Friday, January 04, 2008

Walid Jumblatt - "Let's face things as they are, OK?"

On January 1 Iran's English-language satellite TV station, Press TV, broadcast a very interesting interview with the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, one of the great survivors of Lebanese politics.

Jumblatt took over from his father, Kamal Jumblatt, as leader of Lebanon's Druze community and head of the so-called Progressive Socialist Party in 1977 after Kamal Jumblatt was assassinated by the Syrians--who at that point were supporting the Maronite militias against the PLO and their Sunni & Druze allies, before switching sides a few years later. Despite the fact that his father had been killed by the "butcher Hafez al-Assad" and the "bunch of murderers called the Syrian regime," Walid Jumblatt kept publicly quiet about it and was a Syrian client for decades, until the Lebanese civil war was over and the Israelis had withdrawn from Lebanon. As he explains matter-of-factly to the interviewer, this was simply a matter of political necessities. Since then, Jumblatt has become a central figure of the anti-Syrian, anti-Hizbullah political coalition.

The interviewer is a pleasant-looking young guy who seems to be inexperienced and excitable, allowing Jumblatt to take over the interview completely. Probably figuring that at this point he has nothing to lose, Jumblatt talks turkey without any diplomatic euphemisms or equivocations.

(I suppose it's commendable that Press TV seems to have run the interview without trying to censor or bowdlerize it, since Jumblatt is quite scathing about Iran and its political allies. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that this interview was in English rather than Farsi. Nevertheless, the fact that this Iranian TV station interviewed Jumblatt in the first place, and especially in such a non-hostile format, may well mean something intriguing.)

A video clip with extensive excerpts from the interview is available from the ever-useful Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) HERE. It's worth watching the clip to get the flavor of the exchange. There is also a transcript of those excerpts, partly reproduced below.

--Jeff Weintraub
Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Slams Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah in an Interview with Iranian TV

Following are excerpts from an interview in English with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, which aired on Press TV on January 1, 2008.

Interviewer: You always blame Syria for the killing [of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005--JW], but yet, there is no hard evidence. Can we just continue... You keep on accusing, accusing, accusing, without hard evidence.

Walid Jumblatt: To start with, you are forgetting that my father was also a victim of the same butcher, Hafez Al-Assad, and that so many prominent writers, politicians, and clerics in Lebanon were killed by Hafez Al-Assad – René Moawad, Mufti [Hassan] Khaled, Salim Al-Lawzi, of course Kamal Jumblatt, and so many others. So the Syrian regime has a record of assassinations outside and inside Syria. But at the time, we were obliged to be allies of the Syrians, because Lebanon was divided. That's it. When Lebanon reconciled, when there were no more reasons of civil war, when peace was established, when we thought we could implement the state of Lebanon all over the country – all over Lebanese territory – well, the Syrians decided to say "no," and forced the Lebanese Parliament, or part of it - because we were a minority at that time, 29 members of parliament out of 128... We said "no" to the Syrian will to renew the mandate of Lahoud, and from that time on, started the other series of killings. Marwan Hamadeh nearly escaped death [sic]. Al-Hariri was killed. Samir Qassir, a prominent critic of the Ba'th regime, was killed. George Hawi, a prominent politician and head of the resistance, was killed. The latest one was Antoine Ghanem. Not to say, General Francois Hajj, who might have also been targeted by the Syrians.

Interviewer: So you just.. If you were actually... You said your father was killed by the Syrians.

Walid Jumblatt: Yes.

Interviewer: Great, you are a leader... If you don't have the courage to say "the Syrians have killed my dad," how could you be a leader at the time?

Walid Jumblatt: I said that, but I said...

Interviewer: You said: "I kept silent for almost 20 years. 25 years. I didn't have the courage..." If you didn't have the courage, how can you lead your party? How can you be a leader in Lebanon?

Walid Jumblatt: Well it happened that I had to protect my community and my party, and Arabism in Lebanon, against the Israeli ambitions in Lebanon. So I decided I had to fix a pact with the devil. I had to shake hands with the one who killed my father, Hafez Al-Assad.

Interviewer: So it was just lies with Syria?

Walid Jumblatt: Yes.

Interviewer: You were not a real ally to Syria?

Walid Jumblatt: I was not a real ally to Syria, no.

Interviewer: So you were lying...

Walid Jumblatt: I was an ally to my cause.

