Asharq Al-Awsat talks to MP Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah”s parliamentary bloc in Lebanon about the recent conflict between Lebanon and Israel, the UN, Syria and Resolution 1559.
Q) What is your response to the fiercest confrontation recently between Hezbollah and the Israelis since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, especially that some people are holding you personally responsible?
A) The reasons behind the decrease of resistance operations in the previous period no longer exist. In fact, we find it strange that we are questioned about the background of recent events because the factors that provoked the operations in the past have not practically changed in light of the continuing Israeli occupation in parts of Lebanon. However, what happened is that the resistance, so as not to misinterpret some of its moves, took into consideration the tense climate of the local arena and the psychological situation of the citizens and reduced the number of operations. However, now that people have become accustomed to the new internal situation, the resistance will not hesitate to carry out any effective action against the Israeli enemy in the Shebaa Farms at the appropriate time and situation. The latest confrontation represents the commitment of the resistance to liberating the rest of Lebanon from the occupation. The exaggeration of military operations in the Shebaa Farms region intends to cover the losses sustained by the Israeli enemy and to justify them to its people.
Q) How do you respond to the accusation by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz that Hezbollah has inflamed the Shebaa Farms issue to lighten the pressure on Syria?
A) His remarks are simply an attempt to utilize the incident improperly. Everybody knows that even during the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the Syrians were surprised by the operations. As for Mofaz””””””””s threats, they will not scare us.
Q) Why did Hezbollah object to the extension of power for personal representative of the UN secretary general, Gier Pederson to include all of Lebanon?
A) Based on the international political situation towards Lebanon, which is a course of internationalizing the Lebanese crisis, Resolution 1559 was issued. Today, the expansion of Pedersen””””””””s mission to include all of Lebanon embodies this course. This means that Lebanon has actually entered the international realm in which it will always have the world””””””””s attention cast upon it that will want interfere in its internal affairs according to the interests of influential international forces.
Q) Does Hezbollah have doubts about Pedersen?
A) We have been dealing with Pedersen for a short while now concerning the international forces and their work in southern Lebanon. We have portrayed a positive attitude in dealing with him. It is not about his personality, but rather about the international view of following up the Lebanese matter.
Q) How does Pedersen deal with Israeli violations that take place on a daily basis in southern Lebanon?
A) The international envoy records these violations, but regrettably, when these violations are to be documented to express an international political position, a number of these violations and their importance are sometimes omitted. This was the case in the Terje Roed-Larsen report, which omitted the Israeli attack on the French officer who was killed in southern Lebanon by Israeli gunfire so as not to cause the Israelis embarrassment with the French.
Q) How do you view the Lebanese Government””””””””s position on Resolution 1559?
A) Apparently, the government refuses to face the international community, and this is natural. We agree with it on this position. It also respects international resolutions, and this is natural, also we agree with it on this. Respecting international resolutions does not mean complying with these resolutions if they are not in the interest of Lebanon, its sovereignty and internal national unity. Resolution 1559 is one of these resolutions. When the cabinet statement expressed a position towards this resolution, it was careful in the words that it used that stressed Lebanon””””””””s respect for international resolutions, in a way that does not contradict Lebanon””””””””s sovereignty and internal unity.
It seems that some people, internal and external to the government, seek to limit dialogue to the matter of disarming the resistance. We think that dialogue will be meaningless if it is going to follow that direction. The dialogue will be successful if it focuses on the most efficient ways for protecting Lebanon.
Q) Is it true that Resolution 1559 was the subject of a six-hour discussion between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah?
A) I do not think that the dialogue addressed this issue in such detail, but there were questions about the Larsen report and the commitment that was made by the Lebanese Government to implement the remaining clauses of Resolution 1559. Prime Minister Siniora addressed the matter in the media.
Q) Will you continue to question the government on what Siniora reportedly said in the Larsen report on commitment to the implementation on Resolution 1559?
A) Yes, certainly. We will continue to ask this question and listen to the government””””””””s response. I am unaware of what happened between Larsen and the Lebanese prime minister, but what was contained in the Larsen report, which is considered an international document, needs some clarifications and a specific answer from the prime minister. Has he made such a commitment or not? Expressing his position in the way that he does to the media does not clarify whether the answer was yes or no. This answer is not convincing. We want this position to made clear. We are not testing Prime Minister Siniora””””””””s patriotism for if we had doubts about this, we would not have joined the government. However, since we share this sense of patriotism to some extent, we have the right to ask this question.
