Franklin Lamb, PhD, is an author and director of
"Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace" who works from Beirut.
His latest book, "Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for
Beginners," will soon be published in Arabic and English.
Question: Between May 7 and May 10, Hezbollah took
over Beirut, shut down the city's TV and communications facilities, blocked the
main highways, closed the airport, and surrounded the homes of the leading
political leaders with armed gunman. The action was taken in response to Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora's decision to outlaw Hezbollah's telecommunication
network and sack the head of security at Beirut airport. Although the incident
has been downplayed in the Western media, it appears that Hezbollah achieved a
total victory and is now recognized as the strongest group operating within
Lebanon. What affect will Hezbollah's victory have on the political dynamic
Franklin Lamb: I don't believe Hezbollah achieved a 'total
victory' as the question suggests, but its achievements were certainly
strategic and that sets out the future in many respects. As you rightly imply,
Hezbollah's emphatic statement by its quick move into the March 14 areas was
aimed at Israel, the Bush Administration and their agents and allies in Lebanon
and the Middle East.
What provoked the precise timing of the action was the fact,
as Sheik Naim Qassim, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General told this observer and
a former American ambassador and other US citizens who met with him on Monday
May 10 in Dahiyeh, was a 10-hour "series of conference calls" from
the Welch Club to the Serail (Government House) that immediately preceded the
Siniora government decision to move against Hezbollah, its vital optic fiber
phone system and the Airport security office. According to Hezbollah sources
there were other US planned assaults on the opposition which have not been made
According to Qassim during this frenetic series of
conference calls involving several countries, the decision was made in
Washington to move against Hezbollah. Hezbollah believes the Lebanese
government is virtually occupied by the Bush administration and all substantive
decisions now announced in Beirut come from Washington.
The outcome of the May events as you implied in your
question was devastating for the Bush administration and its allies. It not
only led to withdrawal of the two government decisions against Hezbollah, it
led to the Dora agreement and the current serious efforts to form a unity
government and share power. For nearly two years, the opposition tried to
achieve a unity government for Lebanon and may now have done
so with its counterstrike against the Welch Club move against
The May events led to
agreement on holding a democratic election next year and the veto power of the
opposition over US initiatives sent to the 'majority'.
Hezbollah's Sheik Naim Qassim stated to a US delegation two
days ago that the party and its allies expect to win 64 of the 128 seats in
next years election. Others think the current opposition may win as many as 70
seats in the new parliament. In either case, Hezbollah and their allies will effectively
be the next government of Lebanon.
Will the predicted Hezbollah electoral victory be the forth
Democratic election in the Middle East rejected by the Bush administrations new
Middle East project? Will the Bush administration accept the fact that Hezbollah
will likely have the Ministries of Defense, Exterior and Finance (the others
don't matter much) and be true to its daily claims that it wants to help
Lebanon have a democratic and stable government which the Hezbollah government
will bring? Very doubtful.
Hezbollah will face many challenges but the party will also
have the opportunity to demonstrate what it is capable of delivering in terms
of social services to Lebanon's increasingly desperate population. Hezbollah's
much anticipated economic plan may reshape the Middle East and the populations
of Egypt, Jordan, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may demand a local version of
Question: How will it affect relations with Israel
and the US? Does Hezbollah now pose a credible deterrent to a future Israeli
Franklin Lamb: Yes. There has been a fundamental shift in
this respect. Hezbollah actually achieved its deterrent capacity following the
July 2006 war. Some say as early as 1996 or 2000 when if forced Israel out of
most of Lebanon.
Several times in the past 20 months Israel has
"probed" Lebanon and Hezbollah has signaled thru back channels that
it was ready for a ferocious response if Israel again attacked Lebanon.
Most recently Hezbollah's deterrence capacity was exhibited
when Israel cancelled its attack on May 11 which was green lighted in
Washington to assist the Siniora government allies in West Beirut. Frankly put.
Israel is no longer able to attack an Arab country, Lebanon, with impunity. A
historic first. Rather, it knows that it faces massive retaliation when it next
attacks Lebanon. Recently there was a Report that Tel Aviv would receive 600
missiles each day following an Israeli attack on Lebanon. US Congressional
sources have challenged that figure and have estimated the number at 1000
Hezbollah missiles per day against Tel Aviv is war breaks out.
