Interview with Hezbollah's strategy man

(Click here to read about how Hezbollah's loss in the recent election has it rethinking its political strategy, though not its commitment to armed struggle.)

Why did you stand for parliament after 15 years running Hezbollah’s think tank?

I think it’s time for a change.

What kind of change?

Hezbollah considers the next era a very important political era, and Hezbollah needs to organize a lot of discussion with the other Lebanese groups. And I think Hezbollah will make a dialogue with foreign countries. I have long experience in dialogue with other Europeans and other Lebanese.

What would Hezbollah discuss with Western governments?

Hezbollah has taken a decision to improve its foreign relationships and foreign ties. We need to dialogue with the foreign players who are concerned with Hezbollah. I think we will never lose if we make dialogue with the European countries. We need to explain how we are moderate with our internal Lebanese issues. We have a constant position to resistance, but on other issues we are reacting to make compromises. You see how European and Western propaganda makes problem for our image. We need to do a lot of things and focus about our image, to clarify our reality.

What about Hezbollah’s militia?

We have to keep our strength. We live in a world that respects only power and the strong player. But at the same time we have to work politics, and we believe that public opinion in Europe is strong and could play a strong role to change European policies. We cannot overestimate public opinion. We have to consider politics as a main part of our battle, and we have to use it defend ourselves.

Why does Hezbollah have problems with so many Arab governments?

They hate Hezbollah for many reasons: Because Hezbollah is resistance, because the success of Hezbollah embarrassed them. Hezbollah is a small party and defeated Israel. They are big countries with a lot of money, but despite that they had no success supporting the Palestinian people. They have problems with their societies. I think the experience of Hezbollah enlarged this gap between the official Arab regimes and their peoples.

Would Hezbollah support the Arab peace initiative with Israel?

There is a very bad point in the Arab initiative. The article concerning the right of return is not clear and not strong, and opened the gate to give up the real right of the Palestinian people to return to their land. We don’t mind if the Arab regimes want to try the diplomatic ways to support the Palestinian people. We have our role as resistance. They have tried the diplomatic role for 15 years, since 1992, and gained nothing. The Israelis are eating the Palestinian land. The Israelis negotiate to buy time.

Would Hezbollah take part in negotiations with Israel?

We imagine our role as resistance. We don’t imagine our role as to find a political solution.

What becomes of Hezbollah if there is peace with Israel?

I think this is a virtual question. We fight the Israeli occupation. If there is no occupation, there is no resistance. We are in a defense position. We are in a reaction position. The Netanyahu-Lieberman government is a crazy government, and they are ready at any moment to attack in the region.

What are Hezbollah’s relations with other Islamist groups in the region?

We have no direct relations with Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan. Regarding Hamas, we are in alliance with Hamas as part of our strategy to liberate [Israeli-occupied territories]. They have a specific role in Palestine and we have a specific role in Lebanon. At the same time we support them on the logistical level. Egypt accused Hezbollah of trying to smuggle weapons to Gaza. This is not true. This cell was working on the logistical level. No weapons. And the Egyptians know this well. We have no practical relations with the other resistance. We are not involved at all with the Iraqi organizations.

What about reports that Hezbollah trained Iraqi fighters?

This is not true – Hezbollah is not involved in the Iraqi platform.

How has Hezbollah’s political platform evolved?

We need now, after the election, to improve our agenda to include details and have a complete program. It is not enough now to base our approach to Lebanese issues on general principles. We need to compose the details of our program toward administrative reform in Lebanon, how to face corruption. This will be the main challenge of the next phase.

If you really attack corruption, won’t it alienate some of your political allies like the Amal Party, which has a reputation for endemic corruption?

We have not to be a utopian party. This is Lebanon. If we want to achieve our goals, we must operate in reality. Politics have a special logic. When we were a small militant group, resistance group, it was different. Now we are now one of the biggest political parties and players, with strategic effects in half the region. We have to take this new reality into account.

Have you moderated your approach toward Lebanese rivals?

No one side can control the country. Hezbollah thinks we need to find a balance. We have to distinguish between political reform and administrative reform. We should not wait for permission from anyone before we make administrative reform. But we will never achieve the political reform by civil war or hegemony. We have to agree with the other sects and parties.

Why do your supporters vote for you?

They are voting for Hezbollah based on two pillars. First of all the supporters for the resistance and second of all as a confrontation against deprivation. People in remote areas are poor. There is no development, no opportunity to work, a lot of problems in electricity, water. Our core focus is the resistance. The belief of Hezbollah in the resistance, you can consider a constant.

What is the likelihood of another war with Israel?

We don’t know about the problem of water. We need to increase our usage of water from the Hasbaya and Wazani Rivers, which Israel opposes. You can consider this is a time bomb that could explode at any minute.

Why did Hezbollah only contest 11 seats in parliament? The Lebanese saying is “We are the mother of the son.” We are ready to keep the opposition solid, so we are ready to give our allies more seats.

What do you make of the election results?

We have to look forward, not backward. We have a good opportunity to use the elections to create stability in Lebanon. The initiative is in the hands of the 14th of March [the governing coalition].

Were you surprised by the outcome?

The whole world was surprised, not just us. I think the 14th of March also was surprised. The secret of the 14th of March was all the Lebanese from abroad who came to vote. This process requires a lot of funds. Let us say that political money is one of the main factors in this outcome.

In your estimation, how much of a difference does this outcome make?

Even if the opposition had won a majority, nothing would change in Lebanon. It would not be a sea change, just a change in the balance of power. No one can transcend the Lebanese particularities, or change the Lebanese political criteria. The 14th of March have four years experience running the country, but what have they done? They couldn’t control the country without the participation of the 8th of March [Hezbollah’s coalition].

What do you think will happen now?

I believe the situation is less complicated than in the past era, especially with regards to the issue of the resistance and disarming the resistance. Saad Hariri in his speech about the resistance said that the resistance is beyond discussion, and that no one is talking about disarming the resistance. This is a big, important evidence about the direction of the next government.

Some people say that a victory would have been worse for Hezbollah, because then the party would have faced responsibility for governing, and would have to deal with international backlash.

I have heard this analysis. Maybe these people who say this take into account the Lebanese economic crisis, and the failure of our institutions and the Lebanese state, and the deep problems in Lebanese administration, and how Lebanon will need to get a lot of funds and economic support from the Arab countries and Europe and the International Monetary Fund. By winning, March 14 has taken away the responsibility of Hezbollah for running and controlling the country. The role of opposition is easier than the role of running the country.

We can see all this, but we must also say that we have done our best to win a majority and we failed.

It’s unusual in this region for political movements to admit failure.

If you want success and you want to learn from the results, you have to look at what really happened and assess the whole situation. We have to make a deep revision.

Why did your coalition lose?

In addition to the political money and the expatriate vote, there are other reasons. One is the sectarian discourse of some leaders of the 14th of March, which provoked some sects and awakened sectarian fears. And maybe, maybe we weren’t successful enough in clarifying the aims of our political projects. We didn’t successfully criticize the other side. Most of the people know how the 14th of March is drowning in corruption. We had to focus on this weak point of the 14th of March, but we didn’t do this effectively.