In an interview with Al-Jazeera late Thursday night, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah made it absolutely clear who was calling the shots in Lebanon – and it isn’t the Lebanese government.
Speaking more like a head of state than the leader of a minority political party and terrorist organization, Nasrallah emphasized that it was Hizbullah that would determine the length and intensity of the conflict with Israel and that the Lebanese government would be allowed to negotiate prisoner exchanges – under the right conditions.
He also threatened prominent Lebanese politicians who have criticized Hizbullah’s unprovoked aggression against Israel and dismissed the negative comments of Arab governments toward him and his organization.
It is clear from the interview that Nasrallah feels Hizbullah is in the ascendancy:
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s interview with Al-Jazeera late Thursday night must have reassured his constituents that his leadership continues to function. At lease that was the impression of several ministers and politicians who saw the interview. These observers said Nasrallah appeared confident that Hizbullah will be triumphant in its fight against Israel. It was seen as perfectly normal for Nasrallah to try and boost the morale of his supporters. Nasrallah claimed Israel’s failure to realize its “overt and covert” goals as a Hizbullah victory.
The government and those parties that disagree with Nasrallah had warned the international community of this possibility, arguing that military operations by Israel would likely strengthen Hizbullah more than weaken it.
It was this reality that explains Nasrallah’s firm resolve while discussing the ongoing clashes with Israel.
While some of Nasrallah’s claims are sheer bluster, there is no doubt that he feels his organization has supplanted the Lebanese government as the final arbiter of war aims and war policy in that he says the military clashes with Israel will continue “for the foreseeable future” and he has outlined the role that the Lebanese government will play in any negotiations:
[B]y agreeing to conduct negotiations through the government (specifically Speaker Nabih Berri), Nasrallah consolidated an agreement made between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Berri and Hizbullah last week. Nasrallah also said the government was relaying proposals from the international community and that the resistance was commenting on them.
The ministerial sources said that while approving the government’s role, the conditions set by Hizbullah did not allow either the government or Berri a free hand.
Nabi Beri, the Shia Speaker of Parliament and member of the Amal party, is a close ally of Nasrallah. If Prime Minister Siniora recognizes a Hizbullah veto over any proposals for a prisoner exchange that ostensibly would lead to an end to the fighting, this makes Nasrallah (for the moment) the de facto head of government.
And to illustrate this, Nasrallah has called for the release of the longest held Lebanese prisoner in Israel – Samir Qantar – held since he was 17 years old in 1979 for the murder of 3 Israelis including a 4 year old girl. The Israeli government insists it will never release the terrorist. So by making an impossible demand of the Israelis to start with, it is clear that Nasrallah wishes to tie the hands of the government in any prisoner exchange negotiations.
As for criticism of Hizbullah’s actions by other Arab states, Nasrallah dismisses them out of hand:
Nasrallah said he did not care about Arab criticism of Hizbullah. Commenting on the issue, Nasrallah said, “We forgot them as if they [Arab states] do not exist,” and advised the Arabs to “leave us alone.” Some observers said the latter comment had a “harsh and negative” tone.
Perhaps most ominously, he is threatening more moderate Lebanese politicians who have criticized Hizbullah for attacking the Jewish state and taking Lebanon to war without consulting the legitimate government:
Nasrallah said his party would “hold some accountable and forgive others,” in response to MP Saad Hariri’s accusations that “adventurers who banked on the situation in Lebanon will be held accountable.”
The ministerial sources saw in this statement an “open threat without clear consequences.”
Hariri, son of the slain Prime Minister whose assassination galvanized the country into throwing off the yoke of Syrian occupation, is leader of the Future Movement, the largest bloc in Parliament. Other prominent members of FM who have harshly criticized Hizbullah include Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Prime Minister Siniora, a secular Sunni with close ties to the Hariri family.
The assassination of any one of those politicians by Hizbullah would probably result in a civil war. If Nasrallah believes that his militia is in danger of losing their arms, he may think that initiating another civil war would be his only option in maintaining his position. A disarmed Hizbullah would simply be a minor party in Parliament, scrambling for scraps from the table while the larger parties enjoy the feast. It is doubtful, therefore, that he will give up his guns without a fight. It would be best if the international community understand this before establishing any kind of force in southern Lebanon to act as a buffer between Israel and Hizbullah. Not only will the terrorists refuse to give up their guns but they may feel it necessary to fight to regain their positions in southern Lebanon if it comes to that.
One wonders if it will be possible after the war to contain Hizbullah unless they are almost totally destroyed by Israel. But that would take a long time and would probably require a full scale invasion of Lebanon – something the Israelis appear reluctant to do. And with so much of the post-war shape of politics in Lebanon up in the air at the moment, one must also wonder if anything at all of Lebanese democracy can be salvaged from the wreckage that Hizbullah has wrought.
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I would like to register a complaint about my accomodations at the Lubyanka. While awaiting my trial,, the food served here isn’t fit for a pig, much less an enemy of the state. And one of my KGB guards smells like a wet dog. Not only that, he keeps whistling The Internationale off key. And to top it all off, my lawyer is now ensconced in the cell next to me and will have trouble defending himself much less anyone else.
I’d register a formal complaint but I don’t have anything to write with and I must save my toilet paper for emergencies. All I ask is that you put me out of my misery soon.