Why Hezbollah's Victory may lead to peace in the
Interview with Franklin Lamb
By Mike Whitney
Question: Between May 7 to May 10, Hezbollah took over
Beirut, shut down the city's TV and communications facilities, blocked the main
highways, closed the airport, and surrounded the homes of the leading political
leaders with armed gunman. The action was taken in response to Prime Minister
Fouad Siniora's decision to outlaw Hezbollah's telecommunication network and
sack the head of security at Beirut airport. Although the incident has been
downplayed in the western media, it appears that Hezbollah achieved a total
victory and is now recognized as the strongest group operating within Lebanon.
What affect will Hezbollah's victory have on the political dynamic within
I don't believe Hezbollah achieved a 'total victory' as the question suggests,
but its achievements were certainly strategic and that sets outs the future in
many respects. As you rightly imply, Hezbollah's emphatic statement by its
quick move into the March 14 areas was aimed at Israel, the Bush Administration
and their agents and allies in Lebanon and the Middle East.
What provoked the precise timing of the action was the fact as Sheik Naim
Qassim, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General told this observer and a former
American Ambassador and other US citizens who met with him on Monday May 10 in
Dahiyeh was a 10 hour "series of conference calls" from the Welch
Club to the Serail (Government House) that immediately preceded the Siniora
government decision to move against Hezbollah, its vital optic fiber phone
system and the Airport security office. According to Hezbollah sources there
were other US planned assaults on the Opposition which have not been made
According to Qassim during this frenetic series of conference calls involving
several countries, the decision was made in Washington to move against
Hezbollah. Hezbollah believes the Lebanese government is virtually occupied by
the Bush Administration and all substantive decisions now announced in Beirut
come from Washington.
The outcome of the May events as you implied in your question was devastating
for the Bush administration and its allies. It not only led to withdrawal of
the two government decisions against Hezbollah, it led to the Dora agreement
and the current serious efforts to form a unity government and share power. For
nearly two years the Opposition tried to achieve a unity government for Lebanon
and may now have done so with its counterstrike against the Welch club move
The May events led to agreement on holding a democratic election next year and
the veto power of the opposition over US initiatives sent to the 'majority'.
Hezbollah's Sheik Naim Qassim stated to a US Delegation two days ago that the
party and its allies expect to win 64 of the 128 seats in next years election.
Others think the current opposition may win as many as 70 seats in the new
Parliament. In either case Hezbollah and their allies will effectively be the
next government of Lebanon.
Will the predicted Hezbollah electoral victory be the forth Democratic election
in the Middle East rejected by the Bush administrations new Middle East
project? Will the Bush administration accept the fact that Hezbollah will
likely have the Ministries of Defense, Exterior and Finance (the others don't
matter much) and be true to its daily claims that it wants to help Lebanon have
a democratic and stable government which the Hezbollah government will bring?
Hezbollah will face many challenges but the Party will also have the
opportunity to demonstrate what it is capable of delivering in terms of social
services to Lebanon's increasingly desperate population. Hezbollah's much
anticipated Economic Plan may reshape the Middle East and the populations of
Egypt, Jordan, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may demand a local version of
On the downside of the May events, Hezbollah has yet to convincingly explain to
the people of Lebanon why a convoy of its fighters advanced on Sweifeit and
other villages in the lower Chouf. People died needlessly including this
observers neighbor, Marwan Jurdi. Marwan was a teacher and had no business
dusting off his rifile to fight Hezbollah who had no business entering
Sweifeit. A tragedy which Hezbollah leader Nasrallah correctly stated at a
rally a couple of weeks ago caused deep wounds which must be healed.
Presumably the fast strike was to neutralize Walid Jumblatt who during two
recent interviews with Harvard students and the US Council for the National
Interest is reported to be in bad shape and scanning the horizon for a new
Hezbollah will likely not touch Walid because he is not reliable or predictable
and is thought to be owned by the CIA. The 'socialist" Jumblatt has
amassed a huge fortune ( which Lebanese warlord has not?)of land holdings with
expansive vineyards above Khalde and may retire to survey and manage his
estates. He knows he is a marked man from many quarters( who isn't around here
these day?) In Beirut Jumbalt is known as the 'walking dead man'.
Question: How will it affect relations with Israel and the US? Does
Hezbollah now pose a credible deterrent to a future Israeli invasion?
Yes. There has been a fundamental shift in this respect. Hezbollah actually
achieved its deterrent capacity following the July 2006 War. Some say as early
as 1996 or 2000 when if forced Israel out of most of Lebanon.
in the past 20 months Israel has "probed" Lebanon and Hezbollah has
signaled thru back channels that it was ready for a ferocious response if
Israel again attacked Lebanon.
