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LEBANON: Hezbollah’s No. 2 speaks

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The Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah minces no words when it comes to Israel. In an interview conducted last week and published Monday in the Los Angeles Times, Hezbollah No. 2 Naim Qassem said ‘resistance’ to Israel remains its core mission.

But when it comes to domestic Lebanese politics, Hezbollah speaks in a softer, subtler and more ambiguous tone.

After all, general elections are coming up in June. And though the Manichean language of war may be appropriate for the battlefield, political discourse requires more delicate terms.

Hezbollah hopes to elevate its opposition coalition into the country’s majority. Here’s a part of the unofficial transcript of Qassem’s interview with The Times:

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Los Angeles Times: How will the elections help Hezbollah’s regional goals?

Naim Qassem: Hezbollah works in the Lebanese arena and it has a clear program regarding this matter. It does not work for regional or international interests. We think that if the party, along with the opposition, wins the elections and can form a new government, it will be a new experiment in the economic, social and political administration [of the country], keeping in mind that when one party wins a majority over the other, there are not radical changes in Lebanon, because the political paths in Lebanon have become fixed especially after the failure of the current parliamentary majority to drag Lebanon under American hegemony or that which serves the Israeli agenda. Right now, we think that Lebanon is independent and it has its special characteristics that prevented the others from carrying out their regional and international [agendas]. We will move onto the next phase on this path. Therefore there will not be any radical changes except that we will try a new, successful experiment in governance that differs from that of the current majority’s.

LAT: How will Hezbollah respond to questions about its weapons in the coming elections and under what conditions would Hezbollah consider disarming?

NQ: Hezbollah’s weapons are part of the resistance, not separate from it. The resistance has proven its purpose with the great victory of July 2006. All subsequent attempts to turn the weapons into a problem have failed. We came to the dialogue round-table in order to bring different points of view closer together and discuss the defense strategy. Now that it is clear the resistance is a necessity, I don’t think anything will change with the coming elections. Lebanon will need to stay strong and the resistance is one of the pillars of strength, but maybe this will become even clearer, and that is in the interest of a strong Lebanon. In the end we are bound by what is decided at the dialogue round-table.

LAT: What about the idea of integrating Hezbollah into the Lebanese army?

NQ: We cannot talk about a mechanism for dealing with the occupation without [talking about] implementing the defense strategy, so let’s leave the matter to be resolved by the [national dialogue]. If this mechanism is not the correct one, maybe there are other mechanisms and these will come out of the national dialogue, so we don’t want to give any premature ideas.

LAT: What about Hezbollah’s role in encouraging Islam among young people?

NQ: Islam tells us to convey this message to the people but what God wants is for us to behave wisely. . . . But our religion also tells us not to impose our beliefs on others. . . . Thus we think that the call to Islam should be answered out of free will. If they don’t choose it, we don’t consider this a source of problems or enmity, especially when we live in a single country.Therefore we try to look for commonalities in politics and other areas, and we continue to convey [the message of] Islam. . . Today, as a party in Lebanon, we can say we are the strongest party in Lebanon, if not the entire Arab region in terms of specific support and resources as opposed to general friendships and relationships. This is how we work, and the more people around us who believe in Islam, the better, but this is for the people to choose themselves.

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Hezbollah No. 2 Naim Qassem, at right, speaks with Times’ Beirut Bureau chief Borzou Daragahi on April 6, 2009. Credit: Delphine Minoui / For The Times


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