Al-Monitor interviewed Mohammad Raad, one of the founders of Hezbollah and the leader of the group’s parliamentary bloc in Lebanon. Raad, who has a degree in philosophy from the Lebanese University, played a role in developing Hezbollah’s internal constitution as well as its 1985 “Open Letter to the World,” a document that expressed the party’s vision. Later, he served as a Hezbollah media official and the chief editor of the group’s official newspaper, Al-Ahed. He would then serve as a member of Hezbollah’s Shura Council, which determines the group’s major policies and strategies. At the time, Raad was in his late 20s and early 30s.
By Ali Hashem – Translator: Tyler Huffman
Born in 1955 in Beirut’s Musaytbeh, Raad traces his family roots to the village of Jbaa in Nabatiyeh, an area that he has represented in parliament since 1992, when Hezbollah decided to enter the Lebanese political arena. Five successive parliamentary sessions have made Raad a veteran member of parliament and one of the main faces at Lebanese dialogue tables.
Like most Hezbollah officials, he has kept his family out of the media, but his eldest son, Hassan, was wounded as he fought alongside Hezbollah during Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanon. Within Hezbollah, Raad is considered a major and influential party leader. He maintained a close relationship with the late Imad Mughniyeh, the party’s military commander who was assassinated in 2008.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: Today, Hezbollah is fighting in Syria, offering its expertise in Iraq and raising the ceiling of escalation in Yemen. … Where is Hezbollah heading?
Raad: Hezbollah is interested in all these arenas based on the vision that within our Arab arena there is a primary enemy that seeks to cause harm to every detail, and that wants to break up the region — dividing, fragmenting and weakening it. This enemy is the Israeli enemy that is occupying Palestine. And because Palestine lies at the heart of our vision, we are following all of these events and developments in the region. Because we are concerned with the will of the people, we stand in solidarity with these people, supporting their demands and activities. We don’t want our countries to witness chaos and disorder. Rather, we want them to advance and develop whereby they can meet the ambitions of the people and have popular representative weight that is capable of achieving prosperity and development. Because we have this entire vision, we must be present wherever we need to be — in Syria, to the extent necessary in Iraq and Yemen, in multiple Arab arenas.
Al-Monitor: Following three years of participation in Syria, what is Hezbollah’s assessment of this involvement? Are the results worth all the sacrifices, including the sacrifice of a large part of your Arab public?
Raad: We do not deny that our presence alongside the Syrian people in confronting the conspiracy targeting Syria — including its army, the state and the people — has had a positive impact. We appeared alongside the Syrian people when we saw that the extremist terrorists had drawn the swords of injustice to destroy Syria and eliminate the aspirations of the Syrian people to achieve reformist development in their state. We believe that Syria — in all its components — is being subjected to a conspiracy aimed at weakening it, so that it will lose its role and position in confronting the conditions of submission that the Israeli enemy wants to impose on the region’s people. And because a weak Syria will reflect negatively on the status of the resistance in facing the Israeli occupation of Lebanese lands, and a weak Syria will allow for chaos and internal tension that can leak into the Lebanese domestic scene — thus leading to the collapse of the Lebanese formula that preserves cooperation in the framework of the unity of the Lebanese entity — we had to be present in Syria. Thus our presence is to defend Lebanon and the political formula that preserves diversity in Lebanon, and to defend Lebanon’s sovereignty and the capabilities of the resistance in confronting the Israeli occupation.
In terms of evaluating the results, it suffices to say that the goals set by those conspiring against Syria were not realized. From the beginning, we said that the solution in Syria could not come through violence and militarized protests. Rather, a political solution is the only way to solve the crisis in the country, with its conditions. In other words, whoever wants a resolution in Syria according to the agendas of foreign powers will not achieve such a resolution. And whoever wants a resolution in Syria without including one of the primary parties that can ensure the implementation of this resolution will not solve the crisis in Syria. Those creating the transformations in Syria do not wait for public opinion, which is formed in a fleeting moment under a passing cloud in the sky.
First, we do not deny that the media outlets of our adversary — i.e., the enemy — work against us night and day. They have a media squadron with wide-ranging parties and arenas. Yet all of the media mobilization against us does not eliminate our conviction that our cause is just, and we are effectively working to ensure the victory of our cause, as the media squadron works to distort our image, disturb public opinion and incite hatred against us — sometimes fabricating a multitude of narratives and scenarios to divert attention from what we are really doing.
Yet our cause carries the pulse of the street in the entire Arab region. Whenever Hezbollah makes any achievement in any place, the hearts of this Arab street beat strong. Sometimes the people hesitate to display this beat, in light of on-the-ground conditions that are passing through unnatural situations. And sometimes the people show their solidarity clearly, as happened at the time [Hezbollah was] targeted in Quneitra and the Shebaa Farms operation. If this indicates anything, it is that the cause we support and are fighting for concerns all the peoples of our Arab region. I think that the key to the hearts of these people lies in our ongoing struggle. The entire world is not capable of changing our image, which we are keen to keep truthful in dealing with the issues of our [Arab] nation.
Al-Monitor: What are the practical results of the latest Qalamoun operation with regard to Lebanon and Syria?