Q) The issue of a lack of basic needs in Lebanon has been exploited. What is your view on the politicizing of this issue and what is your response to reports published in the Syrian press about the demonstrations about these demands?
A) After the demonstrations stopped following the reduction of oil prices and giving teachers their rights, it became clear that what was said about politicizing the actions of Baalbaak””””””””s residents was false. It is clear that Hezbollah””””””””s support for these demands has no political background except supporting the citizens, who are suffering from the high cost of oil at the start of the winter season. The citizens are also complaining that the government is not cooperating to meet this demand. How can action and its goals be condemned? Is it toppling the government, with whom we are partners? Are we seeking to topple ourselves through the recent actions that call for meeting certain demands?
Q) It is said that Hezbollah changed its mind about demonstrating only after reading what the Syrian newspaper ””””””””Tishrin”””””””” wrote about the course to be followed by the demonstration.
A) I think that this is sheer fabrication against Hezbollah and is unfounded. Why would we take to the streets after the government has responded to the demands of the people? The reports published in the Syrian newspaper ””””””””Tishrin”””””””” and elsewhere are part of a politicization process and those who practice it are responsible for it. During the days of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, Hezbollah did not receive instructions from anyone.
Q) Some people have blamed you because the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement withdrew from the cabinet session that was going to discuss the Syrian President Bashar Asad””””””””s speech in which he criticized the prime minister of Lebanon. Is it true that there is an intention to withdraw from the government if the prime minister pledges to implement Resolution 1559?
A) Actually, we said that the withdrawal of the Hezbollah and the Amal Movement ministers from the cabinet session was due to a patriotic stance rather than one of sectarianism or factionalism, in order to make it possible to reconsider the tense relations between Lebanon and Syria. These relations cannot be addressed with an insult here and a curse there. They are addressed by looking at Lebanese-Syrian relations in terms of national interest, to be examined in an objective and rational manner. However, to align oneself with or against some parties, I believe, does not contribute to rectifying relations between Lebanon and Syria. This was our intended message by the withdrawal of our ministers from the session. The ministers who remained in the session expressed their views. We just wanted to express our view in this way.
Q) Were you not able to express your objection to the statement that was issued by the cabinet in the session itself? Why did your allies, the ministers from outside the Shiite sect, not unite with you?
A) We expressed our position at the cabinet session, but it was rejected. We demanded another session to discuss the matter of Lebanese-Syrian relations, without turning the cabinet into a forum of overreaction and emotions but our request was rejected and the cabinet insisted on handling the issue then. This is why our ministers had no choice but to withdraw. However, our withdrawal from the session does not mean that we plan to withdraw from government. We will remain in the government until we see that people are not abiding by the agreements of the governmental statement.
Q) It is evident that there is an international attack on Hezbollah””””””””s weapons and the resistance. How are you confronting this attack?
A) We think that the international attack is upon the entire region. What worries us now is the attack on Syria. We are afraid that if Syria falls into the trap of chaos, which the Americans call "constructive chaos," then this might be transmitted to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the entire Arab world.
Q) How would this constructive chaos extend to other countries of the region?
A) I think that Syria””””””””s geopolitical position and the role it has undertaken in the past have made it a pivotal state of the Arab region. Perhaps, anyone who wants to establish a state of chaos in Syria intends to expand such a condition to the rest of the region. It would be difficult to keep Lebanon away from this if Syria is afflicted by it. Instability of Syria, which shares borders with most major Arab arenas, will transmit to these areas in view of the intermingling popular, ethnic, and political elements.
Q) How will the dangers of this constructive chaos be faced and have any preparations been made?
A) Each country requires national unity and there needs to be a pan-Arab understanding between Lebanon and Syria.
Q) Do you fear that universities may initiate chaos, especially after what we have seen in the university student elections in Lebanon?
A) We do not want to focus on the negative aspect of things, but there is indeed a state of tension among the Lebanese, which is expressed by young people at universities. This situation needs to be remedied. Forces and government should bear the responsibilities of easing political and sectarian tension, which Lebanon has not experienced even during the height of the civil war. Therefore, we should establish dialogue. Acting arrogantly as if we are the guardians of this country to the exclusion of others leads to this tension and drives members of our team to arrogance and to the marginalization of others. This would not build a stable society in Lebanon.
Q) How do you view presidency of the republic? Do you support keeping President Emile Lahoud until the end of his extended term?
