel’s defeat and the victory of the resistance, Hezbollah continued to arrange its situation in the appropriate manner, keeping its members ready and handling the unequalled flocking to its ranks by Lebanese youths. This requires that we train these young men to be at the pinnacle of their strength and capability to form a constant deterrent to Israel and either delay a new confrontation or completely abolish its likelihood.
As to how we prepare ourselves, these are details that we do not speak about. If some people wish to be reassured, we can tell them that Hezbollah maintains a high level of preparedness, which makes the enemy think twice before it carries out an assault. As to the surprise about which Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah spoke, it will lose its significance if we speak about it now. Let the analysts’ imagination fly wherever it wants.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We can at least understand from what you say that there has been a significant increase in the number of Hezbollah’s combatants.
[Qasim] There has been a very large flocking to join Hezbollah. This occurred in a professional rather than an emotional manner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What will Hezbollah do if a regional war erupts? Will its missiles remain neutral if Israel strikes Syria or Iran?
[Qasim] When a regional war occurs, we cannot tell what the situation will be like. No one can imagine a specific scenario in order to give a specific answer. If an aggression occurs in the region, all the possibilities are open. I cannot definitely say what our position will be if certain possibilities occur because in all the wars that we have so far fought, we were in a defensive position. The future might bring possibilities that might involve parties other than Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Other countries might be involved. We pray to God that this will not happen for the good of all the parties. Any foreign or Arab country that thinks that an attack will bring some benefit does not realize the repercussions and outcome of any aggression.