Raad: In summary, what was happening in Qalamoun was that terrorist groups were active in the region and presented a threat to the Lebanese villages and Syrian civilians residing in the Syrian regions of Qalamoun. These groups were in contact with terrorist groups on the barren plains of Arsal and exchanged expertise with them on explosives and terrorism tactics. They were preparing car bombs [for terrorists in Arsal] and producing explosives for them, helping them if they decided to attack a neighboring Lebanese village. They were also facilitating the movement of terrorists to the Zabadani region, which constituted a threat to the international highway linking Beirut and Damascus, given the proximity of Zabadani to this road. Because the Qalamoun region and the terrorists’ spread in it was increasing this threat, we had to address this threat to provide more security for our countries and make things more difficult for the terrorists.
Today, we can say that the practical goals we set for Qalamoun have been achieved, but the battle is not over in Qalamoun. This is because the terrorist presence that represented an extension of the terrorists in Qalamoun — and here I mean those present on the barren plains of the Lebanese town of Arsal — [is still there]. The state must find a solution for this matter in a way that preserves the security of the residents of Arsal, as well as that of the residents of neighboring villages. The state must also ensure the security and stability of [Lebanon], because these terrorists represent a threat to security and stability in the country. We will wait, follow up on events and make efforts to ensure the issue is taken seriously, because it cannot be neglected.
Al-Monitor: About two weeks ago, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah spoke about the party’s participation in areas of Syria where it had not previously been involved. Will we see Hezbollah in Idlib and Palmyra, for example?
Raad: First, it is our duty to rectify matters and clarify the image. Hezbollah is a positive factor in maintaining the security of Syria and the country’s approach, but a supporting factor. The Syrian army is the one that preserves Syria, protects its people and makes achievements. Sometimes those following the conflict from afar have an impression that does injustice to the Syrian army, whose officers and soldiers are very professional. I think that anyone who is not aware of this reality must take note of this, as there is no other country in the world that after being subjected to such an attack for four or five years is able to persevere in the way the Syrian army has. While it is true that we carry out an assisting role, filling in a number of gaps, our presence is based on defending Lebanon and defending the resistance in Lebanon. In addition, we are defending the backbone that supports the backbone of the resistance when it challenges the Israeli enemy. Will the Syrian crisis require that Hezbollah be present in other areas? The answer to this question is: As long as we are defending Syria and preventing it from falling into the hands of terrorists, we will be present wherever we need to be.
Al-Monitor: Regarding Yemen, some accuse Hezbollah of involving Lebanon in a crisis that has nothing to do with it, specifically with regard to the tensions with Saudi Arabia. What do you think?
Raad: First, Lebanon is proud of the fact that it participated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If the country must distance itself from all else, it cannot distance itself from human rights. What we have done is launched a cry of condemnation against the disgraceful abuse of human rights in Yemen. We condemned the Saudi aggression, which was tantamount to a war of extermination against the Yemeni people without any moral, political or legal justification. If what they requested was silence, and to participate in the crime through silence, this might happen with everyone except the resistance. This is because the resistance reflects the will of free and honorable people who reject authoritarianism, hegemony and occupation from any party whatsoever. Because the resistance comprises the original sovereign and just people in this world, we cannot be silent concerning an aggression that amounts to a war of extermination against a sovereign people in their own country who have just aspirations and reject all forms of authoritarianism and hegemony from any party. This position may have caused [Hezbollah] to incur some damage, but regardless of the extent of this damage, it is unrivaled by the positive impact of this position from a moral, historical and future perspective, especially in light of the changes we can see that are coming to the entire region.
Al-Monitor: But some accuse you of having double standards. In Yemen you denounce crimes and in Syria you say nothing.
Raad: We are with the Yemeni people, who reject hegemony, and we are with the Syrian people, who reject terrorism. Because the Syrian people were subjected to a terrorist war, we stood with them against this war. And because the Yemeni people were subjected to a war of aggression, we supported them and sympathized with them. There are no double standards. Yet for those who justify the killing of people, how can they denounce those who are fighting terrorist gangs in their country?
Al-Monitor: Does Hezbollah’s preoccupation with multiple fronts not pose a threat to its primary front with Israel?
Raad: When it comes to being prepared to confront the threats and aggressions of the Israeli enemy, this falls outside the scope of calculations for intervention in other places. This preparation has its own equipment, training, provisions, weapons and ammunition. It has its own allocations that continue night and day. We monitor any movement the enemy makes at all times, because the primary enemy that we are concerned with confronting is the Israeli enemy. All that remains [is the potential for] repercussions and machinations that may serve the Israeli enemy, and which may encourage them to interfere or incite to widen their turf. But the resistance’s main action is to confront the Israeli enemy. This matter is taken into consideration, thus explaining the interventions we are witnessing. We joke with each other, saying that anyone who works on something not involved in the direct confrontation with Israel is an apprentice. The enemy knows that the experience gained by the resistance members via their participation in Syria, for example, has doubled the resistance’s horizons — not only on the geographical level, but in terms of fighting, the quality of weapons and the means of tactical combat they have learned. Perhaps this makes the enemy more afraid to make a stupid move.
Al-Monitor: Is Hezbollah prepared for a full-scale war under the current circumstances?
Raad: It is certainly ready for war, even if it does not wish for one.
Al-Monitor: Today, Lebanon is without a president, the parliamentary council has extended its term and there is a caretaker government. When will a president be elected for the country?
Raad: We have a candidate we support, and I think that the country will not find anyone better than our candidate, Gen. Michel Aoun. Anyone who obstructs Aoun’s election is the one who does not want a president for the country. I think that the main party hindering Aoun’s election is the Christian bloc that opposes Aoun, weakening the Christians’ position in power and subjecting the country to an open-ended presidential crisis, proceeding according to the Lebanese ally, who waits for the regional decision.