Posted by Joshua on Sunday, March 18th, 2007
Interview with Hizbullah's MP Nawar Sahili
By Hugh Macleod, March 2007
Published by Syria Comment
As Lebanon and international players struggle to find a solution to the four month old political crisis in Beirut, British journalist Hugh Macleod spoke to Hezbollah MP Nawar Sahili about the roots of the dispute and the future of Hezbollah’s armed resistance.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections after Hariri’s assassination, Hezbollah formed part of the ‘Four Party Alliance’ that united you with your Shia rivals in Amal, and with the Druze of Waleed Jumblatt and the Sunnis of Saad Hariri. What happened to that alliance?
After Hariri’s assassination we needed to reduce tensions in the country. Saad Hariri was very positive and told us he did not believe Hezbollah had anything to do with his father’s death.
It was a strategic alliance to give us a government of national unity. On one election list Hezbollah gave 15,000 votes to make sure there was a majority for the Alliance.
So we ended up with a government of 24 cabinet ministers, with five ministers from Amal and Hezbollah and three allied to Emile Lahoud, with Tarik Mitri as the neutral. That was the one third plus one formula. Some months later Lahoud’s minister’s Elias Murr and Charles Rezk changed their politics and went to March 14 so there was no more equilibrium. We had been betrayed and Jumblatt and Hariri said the Alliance had never existed.
What happened after the war to precipitate the crisis?
After the war everybody realised there was a big political crisis. We could not continue in government as only numbers sitting at the table without any power in decision making. Each time there was a big issue to discuss they [March 14] threatened to take it to a vote. By the constitution, a two thirds majority passes any bill, so we felt they were forcing through their will.
We felt there was no solution: either we form a government of national unity or the government can rule alone.
During round table discussions on November 9 last year Saad Hariri met Nabih Berri and Mohammed Fniesh and there was a sort of agreement on dealing with the international tribunal at the same time as forming new government. Saad was clear: ‘If you give us the international tribunal we not against you taking 11 seats [in the new 30 seat cabinet]. But I need to see my allies.’
And you know his allies are Jumblatt and Gea Gea who are totally against an agreement because we think they are totally under US policy and until now the US does not want a solution in the region as they are lumping Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon together.
The opposition say Hezbollah resigned from the government because it is opposed to the formation of the Hariri tribunal. They say Damascus is to blame for Hariri’s killing and that as allies of Damascus and reliant on the transfer of weapons across Syria’s border with Lebanon, Hezbollah is protecting its masters in Syria. What do say to that?
They say the problem is the tribunal. It is not true. They say the problem is Syria and Iran. It is not true. We simply want the tribunal to be judicial and criminal, not a political lever setting one party against another.
For us the problem is the government. If we want to reach an agreement between the two sides then let’s have a discussion of the draft and begin to compose a new government draft as discussed by a commission who will then pass it to the government where all the cabinet can agree on it and then I assure the president will sign it and it can go to the parliament for a vote by all MPs.
It is better for Rafik Hariri to have the agreement of all of Lebanon and if the US government would not put a veto on the issue, we could solve the problem in 48 hours. Jumblatt and Gea Gea are the US government’s officers in Lebanon and are doing Washington’s bidding.
As for our alliance with Syria and Iran, I am not a speaker for either country, but it is not something I am ashamed of.
We have a political alliance and they support the resistance, but the alliance stops when it is against the interest of Lebanon. We did not give our young guys’ blood for the sake of Iran or Syria. It was to defend all Lebanon and not for the sake of anyone outside Lebanon.
For example, when resolution 1701 was passed by the Security Council, Iran and Syria said they were against the resolution but Hezbollah said we were with it, but with some remarks. Then Iran and Syria said they were with it. If we are an arm of Iran or Syria we would not have been able to agree with the resolution.
Let’s talk about the status of the Shebaa Farms. When the UN drew the Blue Line they ruled that the Shebaa Farms was Syrian territory, that it was part of the Golan Heights, thereby verifying Israel’s complete withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. The Syrians say it is Lebanese territory yet they have never officially ceded the land through the UN to Lebanon. If Hezbollah wants to liberate Shebaa Farms why not go to Damascus?
First of all, the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese territory. We have official papers issued by the government in the 1930s that state it is Lebanese land. So why should we go to Syria to ask them to say it is our land?