Most recently Hezbollah's deterrence capacity was exhibited when Israel
cancelled its attack on May 11 which was green lighted in Washington to assist
the Siniora government allies in West Beirut. Frankly put. Israel is no longer
able to attack an Arab country, Lebanon, with impunity. A historic first.
Rather, it knows that it faces massive retaliation when it next attacks
Lebanon. Recently there was a Report that Tel Aviv would receive 600 missiles
each day following an Israeli attack on Lebanon. US Congressional sources have
challenged that figure and have estimated the number at 1000 Hezbollah missiles
per day against Tel Aviv is war breaks out.
Question: Hezbollah's takeover of Beirut was an amazingly swift and
efficient military operation, and yet, it is nearly impossible to find any
details about the operation itself. What really happened on the ground and how
is it that a armed militia was able to carry out such a sophisticated
"Green Beret" type operation (on a city-wide scale) with so few
casualties? Can we expect that the "Hezbollah model" of resistance
will be exported to other neighboring countries like Iraq, Jordan or Saudi
Franklin Lamb: Contrary to Israeli reports, those who moved into Beirut did not
come from the South of Lebanon, from the Bekaa nor were they necessarily the
'first team.' Most were reserves with regular full time jobs in Beirut and the
Most came in cars and vans just three miles south of Hamra from the Jnah,
Ouzai, Ghoberi, Dahiyeh area. They moved along the seafront past the Coral
Beach Hotel, along the only free public beach in Beirut, Ramlet al Baida, along
Corniche Mazra and fanned out up the inclines to the right into West Beirut
It did not require much more than 20 minutes to reach their forward positions.
Others, including Amal and the National Syrian Socialist Party came from the
new airport road and from the southeast and east.
Potentially the 'Hezbollah model' has application in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and
Jordan, if oppositions there can replicate the Hezbollah model of study,
analysis, caution, patience and determined, disciplined execution. Hezbollah is
not essentially a Shia phenomenon, it is a rapidly expanding resistance and
justice movement and that it what makes it so lethal to colonialism and
occupation enterprises such as Zionist Israel and hegemonistic America during
the current period.
Question: Even before the takeover, Hezbollah chairman, Hassan
Nasrallah was the most popular Arab leader in the world. Is Nasrallah really
the "terrorist-extremist" he is made out to be in the western press?
What affect has Nasrallah had on Arabs living in the region?
Franklin Lamb: Hezbollah under the leadership of Hasan Nasrallah has given the
Arabs of the region restored self-respect following 60 years of humiliation and
41 years of repeated and voracious occupation and aggression. Hezbollah's
sometimes spectacular success has inspired many in the younger generation
throughout Lebanon among all the sects as well as the Middle East and far
beyond. One sees this in the faces of the old and young…….in the market places
and play grounds in the universities and middle schools.,,in the course also of
interviews. The Middle East is standing up and reclaiming it pre-Crusade unity,
spirit, purpose and culture. Nasrallah is the new Salaadin, Nassar and regional
Question: Nasrallah has shown that he is capable of thinking
strategically and politically. This appears to have put him at an advantage in
dealing with both Israel and the US. Israel's 34 Day war was not just a
humiliating defeat; it was also sloppy and unprofessional. In battles in cities
and towns throughout southern Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters went toe to toe with
the better-equiped IDF and turned them away. In Bint Jbeil, the IDF reduced the
city's historic district to ruins, but tenacious Hezbollah fighters fought from
the rubble until Israeli troops were forced to retreat. Is it possible that the
real path to peace in the Middle East is a strong army--like Hezbollah-- on
Isreal's northern flank to discourage further military adventurism?
Franklin Lamb: I see it certainly as one of the major elements because if takes
away the first option that Israel has used in the past. Israel has committed
aggression more than 40 times on the ground against Lebanon starting in 1967 to
July 2006. This era is over. Soon even Israel's air force will be in peril from
Hezbollah missiles as it attempts to add to its more than 6000 violations of
Lebanese sovereignty since the 1960's.
Question: How do you respond to people who believe that Hassan Nasrallah
is a religious fanatic who wants to install a "Iran-type" theocratic
regime in Lebanon?
Franklin Lamb: I would ask them to study the subject a little more closely and
they would learn that Hezbollah, in the words of PLO founder and longtime
representative of the PLO in Lebanon, Shafiq al-Hout, recently discussed with
this observor, Hezbollah is the most secular of the Parties in Lebanon. What he
meant is that Hezbollah and its leaders rely on reason, dialogue, and empirical
analysis not on what we often think in the West as blind application of Sharia.
