Today's date:
Fall 2006

Hezbollah Took Lebanon Hostage

A prominent figure in Lebanon’s Druze community and a member of the Parliament, Walid Jumblatt has been one of the most vocal critics of Syrian interference in Lebanon. He was a leader of the “Cedar Revolution” in 2005. He spoke with Raghida Dergham, Al-Hayat’s senior diplomatic correspondent and columnist, for NPQ in Beirut.

Beirut — Lebanon has been taken hostage by Hezbollah. The kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers entangled Lebanon in the axis of Hezbollah, Syria and Tehran. By unilaterally declaring war without consulting the Lebanese government, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah provoked massive destructive retaliation against Lebanon by Israel. It gave them the pretext. Nasrallah put the Lebanese state, the only Arab democracy in the region, at risk.

Nasrallah is appealing to the Arab masses. He sees the opportunity of the failure of Western and American policy in the Middle East on Gaza and the Palestinian issue, the failure of the “road map” and the absence of any credible policy based on land in exchange of peace.

But Lebanon is not Gaza. Lebanon has been liberated from Israel’s occupation. All Lebanon wants to do is establish its authority on all its territory. By creating and maintaining its militia, Hezbollah, a state within a state, is infringing on Lebanese sovereignty.

I don’t know if Damascus or Tehran expected this massive retaliation from Israel. But as far as I can see, here were their calculations: The Iranians are trying to tell the Americans and the United Nations Security Council: “If you want to discuss the nuclear issue, well, let us discuss Lebanon. We can declare war on the borders of Lebanon against the United States”—which means against Israel.

The Syrian regime is also trying to sidetrack the international tribunal on the assassination of (former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik) Hariri. By creating war and chaos in Lebanon, the resolution of this issue could be delayed. If it can sabotage the process of the international tribunal in any way, it will do it. The international tribunal is the only way to punish and deter the Syrian regime.

In short, both the Syrians and the Iranians are fighting the Americans by proxy in Lebanon, benefiting from Hezbollah.

What Now? | We have to enhance Lebanese authority in the South, then all over the country. This will deprive the Israelis of any pretext to attack us because of Hezbollah.

If the militias aren’t dismantled and if we don’t have an effective international force, then Hezbollah can trigger another war at any time under any pretext.

My biggest worry now is that by creating chaos inside Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thinks he can destroy us. It seems he is saying to Lebanon, “You have dared to push us out after the killing of Hariri, so you have got to pay a price.” It reminds me of when Assad told Hariri in their famous meeting in 2004 that “if (French President Jacques) Chirac wants me out, I will destroy Lebanon.” By triggering Hezbollah against Israel, he had Israel doing the job.

The international community should reactivate a sound solution for the Palestinian issue based on land in exchange of peace, the removal of settlements and dismantling the horrible wall in the West Bank. This could give credibility to the whole international community. That will stop radicalism and extremism from sabotaging moderates in the Middle East. It will remove the pretext used by the Iranians and the Syrians.

If a Palestinian solution is not found, we will be left with totalitarian regimes in Syria and Iran acting at will, doing what they want in the Middle East. Then all moderate regimes will be at risk—the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians and, inside Palestine, President Abu Mazen.