Interviewer: You were lying to the Syrians?

Walid Jumblatt: Yes, of course.


Walid Jumblatt: I was working for the sake of Arabism in Lebanon, against Israeli ambitions and the partition of Lebanon.


Interviewer: I just can't believe what you said. This is the first time, actually, you said: "I deceived the Syrians." This is the first time. Can you say it again? You deceived the Syrians.

Walid Jumblatt: I could not cope the whole of my life with a bunch of murderers called the Syrian regime. I had to be practical and realistic because I needed weapons and facilities, because also I got weapons from the Soviet Union. It's no secret. I do care about the independence of my country. I don't want foreign bodies controlling my country. I don't want foreign interference in my country. I don't want either the Iranians or the Syrians occupying my country.

Interviewer: But the American interference is welcome.

Walid Jumblatt: I don't think you have G.I.'s on Lebanese soil, and we will refuse any military intervention from the Americans. There is a slight difference. Weapons are coming...

Interviewer: Yes, there's a slight difference when we don't see Iranian officials coming to Lebanon, and calling on the March 14 allies to go and vote for a president, but we see David Welch coming to Lebanon, and calling on you to go and vote for a president, even with the half plus one, without consensus, and you are ready to accept that, just because you are a part of the U.S. project.

Walid Jumblatt: Why are you shouting

Interviewer: Oh, sorry.

Walid Jumblatt: Please, be cool.

Interviewer: Fine, but I'm just asking...

Walid Jumblatt: There's a party [Hizbullah] which is receiving weapons, ammunition, and money from Syria and Tehran. They are imposing their will.


Walid Jumblatt: I'm stuck in my home. I'm just paralyzed in my own home, waiting for another car bomb fixed by the Syrians, the allies of Hizbullah.


Walid Jumblatt: You are very, very nervous. Why? You have to be very cool.

Interviewer: I'm not nervous, I'm enthusiastic.

Walid Jumblatt: Let us be cool, okay? Let's face things as they are, okay?

Interviewer: Okay.

Walid Jumblatt: It's not a normal opposition [i.e. Hizbullah. I haven't seen anywhere in the world an opposition with rockets and guns, declaring war whenever they want, and kidnapping soldiers whenever they want. I never saw that. I don't think this kind of opposition exists in Tehran. I don't think this kind of opposition exists in France or the States. It's a party hugely armed, weaponized, and they are deciding the fate of the country. I refuse to say this is a normal opposition. It's not. [....]

Syria never accepted that Lebanon is an independent entity. Never. From the start, from 1920, Syria never acknowledged that Lebanon does exist. [....]

Walid Jumblatt: I'm not going to give up the veto power for a military group, for Hizbullah. No. Okay? Is that clear? They can take it by force, over our dead bodies, but I will not give up the veto power for the sake of Hizbullah, their allies, and the Syrian regime. I think I'm clear.


Interviewer: So you are accusing Hizbullah of being behind these assassinations and car bombs.

Walid Jumblatt: I have said it before – it's not a secret – and I will say it again. Yes, I'm accusing Hizbullah of facilitating or ignoring Syrian car bombs and killings. [....]
I'm not the one who blocked downtown, and I'm not the one who closed the parliament. We went several times to parliament. [....]

Walid Jumblatt: They have the right to bring weapons and money to their militia, and they have the right to destroy my economy and my city, and their city? You say that is opposition? These are savage people, not an opposition.

Interviewer: You're such a poor man, to that extent?

Walid Jumblatt: I'm not a poor man. I'm sorry, I'm not a poor man. I'm here, I'm saying the truth, and I've always defied the state of Hizbullah. Once they accept the state of Lebanon – welcome. [....]

Walid Jumblatt: I'm not going to accept surrender. That's it. If they want to defeat me, they just have to kill two more ministers, and they will defeat me. But it's not going to be a victory for them to have bloody hands, to have another murder on their hands.

Interviewer: But it's not a matter of defeat. It's a matter of concessions. We should make concessions for the sake of the country.

Walid Jumblatt: I'm not going to give concessions to someone who is fixing a gun on my head. Okay? I'm here. I don't have guns. He's fixing a gun, a rocket on my head. He can kill me, but...

Interviewer: So he's aiming the gun at your head? At the heads of the free Lebanese,

Walid Jumblatt: Yes, and I'm not going to give him the satisfaction of surrendering.

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