Hezbollah believes in one God as you know. Having said that they are very
secular in the ways they tolerate and respect others beliefs and rights to
differ on issues of politics, philosophy, sociology, and personal beliefs. I
personally know many Shia and Hezbollah members who are very secular and keep
their religious views to themselves. Just yesterday, when my motorcycle was in
the shop I hoped a taxi to Hamra and the Shia driver brought up the subject of
religion and presented several of his arguments for why he has real doubts
there is a God. Unfortunately there is deep and vast
misinformation/disinformation about Hezbollah and their religious beliefs. They
are very secular on a day by day basis and they are very tolerant of others
views. In Dahilyeh, after a short period one does not feel that one in a religious
Nasrallah and Hezbollah, as Naim Qassim told former US Ambassador Richard Viets
and his delegation a couple of days ago that there is no interest in an Islamic
Republic in Lebanon. That idea was expressed back in 1985 in Hezbollah's 'open
letter' announcing its formation. The relevant language was influenced by
Ayatollah Khomeni and the then recent success of the Iranian revolution.
For years, Nasrallah has regularly stated that Lebanon is not Iran and never
will be and if Lebanon wants an Islamic republic let 90% of the people vote for
it and only then could it be considered. The Islamic Republic of Lebanon idea
was a fantasy and virtually no one but the Zionist lobby and their pals even
mention the concept anymore.
Question: General Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's army chief of staff, was
sworn in as the country's new president last Sunday. The Bush administration
did not send a delegation, which indicates the level of frustration with recent
developments. It's clear now that the real center of power has shifted away
from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his allies in the "US backed"
March 14th Coalition to Hezbollah. Nasrallah said in a recent speech that he
has no interest in meddling in Lebanon's political affairs but will not disarm
his militia. With Hezbollah currently at full strength and confident after
their victory; do you think an Israeli attack on Iran less likely? If Israel
attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, will Nasrallah launch missile strikes on Tel
Franklin Lamb: My personal belief is that Hezbollah would attack Tel Aviv is
Israel or the US attacked Iran and perhaps even Syria.
I do not think either the US or Israel will attack Iran before Bush leaves
office although both would very much like to.
The $4 per gallon gas prices in the States could rise to $12 per gallon if Iran
shuts down the Gulf of Hormuz which it would almost certainly do.
Israel does not have the military power to take on Iran by itself and the still
drowsy American public has no appetite for yet another war. Such a conflict
might well destroy the State of Israel and it knows it.
Such an attack would likely cause Iraq to explode in a massive violence against
American forces that would make the 1968 Tet Offensive appear mild in
comparison. The populations of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would likely
attempt to overthrow their governments.
This would be for starters and things would escalate form there. The results
are unpredictable but surely would be catastrophic on a scale never seen since
World War II.
The United States is on its way out of the Middle East. Attacking Iran would
quite simply accelerate its departure.
Question: The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz is reporting that Hezbollah and
the Olmert administration are close to a deal on a prisoner exchange. There are
also reports that Israel is negotiating secretly with Syria on the Golan
Heights and that the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has opened talks
Is Olmert trying to divert attention from his own problems (bribery charges) or
is Israel attempting to neutralize its potential enemies in the event of an
attack on Iran?
I think you are exactly correct on this point.
Question: Hezbollah has been supportive of labor strikes in Beirut. Are
Lebanon's troubles really the result of sectarian problems (as the media
suggests) or class divisions? Is this really a struggle between the wealthy
Sunnis and Christians versus the poor Shia?
Franklin Lamb: More class divisions and the economy I would say. Skyrocketing
prices increasing power cuts, poor job market, shortage of housing are all
increasing tension and conflict. Plus outside actors continuing to meddle in
Lebanese internal affairs and promote conflict. The exacerbation tensions here
is cause less by whether one is Armenian, Druze,Chaldean, Maronite, Shia, Sunni
etc. that the yawning economic gap.
With respect to the Saudi/Hariri owned Solidere Corp. This week in announced
profits of $ 157 million dollars for the most recent reporting period. These
are astounding and record figues when consumer good prices are rising. Under
Rafik Hariri premiership, Lebanon borrowed more than $ 40 billion to rebuild
parts of Beirut (now effectively owned by Solidere/Hariri Family and Friends).
This interest alone on these loans payable partly to Hariri and Saudi banks
keeps Lebanon stagnate and barely above water. Without a new economic plan
Lebanon is lost. Hezbollah claims it has a plan and we will soon see what it
looks like and if Hezbollah can transform Lebanon economically.
Question: Are the prospects for peace in the region better or worse with
a well armed Hezbollah?
Franklin Lamb: Better in the sense that there is for the first time in modern
history an Arab/Muslim deterrence to Zionist and Western colonialism. Worse in
the sense that the US and Israel are rapidly losing influence and viability in
the Middle East and may once againresort to war to stem the breach.
Franklin Lamb, PhD is an author and Director of "Americans Concerned
for Middle East Peace" who works from Beirut. His newest book
"Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners" is expected soon in Arabic