THE LEVANT – Al-Akhbar conducted an exclusive six-hour-long interview with Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. In a multi-part series published over the last two days, journalists Ibrahim al-Amin, Wafic Qanso, Hassan Ileik and Maha Zureikat sat down with the party’s leader, where he discussed in detail issues ranging from Syria, ISIS, the recent Gaza war, the 2006 war with Israel, domestic Lebanese issues and his own personal habits.
The following section is focused specifically on the ongoing conflict in Syria and the characteristics of Hezbollah.
Does Hezbollah feel responsible for Shia Arabs (Twelver Shias, Ismailis, Alawis, etc.)?
There is always someone trying to promote this characterization of us. Hezbollah was established nationally and regionally as a resistance [movement] against Israel, and achieved in this battle great accomplishments and major victories. It was clear to Arab governments and all political forces that Hezbollah was among the serious forces, if not the most serious force, that have taken it upon themselves to confront the Zionist project. Consequently, there can be no questioning of the connection Hezbollah has to the conflict with Israel, and the realities on the ground in Palestine. For this reason, as [dramatic] developments came to the region, there were attempts to exploit [divisions] in every arena. In Egypt, because there is no Sunni/Shia [split], the schism was painted as opposition vs. the regime. The same thing happened in Libya and Tunisia. But in Iraq, they opted for sectarian incitement, and the countries and media outlets that took Iraq to that kind of incitement, during and after the US occupation, are well known. When the incidents erupted in Syria, they also turned the conflict into a sectarian one through agitation, incitement, and [inflammatory] rhetoric, mobilizing fighters from all over the world.
For Hezbollah, when it offers any help or support in any one arena, its calculations are not sectarian, but are rather based on what we call the nation’s battle, the nation’s project, and the interests of our countries and peoples. For example, when the Americans occupied Iraq, part of the Iraqi popular mood was not on the side of the Resistance because of Saddam Hussein’s oppression of the Iraqi people, and because of successive wars and the embargo. This is normal because the people were exhausted. But, and this is no longer a secret, who was it that devoted its political discourse, and all its media capabilities, relations, and contacts, from day one, all the way to [forging] a relationship on the field with the Iraqi Resistance, especially in Shia circles? Hezbollah did not go to work in line with the Shia mood, but rather to work on this mood, and through any margin available for resisting the US occupation of Iraq.
Resistance took off in Iraq, and a large part of it was, to put in quotes, a Shia resistance, in the sense that the factions engaged in resistance were affiliated to Shia Iraqis. A large number of the operations were documented by video, but the Arab satellite channels, like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and others, refused to carry them. Isn’t that odd? Why did that happen? Because they did not – and this is not an accusation against Sunnis but against some regimes – want to acknowledge the existence of a Shia resistance with ties to the Iraqi Resistance.
From the outset, they opted for sectarian agitation in the Iraqi, Syrian, and Lebanese issues. They insist that the Resistance in Lebanon is Shia. We tell them this is a national Lebanese resistance [movement] for all Lebanese. It just happened that Shia live on the borders with the enemy entity, which is why they are the ones fighting, yet they insist we are a Shia and Iranian resistance, and so on. Those who want to continue using this characterization let them do whatever they want. But for us, we were keen from the beginning on stressing that our presence in Syria was not on a sectarian basis, and that we had helped resistance in Iraq on non-sectarian grounds as well. We have helped Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian factions, which happen to be Sunni. It has always attempted to cover up our contribution in Palestine to project upon us a sectarian motive. We say: Where we can defend Palestine, the Resistance Axis, and the people, where we can be present and where we can help, then we will do so. If Hezbollah has the will to defend its people and the cause of its nation, and is willing to do so, then this is not a crime or a sin. The question should be directed to the others: Why do you not shoulder your responsibilities and why do you not defend?
If Hezbollah had not fought in Qusayr and in Qalamoun, the last battle would not have been confined to Ersal alone. The Bekaa would have been “finished,” and they [the extremists] would have reached Mount Lebanon, Akkar, and the coast, and the battle would have been in Beirut and the South. This much is certain. Offering martyrs to save all these lives, dignity, and properties is a logical, religious, moral, patriotic, and humanitarian duty.
