Hariri Tribunal and Lebanon's Latest Developments

Monday, November 29, 2010

Interview with Dr. Massoud Asadollahi, Middle East and Lebanon Affairs Expert

Covert Goals of Hariri’s Iran Visit

Active ImageQ:  As the first question, please explain about the goal of Hariri’s visit to Iran under the present circumstances.

A: If the visit had occurred under normal conditions, it could have been assessed within ordinary diplomatic equations and in line with bolstering bilateral relations. However, the situation in Lebanon is quite critical and the international tribunal may point an incriminating finger at certain members of the Lebanese Hezbollah as accomplices. This would lead to a full-blown crisis. Therefore, his visit cannot be considered an ordinary one within framework of diplomatic protocols. It should be analyzed in relation to the critical situation in Lebanon. Saad Hariri and March 14 Alliance are concerned about Hezbollah’s possible reaction to the indictment of Judge Belmar and wonder whether that reaction would lead to clashes and instability in Lebanon. That concern is also shared by countries whose forces are currently present in Lebanon as part of UNIFIL. All of them are concerned about possible reaction of Hezbollah to the indictment. Therefore, Hariri seems to be looking for some kind of guarantee that Hezbollah’s reaction will be a limited one, which will not lead to uncontrolled violence in the country.

Q: Do you mean that there are covert and overt reasons behind his visit?

A: Yes. Although media reports claim that he is here to develop diplomatic, trade, and economic relations with Iran, or that his visit is in response to Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Lebanon, there are other dimensions to the visit, including obtaining guarantees on the limits of Hezbollah’s reaction. Of course, I should note that this is an unjustified demand. March 14 alliance cannot press such charges against Hezbollah and expect the movement to remain calm by lobbying with Iran.

Q: You have taken two issues for granted here. Firstly, the tribunal will certainly incriminate Hezbollah and, secondly, Iran is in control of Hezbollah. Please explain.

A: As for the first assumption, this is not my personal view, but secretary-general of Hezbollah has reiterated in frequent addresses and interviews that based on strong evidence they want the court to condemn Hezbollah. The answer to your second assumption is negative. March 14 Alliance believes that by lobbying with Iran, it can limit Hezbollah’s reaction. In fact, however, Hezbollah is quite independent in its actions and takes measures according to its own discretion. Therefore, this is not a correct assumption.

Active ImageQ: Israeli forces have been withdrawn from Ghajar village in recent weeks. Last week, editor in chief of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abdurrahman Rashed, wrote an article noting that the withdrawal was a prelude to renewed military assault on Hezbollah. Do you think there is a meaningful relationship between pressures that are exerted on Hezbollah and withdrawal of the Israeli troops from that village?

A: First of all, there are two dimensions to withdrawal of Israeli forces from Ghajar village, with the first dimension being more important. The withdrawal is meant to distract the public opinion from the existing deadlock in the Middle East peace talks. In fact, Israel is trying to cover up its actions in Quds and also to distract the world’s public opinion from building new Jewish settlements on the Palestinian territories. Israel is planning to hand over that area to UNIFIL, but the Lebanese government maintains that it is part of the Lebanese soil and should be taken over by the Lebanese Army. The second dimension is about Lebanon. Israel is trying to pose itself as a pacifist state by telling the world that now Israeli troops are out of Ghajar and there is no need for the resistance movement to exist in Lebanon. As I said before, the withdrawal aims more to distract the public opinion from the current deadlock in Middle East peace talks.

Q: In conclusion, how do you see future political outlooks in Lebanon? Do we have to anticipate a new civil war?

A: There won’t be another civil war in Lebanon similar to what happened in 1975-1990 because there are not two opposing forces to be pitched against each other. On the other hand, there is no group which can measure up to Hezbollah either in terms of security issues, or military power. What happened on May 7, 2008 (when the former Lebanese Prime Minister Foad Siniora ordered telecommunications system of Hezbollah to be dismantled and, in reaction, Hezbollah occupied west Beirut) proves this view. The Lebanese army is not powerful enough to contain Hezbollah and even enjoys good relations with it. The main point of concern about future outlooks in Lebanon is emergence of a situation similar to that of Iraq. There is no classic war going on in Iraq, but insecurity is fife and they expect explosions on the streets any moment. This will provide good grounds for further activities by Wahhabi and Salafi groups and emergence of such groups substantiates this presumption. An example was Fatah Al-Islam in Tripoli. It took more than 100 years, before they could take the group out of Narh al-Bared camp. At present, both the United States and Israel have reached the conclusion that Hezbollah cannot be controlled through military and security measures and this has been already proven during the 33-day war. Therefore, they are resorting to heavily politicized court proceedings on Hariri’s assassination to claim that Hezbollah, as a Shia group, has assassinated a Sunni prime minister. This will help them to pitch Shias against Sunnis and take Hezbollah off the right track, which is to engage with Israel. If successful, they would erode Hezbollah’s power in a civil conflict. After that erosion is complete, they are sure to resort to military action and put an end to Hezbollah. Therefore, we should not expect military action against Hezbollah anywhere in the near future.

Source: Tehran Emrouz Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review

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