If Syria officially ceded the land to Lebanon it would mean Israel would be in violation of resolution 425 and while acknowledging that it would certainly not be the only resolution Israel has not implemented, surely putting Israel in violation of 425 would strengthen the resistance’s effort to liberate the land?
There is no legality in the international community. When you have a paper saying this land is your land you do not need to go to an international tribunal. The international community made a mistake, so why should we accept it?
Why should I tell my neighbour to go to the international community for the purpose of the international community only? Siniora had a solution to get UN soldiers into the area and he discussed this with Waleed Mualem during the war.
Yes, so why has there been no movement on resolving the issue?
The problem is with Israel not Syria. The Shebaa is a strategic place and the Israelis will not withdraw from it easily.
Let’s talk about Hezbollah’s other key demand: the return of Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails. We know Hezbollah is demanding the return of Samir Kantar and there are maybe half a dozen more Lebanese in Israeli jails. Yet rights groups say there are some 280 Lebanese prisoners once held in Syrian prisons and still unaccounted for. Why is discovering the fate of those Lebanese not the priority of the resistance?
The Syrians were here not as an occupying army. We cannot compare a neighbour to an enemy. The very people who are fighting Syria now were the ones who asked Syria to intervene.
You cannot compare the civil war among Lebanese to the big war which is against Israel. We are not against asking Syria to give back any Lebanese, but we are not going to war with Syria over it.
Syria has said there are no more Lebanese prisoners, but it’s a big question mark. They were taken during the civil war, which was a very dirty war.
We have tried several times with the Syrians and they say there are no more Lebanese prisoners in their prisons. They were all killed during war. But certainly if there are Lebanese who are still living in Syrian prisons then we hope Syria will give them back.
The Times of London recently reported Hezbollah militants were preparing a new line of armed defence just north of the Litani River, out of reach of UNIFIL. What is Hezbollah’s position on resolution 1701?
We agreed on 1701, no one obliged us. When UNUFIL came they asked if Hezbollah considered them an enemy or friend. We said we only have one enemy, the one who occupies our land and attacks our people.
I do not have the information to speak about our security strategy, but I can assure you that the resistance is still here. We did not close the file. We still have the three components; occupied Lebanese land, our prisoners in Israel, and the Israeli threat to our people.
We still have to resist. We cannot wait with our hands in the air.
Now we are leaving the south of the Litani for UNIFIL and the Lebanese army, but if one day Israel attacks Lebanon I don’t think UNIFIL will defend Lebanon. So if one day Israel attacks and UNIFIL withdraws, the Lebanese army is not strong enough to defend, so it will be the job of the resistance to defend Lebanon again.
Can you see a day when Hezbollah could be incorporated into a strong Lebanese army, as a kind of special forces unit?
Our point of view is that the resistance is strong because it is secret and popular. The day it becomes part of the army regular army the Israelis will come and attack the Commander in Chief, the Defence Ministry or the Prime Minister’s office, and then there will be a war between Israel and Lebanon.
Our strategy of defence is to keep the resistance but to have a link to the army, be an aide to the army, but not part of it. Before the war the military intelligence services captured an intelligence group working for Mossad which was good for Lebanon and good for the resistance.
But fundamentally if you have an armed group operating beyond the control of central government and the army and taking security decisions that can lead the country into war, then you are undermining the army and ensuring it can never be strong . . .
It is the matter of a political decision. Before the war everybody said Hezbollah was against the army going to the south, and now we have changed. This is not true. Before the war, there was no decision given to the army that if they went to the south they would be there to defend the border. We were afraid the army was going as a policeman to protect Israel not Lebanon.
When the decision was taken that they should go to the border to fight then we agreed. It’s a beginning. Maybe one day the army can be strong with anti-aircraft missiles to defend the country.
Resolution 1559 called for the disarming of all remaining militia groups in Lebanon. Hezbollah has made it clear it will not disarm. Is 1559 a concern for you?
We do not consider ourselves a militia. The definition of a militia is a group that uses its arms against its own people. We have never used our arms inside Lebanon. We are a popular resistance, so 1559 does not exist for us. The weapons of the resistance are an internal Lebanese issue and one that we have positively discussed in the National Dialogue talks before the war.
Hugh Macleod is a British journalist who has been based in Syria and Lebanon working for the British and US press for the past three years. From early April highlights of his work can be found at www.hughmacleod.co.uk