Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will join a coalition government with Hezbollah, conceding defeat and handing the terrorist organization more political power than it ever had before.
Hariri, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica while on a visit to Rome to meet with his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni, said that he and the Shi’ite jihadist group have “put aside” their differences to serve the country.
“The prime minister only thinks of the good of Lebanon, of finding the formulas and making the agreements that allow us to handle the problems of the country,” he was quoted as saying.
Thousands of Lebanese Shia rely on Hezbollah – deeply embedded into politics and society – for social, medical and financial support. According to the Italian newspaper, Hariri said that as premier, he seeks to find a national formula that preserves Lebanese unity.
Hariri succeeded his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered in a 2005 car bombing blamed on Hezbollah. When asked about being in a government with the party accused of murdering his father, he responded by saying that he trusts that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will find those responsible and “condemn the criminals.”
Formed in the 1980s with the help of Iran as a “resistance” group against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has since morphed into a semi-military organization with thousands of battle-hardened fighters and weaponry spread across the Middle East.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun in February defended Hezbollah’s massive arsenal in an interview with an Egyptian TV channel, calling it “an essential component” of the country’s efforts to defend itself.
“Hezbollah weapons are not contradictory to the state, but are an essential part in defending the country,” Aoun told the Egyptian TV network CBC Satellite Channel. “As long as a part of the territory is occupied by Israel, and as long as the army is not powerful enough to fight Israel, we feel the need to maintain the weapons of the resistance to complement the army.”
Lebanon claims that Mount Dov (Shaba Farms), part of the Golan Heights, belongs to Lebanon.
Hezbollah fighters “are originally from the south and whose land was occupied” by Israel, Aoun added.
When Hezbollah-friendly Aoun was elected in November, he vowed to “release what is left of our lands from the Israeli occupation.”
Last week Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused the Lebanese Army
of coming under Hezbollah’s control.
“We’re talking about Hezbollah and about the Lebanese military, and unfortunately this is the reality,” Liberman said, adding that the “Lebanese Army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.”
In August, the Lebanese Army, along with Hezbollah, recaptured an Islamic State enclave in the Qalamoun mountains on the Syrian border. The Lebanese Army said that it was not coordinating Syrian or Hezbollah photos being posted on social media, which show armored personnel carriers carrying a Hezbollah flag alongside a tank with a flag of Lebanon.
Turning to Syria, Hariri said that despite Iran’s mobilization there, it was Moscow that saved the Assad regime.
“Russia is now pushing for a political solution, and as Putin says, their work is in the interest of the entire country, not just one person,” he said, adding that he met with President Vladimir Putin, who has “committed himself to the stability of the region. Putin’s words on Syria count, for Iran and the region, and at this moment the unity of the Arab world is decisive.”
But according to Hariri, allowing Bashar Assad to remain the leader of Syria would be a major mistake.
“In Syria, everything started with the people demanding reform [and] democracy. The regime began killing their own citizens and a civil war began.”
As for the increased tensions between the United States and Iran, Hariri said that Lebanon “wants good relations with all countries in the region, and we hope that in the midst of the confrontation between the United States and Iran, we will avoid any negative repercussions on our country.
“However,” he continued, “I also say that interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries is absolutely unacceptable, and Iran should play a positive role that will help in economic development and security, and not contribute to destabilization.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end after UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, and the deployment of the Lebanese Army and an enlarged UN force in the south.