May 13, 2009

FT Interview with Naim Qassem

This interview the Financial Times conducted with Hizballah deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem is well worth your time. (The full transcript is here.) On the hilarious side, there is this gem of a quote:

If you look at March 14, what the Americans have done is that they directly intervened in Lebanese politics and security.

The nerve of those wascally Amewicans! I am glad that Hizballah -- which in no way provides an outlet for a country to directly intervene in Lebanese politics and security (hint: the name rhymes with Shmee-ran) -- is taking a strong stand for Lebanese sovereignty.

But in all seriousness, there is a very good and important exchange between the interviewer and Qassem with respect to the regionalization of Hizballah:

FT: Let’s move on to the recent arrests of 49 men in Egypt who were alleged to be part of a Hizbollah cell there. Hizbollah has always said it gave only moral support to the Palestinians in Gaza but has that now changed? Are you helping on the ground? Are you expanding your operations?

SNQ: We have always said that we supported the resistance in Palestine but we have not mentioned how or given details of such support, we have avoided giving details of our support. But Egypt has now revealed that we have given military support to Palestine. We have done so for a while but we have not talked about it. For us it is a great honour and not just an honour but a duty for us to support the Palestinians, and it should also be an honour and a duty not just for us but for all Arabs and all Muslims to support the Palestinians in their resistance. We are asked about our specific and limited support for Gaza while nobody questions the US about their total and unflinching support for Israel. We are always questioned but nobody questions the US.

FT: For how long have you been supporting the Palestinians in Gaza?

SNQ: It is one of the secrets of the resistance that we don’t talk about the details of our support, but suffice to say that we are giving them every type of support that could help the Palestinian resistance. Every type that is possible.

FT: Have you been giving them military arms? Rockets? Training? Logistical support?

SNQ: We don’t talk about the details of our support or how or what we support them with. We leave this to be seen in time to come.

I think this is such a huge mistake on the part of Hizballah's leadership. Qassem cannot complain that Hizballah is just a national actor ("Hizbollah is Lebanese", etc.) as long as they are conducting external train and equip missions for organizations abroad. The problem is two-fold.

  1. It's all well and good to get away with training armed groups in weak states like Iraq (circa 2006) or in Lebanon (circa pick-a-date). Egypt is another matter. Omar Suleiman is not about to put up with some non-state actor causing trouble in his country -- and as Hizballah found out, Suleiman has all the means in the world to do something about it.
  2. This business of expanding operations -- openly, no less! -- into the rest of the region merely confirms suspicions that Hizballah is not content to be a Lebanese political actor but rather has much wider ambitions. I think this is a real overreach. Because at the end of the day, talk of "broad support" notwithstanding, Hizballah's real constituency is limited to the Shia of Lebanon.

Hizballah is acting with an incredible degree of arrogance -- hey, I'm American, so I know it when I see it -- and they're going to get slapped down before long.