Asharq Al-Awsat, Beirut – The comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal that were published in the International Herald Tribune recently, some of which were in reference to Lebanon, have provoked a range of reactions in the country. The Saudi Foreign Minister expressed his opinion that Lebanon will never enjoy full sovereignty as long as Hezbollah owns more arms than the state military. The different reactions expressing reservation, attack and support reflected the varying positions of Lebanese political forces.
Hezbollah announced yesterday that it will not “read negatively into” the statements made by the Prince Saud al Faisal about Hezbollah’s arms. A source from Hezbollah told Asharq Al-Awsat that the party prefers to read into the positive aspects of the Saudi FM’s interview with the International Herald Tribune such as his criticism of the United States’ absolute backing of Israel and the obstacles that this support puts in the way of the peace process.
Despite his reservation, Mohammad Raad, head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, said that “Hezbollah shares the view that it is the state that must assume the responsibility of defending the nation. However, when the state is in a stage of incapability then all Lebanese must strive to build a strong and just state that is able to prepare its military to confront Israeli violations.”
Raad attacked recent comments made by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, which further assert his dislike for Hezbollah. Raad considered Feltman’s project a failure after “General Michel Suleiman reached his position as President [as a result of a consensus].”
Nehmeh Tohmeh, a member of the Democracy Gathering bloc headed by MP Walid Jumblatt, called for “not going too far in [trying to reach] conclusions” with regards to Prince Saud al Faisal’s position. He expressed that his recent position “has regional dimensions especially as the Prince is very efficient in this field, without forgetting that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a prestigious position.”
Tohmeh told Asharq Al-Awsat “Some [people] must not go too far [to reach] erroneous conclusions, as the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] is dedicated to stability and prosperity in Lebanon, and I can be sure that it respects and appreciates all parties in Lebanon.”
Tohmeh emphasised the necessity of not “exploiting Saud al Faisal’s recent position and remembering that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia brought about the Taif Accords i.e. civil peace and the constitution and it supported the Doha settlement (2008) and with rapprochement with Syria, and it is supportive of rapprochement of the Lebanese and of everything that strengthens their unity.”
Tohmeh expressed hope that no one would seek to exploit this position of Prince Saud al Faisal “who has the right to express his political opinion.” Tohmeh also said that Prince Faisal “did not wrong any political party in Lebanon or confront anyone; rather, his position was a political one.” Tohmeh believes that this position “will not change the positive [approach] resulting from the keenness of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to unite the words of the Arabs from the Kuwait summit to the Jeddah and Damascus summits with the Syrian President.”
Ziad al Qadiri, a member of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al Hariri’s Future movement told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Saudi Foreign Minister “spoke about Hezbollah’s weapons in a similar way to the ministers in Lebanese parliament.” He denied that this position would have repercussions on Prime Minister Saad al Hariri’s visit to Damascus. He pointed out that the Lebanese are agreed on solving the weapons issue through dialogue.
Member of the Lebanese Forces bloc Antoine Zahra stated that the issue the Saudi Foreign Minister spoke about is “a point of contention in Lebanon; there is a party that considers these weapons necessary to fight Israel on the one hand and another party [that is for] Lebanese sovereignty on the other hand that believes the necessity of resisting Israel is through the leadership of the military and under the government’s command.” Zahra added that “the existence of weapons [not belonging to the state] is in breach of [UN Security Council Resolution] 1701 by Hezbollah” without forgetting the danger of Israel’s violations.