A) In Hezbollah, we do not choose to discuss this matter except within the correct context. President Emile Lahoud is the president until the end of his term unless there is a constitutional reason that requires its termination. We support what the constitution says. Every president makes mistakes, but should we act unconstitutionally towards this?
Q) What does the constitution say in this respect?
A) If the president of the republic is not accused of high treason and if he does not violate the constitution, then no one can end his term prematurely.
Q) How do you explain the six-hour investigation of President Lahoud by the international investigation commission of the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri?
A) President Lahoud does not call it an investigation. If it was an investigation, then why was he not summoned like others to the headquarters of the investigation commission?
Q) How do you evaluate your relationship with MP General Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, who advocates the idea of Hezbollah becoming brigades in the Lebanese army?
A) Firstly, we must mention that there has been noticeable progress in General Aoun””””””””s position towards Hezbollah and its weapons through dialogue between Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement. General Aoun expressed appreciation for the weapons of resistance. He denied that there are internal fears of these weapons. He said that the Free patriotic Movement and Hezbollah should discuss means of facing pressures, to which Lebanon is exposed and in which the weapons of the resistance are used as a pretext to besiege Lebanon. Moreover, some senior politicians in this country have discussed with General Aoun the idea that all international resolutions be joined and are implemented one after the other starting with Resolution 194, the implementation of which serves the national interest of Lebanon.
Presently, from Washington we hear that the position of General Aoun towards Hezbollah has developed and that he no longer considers Hezbollah a militia. We consider this position as progress and we welcome this development. We hope to reach common convictions to protect Lebanon and to define a clear position on how to deal with international resolutions. We have heard that General Aoun would like to meet with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
Q) Do you think the obstacles that once hindered this meeting between Aoun and Nasrallah have now been removed?
A) The truth is that all obstacles and disagreements were discussed during the bilateral meetings between Hezbollah and Aoun””””””””s party. There are no longer any significant points of disagreement. We need to reach a final position on dealing with the international resolutions and with the weapons of the resistance. We are eager to maintain dialogue with all the Lebanese parties, who do not seek alliance with the Zionist entity.
Q) You previously formed an alliance with the Lebanese Forces in the last parliamentary elections. You were criticized for this and accused of siding with leaders of those who seek alliance with the Zionist entity.
A) We ran in the elections in the Baabda-Alley constituencies by forming an alliance with Walid Jumblatt, whose list included a candidate backed by the Lebanese Forces and who is not a member of the Lebanese Forces; namely, Edmond Naim. He is a man of law whom we know personally. He was formerly a deputy to the head of the Progressive Socialist Party. There has been no contact and no cooperation with the Lebanese Forces before, during, or after the elections.
Q) Will you change your position regarding the Lebanese Forces?
A) We have not yet heard a new language from the Lebanese Forces party.
Q) Do you not see a change in the political rhetoric of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Jaja and openness towards Hezbollah?
A) The truth is that we have not yet sensed a new tone or a new language in dealing with the Lebanese arena and its issues by the Lebanese Forces and their leader, but we hope that the horizons of development in vision will open. At this stage, however, we are not going to speak about negative aspects. We are also not speaking about positive aspects at this stage.
Q) We notice a change in the rhetoric of Deputy Walid Jumblatt toward Hezbollah. Has there been a break up?
A) Not at all. Our relationship with Walid Jumblatt is strong and unaffected by any views or remarks by any side.
Q) There is talk about a sudden Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms to deny Hezbollah any pretext for keeping weapons of resistance.
A) The argument that the Shebaa Farms represent a pretext for the resistance to continue has been overtaken by time. The resistance is a plan for protecting Lebanon. As long as there is an Israeli threat and a strategic danger to Lebanon, the resistance will remain legitimate.
Q) Why is the identity of the Shebaa Farms not decided by Syria admitting that the disputed territory is Lebanese, and by Syria providing the required documents to resolve this issue?
A) Why should Lebanon prove that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory, when they are farms of the Lebanese town of Shebaa? Israel claims that they are not Lebanese territory; therefore, it should prove that they are not Lebanese territory. We are not concerned with proving that they are Lebanese or non-Lebanese territory. We say that they are Lebanese territory. If Israel is making this claim, it should produce the evidence.
Q) Why does Syria not settle this controversy and produce the documents, which it has and which prove that these farms are Lebanese territory?
A) Do we have to assume that Syria is a charitable society? It is a country that has its own interests. It thinks that it is not in its interest to present these documents because it does not want to act in a way that would assist Israel.