You said that Hezbollah is a phenomenon rather than a party, and therefore it represents all Shia, especially in the current climate. But those who (in times of peace) may be with the Resistance, may be against Hezbollah in matters of development, or municipal and parliamentary affairs, which has prompted accusations against Hezbollah of imposing itself on the Shia.
I cannot accept this characterization. But at any rate, this is normal. Hezbollah is made of humans. There is an arena of sacrifices where it operates, where you may find all people are on its side, such as the arena of resistance. But in other arenas, this clarity may not be present for all people like it would be in the arena of resistance. People who operate in these other arenas may commit mistakes. The difference is that in certain areas, mistakes might appear, while in others, those engaged in action might make mistakes that people cannot see. In all cases, it is difficult for a group of humans, call it a party or a movement, to operate in all domains and please all people, or capture all their ambitions, hopes, and expectations.
Hezbollah has many advantages, at the level of ethics, seriousness, commitment, and faithfulness, but they are also human, who have certain capabilities and capacities. This is while bearing in mind that we, in many areas, are keen on diversifying [partners] and do not handle responsibilities alone, including in municipal affairs. There are many mayors for whose work, even when positive, Hezbollah cannot take responsibility. Sometimes, positive things could be the result of personal efforts rather than an agenda. On the issue of municipalities, there are norms and traditions that even Hezbollah could not bypass, including the subject of family representation. Municipal councils, even those affiliated to Hezbollah, cannot claim to be Hezbollah institutions. For this reason, in this regard, people need constant development. In addition, the conduct of individuals and officials, which varies from one place to another and between one person and another, their convictions and their moods, all these things play a role. What remains is the issue of resistance. I am with the notion that there is no problem even if people make a distinction, though I don’t mean making a full separation. A person might tell you: On the issue of resistance, I support Hezbollah, but on the municipal issue, I do not, or in trade unions, or on a stance on a particular piece of legislation. This is normal. At one time, I said: separate resistance as resistance and a just cause, from the attitude vis-à-vis Hezbollah or the dispute with Hezbollah that can start from supporting a certain mukhtar or student body in a university to the president of the republic. We can disagree on other issues, but [the question should be] how can we work without the dispute with people or political forces being reflected on the issue of resistance?
There is a feeling among people that despite offering many martyrs, no one appreciates it, which raises questions about its worthwhileness?
Even in Iraq, there were those who asked, like in Lebanon, what has brought Hezbollah to Syria? Some would debate us regarding the motive and causes. After what happened in Iraq, they have accepted our vision. Today, whether in Iraq or even in Syria, the popular mood is of concern to us, and the popular mood has begun to change. I am receiving a lot of gratitude.
From people or from politicians?
It has nothing to do with politicians. People in our environment are aware of this battle, and in other environments, this awareness is growing and so is the sense of danger. I have received very important messages. There are people who have reservations about talking in the media. As for the politicians, be confident that whatever we give them, they will never be satisfied nor will they acknowledge it. Unfortunately, there is a group of politicians who now have an automatic hostility [to us], unrelated to whether what we are doing is right or not. In some stages, international and regional actors had instructed groups affiliated to them to antagonize us, but their enmity has reached such an extent that even the actors who were behind them are telling them the priorities have now changed. There is no solution that works with these [groups].
Can Syria help in earnest with an issue like the refugee issue, by allowing them to return?
The problem is, do the displaced want to return? We are all willing to help them. Some can return and live in safety and security. There are entire areas, in Damascus, Homs, Qalamoun, and elsewhere, where the militants fought the state for three years and then entered into the settlements, and today no one is harassing them. These were fighting, so how [can it be worse] for those who only fled? So let us look for the real reasons why some insist on taking refuge in Lebanon specifically. This requires a serious will among those refugees first, and a decision by the political forces second, to stop using the refugees against the regime, humanitarianly, morally, militarily, and politically. These [forces] are encouraging the militants to bring their families to Lebanon so that they can fight [more freely] there. Incidentally, I confirm that Lebanese support for militant groups in some Syrian regions continues, in terms of funding, arming, intervention, care, and guidance, though away from the spotlight. This is continuing and has not changed. What is required is a political decision to stop using the refugees, and subsequently, initiate cooperation with the Syrian government to return them to their country. What I know is that Syria is very willing to cooperate in this regard.