Question: Hezbollah's takeover of Beirut was an
amazingly swift and efficient military operation, and yet, it is nearly
impossible to find any details about the operation itself. What really happened
on the ground and how is it that a armed militia was able to carry out such a
sophisticated "Green Beret" type operation (on a city-wide scale)
with so few casualties? Can we expect that the "Hezbollah model" of
resistance will be exported to other neighboring countries like Iraq, Jordan or
Franklin Lamb: Contrary to Israeli reports, those who moved
into Beirut did not come from the South of Lebanon, from the Bekaa nor were
they necessarily the 'first team.' Most were reserves with regular full time
jobs in Beirut and the surrounding area.
Most came in cars and vans just three miles south of Hamra
from the Jnah, Ouzai, Ghoberi, Dahiyeh area. They moved along the seafront past
the Coral Beach Hotel, along the only free public beach in Beirut, Ramlet al
Baida, along Corniche Mazra and fanned out up the inclines to the right into
West Beirut streets.
It did not require much more than 20 minutes to reach their
forward positions. Others, including Amal and the National Syrian Socialist
Party came from the new airport road and from the southeast and east.
Potentially the 'Hezbollah model' has application in Iraq,
Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, if oppositions there can replicate the Hezbollah
model of study, analysis, caution, patience and determined, disciplined
execution. Hezbollah is not essentially a Shia phenomenon, it is a rapidly
expanding resistance and justice movement and that it what makes it so lethal
to colonialism and occupation enterprises such as Zionist Israel and hegemonistic
America during the current period.
Question: Even before the takeover, Hezbollah
chairman, Hassan Nasrallah was the most popular Arab leader in the world. Is
Nasrallah really the "terrorist-extremist" he is made out to be in
the western press? What affect has Nasrallah had on Arabs living in the region?
Franklin Lamb: Hezbollah under the leadership of Hasan
Nasrallah has given the Arabs of the region restored self-respect following 60
years of humiliation and 41 years of repeated and voracious occupation and
aggression. Hezbollah's sometimes spectacular success has inspired many in the
younger generation throughout Lebanon among all the sects as well as the Middle
East and far beyond. One sees this in the faces of the old and young. . . . . .
. in the market places and play grounds in the universities and middle
schools.,,in the course also of interviews. The Middle East is standing up and
reclaiming it pre-Crusade unity, spirit, purpose and culture. Nasrallah is the
new Salaadin, Nassar and regional hope.
Question: Nasrallah has shown that he is capable of
thinking strategically and politically. This appears to have put him at an
advantage in dealing with both Israel and the United States. Israel's 34 Day
war was not just a humiliating defeat; it was also seriously mismanaged
from the beginning. In battles in cities and towns throughout
southern Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters went toe to toe with the better-equiped
IDF and turned them away. Is it possible that the real path to peace in the
Middle East is a strong army--like Hezbollah-- on Isreal's northern flank to
discourage further military adventurism?
Franklin Lamb: I see it certainly as one of the major
elements because if takes away the first option that Israel has used in the
past. Israel has committed aggression more than 40 times on the ground against
Lebanon starting in 1967 to July 2006. This era is over. Soon even Israel's air
force will be in peril from Hezbollah missiles as it attempts to add to its
more than 6000 violations of Lebanese airspace and sovereignty since the
Question: How do you respond to people who believe
that Hassan Nasrallah is a religious fanatic who wants to install a
"Iran-type" theocratic regime in Lebanon?
Franklin Lamb: I would ask them to study the subject a
little more closely and they would learn that Hezbollah, in the words of PLO
founder and longtime representative of the PLO in Lebanon, Shafiq al-Hout,
recently discussed with this observor, Hezbollah is probably the most secular
of the Parties in Lebanon. What he meant is that Hezbollah and its leaders rely
on reason, dialogue, and empirical analysis not on what we often think in the
West as blind application of Sharia.
