Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Trad Hamadah: 'Hezbollah's weapons not sacrosanct' (Figaro)

This is a potentially interesting August 3 interview in the French newspaper Figaro with Trad Hamadah, a Hezbollah spokesman who is also the Minister of Labor in the Lebanese government. Figaro published a complete translation of the article in its English-language website. At the very least, it may provide some insight into the message that Hezbollah wants to convey to western (as opposed to Arabic-speaking) audiences.

Much of what Hamadah says here is just standard propaganda boilerplate. Incidentally, that includes a preview of Hezbollah's current position on an immediate unconditional cease-fire. Now that the UN is about to pass a resolution mandating an immediate cease-fire (prior to resolving the substantive issues), as many people around the world have been demanding for weeks, Hezbollah and its friends refuse to accept one. This position had already been made clear last week, though its significance seemed to elude a lot of commentators at the time. What Hamadah said in this August 3 interview was: "We demand an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops." What this means is: We will not accept an immediate cease-fire without other conditions attached. Now the list of conditions, qualifications, and reservations has merely been increased.

But in the last paragraph of the interview there is a more intriguing suggestion, which is picked up in Figaro's headline.
[Malbrunot] Supporting the Al-Sanyurah plan means accepting the Lebanese Government's recovery of sovereignty throughout the territory. So does Hezbollah agree to be disarmed?

[Hamadah] The first point is correct. As for Hezbollah's disarmament, it depends on what national defence strategy is chosen after the war, once all the political groupings resume the national dialogue. If we then succeed in defining a defence system based on the Lebanese Army, without Hezbollah's weapons, we will have no problem with that. We have no fondness for weapons. The question of our armament is not in a sacrosanct one. Our weapons are not and end in themselves. They serve to resist Israel. Once the Lebanese prisoners in Israel have been released and Israel has withdrawn from the Al-Shab'a farms, the liberating role of Hezbollah's resistance will be over. It will then be necessary to determine what is the best deterrence against Israeli violations of our airspace. This deterrence capability will be defined by Lebanon's defence strategy.
The first point to make is that one shouldn't get too excited about this. Hamadah has made similar statements on other recent occasions, but it's not clear that they mean much. For example, some people would like to be encouraged by his carefully worded formulation that "Once the Lebanese prisoners in Israel have been released and Israel has withdrawn from the Al-Shab'a farms, the liberating role of Hezbollah's resistance will be over." With a certain amount of wishful thinking, this could be interpreted to mean that, after the Israelis have withdrawn from the Shebaa Farms strip (which is actually part of Syria, not Lebanon), then Hezbollah would consider its armed conflict with Israel to be over. But Hamadah didn't actually say that, and other figures in Hezbollah who are much more important than Hamadah, including Hezbollah chief Nasrallah himself, have explicitly and repeatedly said otherwise. For example, speaking of Israel as a "temporary country" in a July 29 radio broadcast, Nasrallah offered this long-term perspective:
“(Vice Premier Shimon) Peres said ‘this is a life or death war for Israel,’ and he is right because he knows that if the resistance will come out triumphant this time the Zionist entity will not have a future. When the (Israeli) nation will begin to lose faith in its army it will mark the beginning of the end for this entity.”
Nevertheless, Hamadah's hint that Hezbollah might be willing to disarm to some extent as part of a Lebanese political settlement (or, at least, that Hezbollah's continued possession of all its weapons "is not sacrosanct") might be a signal worth paying attention to. Or it might not. Is this, possibly, a straw in the wind? That remains to be seen.

--Jeff Weintraub
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Figaro (Actualité | In English)
August 3, 2006

Trad Hamadah: 'Hezbollah's weapons not sacrosanct'

Interview by Georges Malbrunot in Beirut. Publié le 03 août 2006

[Malbrunot] Will Israel achieve its objective of driving Hezbollah back beyond the River Litani in southern Lebanon?

[Hamadah] For the past three weeks Hezbollah has been giving the Arab armed forces a lesson. Israel is incapable of winning an outright military victory. It has nevertheless bombarded the South, the Al-Biqa plain, and Beirut. It uses the best US technology. But war does not mean killing civilians, children, destroying an entire country. Israel can pursue a scorched earth policy, but it cannot achieve its military goals. Now Hezbollah's military capability has not been substantially reduced. This is shown by the fact that, again on august 2nd, we succeeded in firing numerous missiles at numerous cities in northern Israel. Let them advance close to the Litani! They will not succeed in defending their positions for long, confronted with a mobile guerrilla comprising small groups of combatants who can deploy across a wide area. Israel believes that it will influence Hezbollah by destroying homes. It is mistaken. The very opposite is true. In their misfortune, the inhabitants of the South are displaying an incredible national enthusiasm. At the same time, they want us to avenge the distress that they have suffered for the past three weeks.

[Malbrunot] Does Hezbollah support the idea of an international stabilization force to be deployed in southern Lebanon?

[Hamadah] The Lebanese Government and Hezbollah do not agree to negotiate under fire, while the occupation continues. We demand an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Then Hezbollah will be ready to talk with the international community about the dispatch of a force, its mandate, its personnel, and its resources. But this force must resolve the pending problems, not create others. Following Qana, Hezbollah still supports the Al-Sanyurah plan for resolving the conflict, a plan that is similar to that advocated by France. An international convergence is needed so that the United States will accept an immediate ceasefire. We appeal to the whole of Europe to support the Al-Sanyurah plan. Iran supports it. France, Lebanon, and Iran are converging in this crisis. France must not allow Israel to destroy our country. France is a friend of Lebanon, but for the past decade it has also been a friend of Hezbollah. The Shi'i community is increasingly Francophone. In 2004 France evacuated from Cote d'Ivoire Hezbollah sympathizers holding French passports. France can now regain a driving role in the Middle East.

[Malbrunot] Supporting the Al-Sanyurah plan means accepting the Lebanese Government's recovery of sovereignty throughout the territory. So does Hezbollah agree to be disarmed?

[Hamadah] The first point is correct. As for Hezbollah's disarmament, it depends on what national defence strategy is chosen after the war, once all the political groupings resume the national dialogue. If we then succeed in defining a defence system based on the Lebanese Army, without Hezbollah's weapons, we will have no problem with that. We have no fondness for weapons. The question of our armament is not in a sacrosanct one. Our weapons are not and end in themselves. They serve to resist Israel. Once the Lebanese prisoners in Israel have been released and Israel has withdrawn from the Al-Shab'a farms, the liberating role of Hezbollah's resistance will be over. It will then be necessary to determine what is the best deterrence against Israeli violations of our airspace. This deterrence capability will be defined by Lebanon's defence strategy.

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