Does your participation in the war in Syria exhaust Hezbollah in terms of both men and material, and to what extent can Hezbollah bear this risk?
To say that it exhausts [Hezbollah] is an exaggeration. But in any case, the sacrifices Hezbollah has made in Syria, from the start of its intervention to the present day, remains much less than the sacrifices and costs Hezbollah and all the Lebanese would have had to pay later if had not intervened.
Has the fighting in Syria revealed tactics that Hezbollah wanted to keep as a surprise for the Israelis?
What has been prepared for Israel differs naturally from the battle we are fighting against the armed groups. I do not see that anything Hezbollah had prepared or hidden for the battle with Israel has been exposed. On the contrary, and this is one of the positive upshots – but not the reason to go to Syria naturally – this battle has imparted on us further experience, knowledge, and broader horizons that can be put to use in a better way in any future confrontation with the enemy, both in attack and defense. Israel is watching Hezbollah’s experience in Syria. A lot has been said in Israeli discussions, that Hezbollah, after the experience of Qusayr and Qalamoun, can implement lessons from those two experiences in a battle in the Galilee. The battle in Syria gives us an edge in any battle with the Israeli enemy, and nothing has been lost from our hands that would have been beneficial in the battle with the enemy.
Have you clashed with the Israelis inside Syria?
Does Hezbollah’s presence in Syria help the people of the Golan Heights launch a popular resistance movement?
This depends on their will. When you talk about resistance in any given area, if the people of that area, the locals living in that land, have a will to resist, you can be an element of help as had happened in Lebanon. In 1982, the Iranians and Syrians did not come to fight in Lebanon. There were Lebanese people who had the will to fight to liberate their land, so helping them was meaningful.
Both before and after the IED attack in Shebaa, there have been multiple attacks in the Golan. Is Hezbollah linked to those attacks?
What I know is that there is a real formation present there, a popular formation that expresses a certain will. They are the ones at work, not us.
Is it true that you met with Syrian dissidents recently, and that some have since changed their stances?
There is no need for those I met to change their positions. But I can say they understood our position.
Do you make distinctions among the elements that make up the Syrian opposition?
Practically, in the current reality, the external opposition no longer has any presence inside Syria. It did not have any presence to begin with, in my opinion, and had no influence in the Syrian interior. They are a group of political, cultural, or intellectual figures who were brought together in the framework of a certain political project. The majority of them live on the doors of embassies, hotels, and remain at the doors of embassies and hotels. This is not just my opinion, but their own opinion. Major symbols in the so-called national opposition coalition say this in meetings with their Lebanese friends. They say that they just talk and meet and issue statements, and that they had only grown more divided by the embassies and [foreign] powers, and the so-called Friends of Syria group. This is the reality of the opposition abroad. So where is this opposition in the political and the field equation today? It has no value or influence. The field is run by the armed groups. Even the Free [Syrian] Army was not an army, but a group of separate armed groups that sometimes coordinate with one another and many times fight with one another over spoils, checkpoints, and border crossings. Practically now, a large part of the battlefield is with ISIS, and a smaller part with al-Nusra Front, and another part with what has been recently called the Islamic Front. As for national, secular, or civil groups, they do not exist anymore. I don’t want to quote [US President Barack] Obama on this, but he is an expert on them. The American ambassador ran a large part of the opposition. Now, the opposition on the ground is made up of mostly extremist armed groups that fight one another. This has been the ultimate outcome of the situation. Even if we want to find certain political forces in the opposition to engage them in dialogue or for a settlement, we will not find any.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.