Hezbollah believes in one God as you know. Having said that
they are very secular in the ways they tolerate and respect others beliefs and
rights to differ on issues of politics, philosophy, sociology, and personal
beliefs. I personally know many Shia and Hezbollah members who are very secular
and keep their religious views to themselves. Just yesterday, when my
motorcycle was in the shop I hopped a taxi to Hamra and the Shia driver brought
up the subject of religion and presented several of his arguments for why he
has real doubts there is a God. Unfortunately there is deep and vast
misinformation/disinformation about Hezbollah and their religious beliefs. They
are very secular on a day by day basis and they are very tolerant of others
views. In Dahilyeh, after a short period one does not feel that one in a
Nasrallah and Hezbollah, as Naim Qassim told former US
Ambassador Richard Viets and his delegation a couple of days ago that there is
no interest in an Islamic Republic in Lebanon. That idea was expressed back in
1985 in Hezbollah's 'open letter' announcing its formation. The relevant
language was influenced by Ayatollah Khomeni and the then recent success of the
For years, Nasrallah has regularly stated that Lebanon is
not Iran and never will be and if Lebanon wants an Islamic republic let 90% of
the people vote for it and only then could it be considered. The Islamic
Republic of Lebanon idea was a fantasy and virtually no one but the Zionist
lobby and their pals even mention the concept anymore.
Question: General Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's army
chief of staff, was sworn in as the country's new president last Sunday. The
Bush administration did not send a delegation, which indicates the level of
frustration with recent developments. It's clear now that the real center of
power has shifted away from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his allies in the
"US backed" March 14th Coalition to Hezbollah. Nasrallah said in a
recent speech that he has no interest in meddling in Lebanon's political
affairs but will not disarm his militia. With Hezbollah currently at full
strength and confident after their victory; do you think an Israeli attack on
Iran less likely? If Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, will Nasrallah
launch missile strikes on Tel Aviv?
Franklin Lamb: My personal belief is that Hezbollah would
attack Tel Aviv is Israel or the US attacked Iran and perhaps even Syria.
I do not think either the US or Israel will attack Iran
before Bush leaves office although both would very much like to.
The $4 per gallon gas prices in the States could rise to $12
per gallon if Iran shuts down the Gulf of Hormuz which it would almost
Israel does not have the military power to take on Iran by
itself and the still drowsy American public has no appetite for yet another
war. Such a conflict might well destroy the State of Israel and it knows it.
Such an attack would likely cause Iraq to explode in a
massive violence against American forces that would make the 1968 Tet Offensive
appear mild in comparison. The populations of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
would likely attempt to overthrow their governments.
This would be for starters and things would escalate form
there. The results are unpredictable but surely would be catastrophic on a
scale never seen since World War II.
The United States is on its way out of the Middle East.
Attacking Iran would quite simply accelerate its departure.
Question: The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz is reporting
that Hezbollah and the Olmert administration are close to a deal on a prisoner
exchange. There are also reports that Israel is negotiating secretly with Syria
on the Golan Heights and that the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has
opened talks with Hamas. Is Olmert trying to divert attention from his own
problems (bribery charges) or is Israel attempting to neutralize its potential
enemies in the event of an attack on Iran?
Franklin Lamb: I think you are exactly correct on this
Question: Hezbollah has been supportive of labor
strikes in Beirut. Are Lebanon's troubles really the result of sectarian
problems (as the media suggests) or class divisions? Is this really a struggle
between the wealthy Sunnis and Christians versus the poor Shia?
Franklin Lamb: More class divisions and the economy I would
say. Skyrocketing prices increasing power cuts, poor job market, shortage of
housing are all increasing tension and conflict. Plus outside actors continuing
to meddle in Lebanese internal affairs and promote conflict. The exacerbation
tensions here is cause less by whether one is Armenian, Druze,Chaldean,
Maronite, Shia, Sunni etc. that the yawning economic gap.
With respect to the Saudi/Hariri owned Solidere Corp. This
week in announced profits of $ 157 million dollars for the most recent
reporting period. These are astounding and record figues when consumer good
prices are rising. Under Rafik Hariri premiership, Lebanon borrowed more than $
40 billion to rebuild parts of Beirut (now effectively owned by Solidere/Hariri
Family and Friends). This interest alone on these loans payable partly to
Hariri and Saudi banks keeps Lebanon stagnate and barely above water. Without a
new economic plan Lebanon is lost. Hezbollah claims it has a plan and we will
soon see what it looks like and if Hezbollah can transform Lebanon
Question: Are the prospects for peace in the region
better or worse with a well-armed Hezbollah?
Franklin Lamb: Better in the sense that there is for the
first time in modern history an Arab/Muslim deterrence to Zionist and Western
colonialism. Worse in the sense that the US and Israel are rapidly losing
influence and viability in the Middle East and may once againresort to war to
stem the breach.
Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.