Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nasrallah’s interview on New TV. So Hasan Nasrallah appeared in a long interview on New TV. The interviewer was Maryam Al-Bassan, the political director of New TV, and the brains behind the excellent news division of the station. She is the one who personally writes the political introduction of New TV’s evening news broadcast. She, more than anybody else, is responsible for the sharp and independent news coverage of New TV. Al-Bassam was one of three journalists who were selected last year to interview Nabih Briri on LBC-TV. She was so tough and so unrelenting that I heard that Birri was not amused afterwards. I was not sure how she will be in the presence of Nasrallah. She did say in her introduction that she “dreamt” of this moment during the war. I was not sure at that point whether she will live up to her well-earned reputation for an unrelenting interviewing style. She did, and exceeded expectations. Her interview was much better and more sharp than the one with Ghassan Bin Jiddu on AlJazeera during the war. She did not leave a question that can be asked by friends and foes of Nasrallah that she did not ask. I also liked that in the interview she did not hesitate to interrupt Nasrallah with a quip or a question or a point of clarification. Nasrallah clearly gave this interview for the Lebanese audience. It dealt mostly with Lebanese issues, and he wanted to address not only the audience of Hizbullah, but the larger audience of Lebanese public opinion. He seemed comfortable and confident. He denied rumors, and admitted at one point of engaging in “psychological warfare” but added that he would not, for religious reasons, lie. He addressed the allegations that are regularly made by the liars and fabricators of Israeli propaganda (repeated verbatim in Anthony Cordesman’s reports as of late—it is incredible how he is analyzing this war but by referring to the claims and allegations of one side only) to the effect that some 400 or 500 Hizbullah fighters have been killed by Israel. I never believed those lies that are now regularly reproduced in the US media. Hizbullah is holding funerals every day for all their fighters—so they can easily be counted, and he said that you can count Hizbullah casualties by reading the account of funerals in the Lebanese press. You just can’t hide those casualties, he said. He also denied the rumors that some mid-level Hizbullah leaders (some Israeli and US media still talk about Hizbullah leaders being killed not knowing that all the top leaders have appeared in public since the end of the war). He explained that there are four levels of the Hizbullah organization: the top leaders are at the top level, while the fighters are at the fourth level. He said that three people from the third level (at the level of logistical officers) were killed, and 4-5 village leaders (i.e. leaders of Hizbullah cells in their villages) of Hizbullah were killed. He denied the presence of Iranian officers and said that all Hizbullah officers are Lebanese. She asked him about the extent to which the arsenal of Hizbullah was damaged. He said that Hizbullah had been prepared for a prolonged war with Israel since the humiliating Israeli withdrawal back in 2000. He said that the preparation expected that Israel would bomb bridges and roads, and thus Hizbullah ensured the autonomy of each small region by itself, and that local regional leaders for each of the autonomous region would be in charge. They were entrusted with the decisions of steadfastness and retreat if the need be, he said. He also said that the party was able to fire missiles on Israel from near the border to the very last day of the war. He said that he in the past had said that Hizbullah owned more than 12,000 missiles, and that “more” does not mean it is 13,000 but “could” mean much more than that figure. He said that the party is still in possession of its arsenal, and is even prepared for an Israeli embargo. He also seemed clearly following not only the Lebanese press, but also the Israeli press, which he follows closely and on a daily basis. He spoke about Iran and Syria in the same typical language—and he did not distance himself from the speech of Bashshar Al-Asad. That was a weakness, especially if he wishes to win over some of the wavering Sunni Lebanese opinion. He mentioned (in favorable terms) Gen. `Awn or his movement at least three times, and that indicates that Hizbullah is quite grateful for the role that `Awn played in support of the party during the Israeli war of aggression. His references to Fu’ad As-Sanyurah (also known as Pierre Laval of Lebanon or prime minister boo hoo hoo), finally indicated frustration and some indignation. He mildly was critical of him and even implied that the delay in Lebanese government’s relief efforts is not innocent—it is not, of course. He said that Hizbullah did not even consider a 1% possibility of a war at this scale when it kidnapped the Israeli occupation soldiers. Had the party known, it would “categorically” not have kidnapped the soldiers he added. This admission was important because some supporters of the Syrian regime are engaged in bombastic rhetoric in that regard—just watch that silly speech by Bashshar Al-Asad. Al-Bassam asked him about his stature in the Arab world, and he deflected the question and stressed the policies and principles that the party supports. He categorically dismissed any reference to a Shi`ite republic in Lebanon (this was in response to Duri Sham`un—a right-wing sectarian leader in Lebanon, whose party sponsored Antoine Lahd in the past) and said that in the past enemies of Hizbullah spoke about an “Islamic republic” to scare Christians in Lebanon, and now they speak of “a Shi`ite” republic to scare Christians and Sunnis in Lebanon. But that is not fully accurate: Hizbullah itself used to speak about an Islamic republic in Lebanon. But he more than ever categorically rejected any religious state in Lebanon. It seems to me that in this regard Nasrallah played an important role in steering the party away from the idea of an Islamic republic, which was supported by some figures in the party (Ibrahim Al-Sayyid, Husayn Musawi, and Muhammad Yazbak) and by some factions in Iran. He also said that most missiles that were fired by Hizbullah targeted Israeli military installations. He said that he would not return to the National Dialogue meetings because he did not want to endanger the lives of Lebanese leaders. It bothers me how he avoids criticizing Arab governments and that may indicate Iranian—not Hizbullah—calculations but may also reflect some naïve calculations on the part of Hizbullah leaders in their dealings with Hariri Inc. Al-Bassam asked him whether Hizbullah manufactures some of its weapons. He said that “we don’t answer security questions.” He also announced an Iranian initiative for relief work in Lebanon: an Iranian official will arrive into Lebanon tomorrow, he said. He also spoke that Hizbullah is willing to support At-Ta’if accords, although the party had rejected Ta’if in the past. He called for a national unity government (to include representatives of the `Awn movement) and said that the Christians in Lebanon have been marginalized by virtue of the policies of the ruling clique in Lebanon.