Hezbollah's Role in Lebanon's Government
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Now for more on the role of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in the government of Lebanon, we're joined by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. She's author of, Hezbollah: Politics and Religion. She's a professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
Professor, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And explain the role of Hezbollah, can you, please?
Professor AMAL SAAD-GHORAYEB (Lebanese American University): Hezbollah is a political party amongst others in Lebanon. It's a member of the government, and at the same time, it commands a very large military group called the Islamic Resistance.
Hezbollah's role in southern Lebanon, as elsewhere in Lebanon, is to provide social services for its constituents: not only Shiites, but non-Shiites as well.
CHADWICK: But it has a military function as well, as evidenced by repeated rockets into Israel over the years, and now this raid to capture two soldiers.
Prof. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Yes, of course. Hezbollah has a very powerful, though small, military wing. And it was this military organization which managed to expel Israel after 20 years or so, or more, of its occupation from Lebanon in the year 2000.
CHADWICK: And what about the capture of these soldiers? Why did Hezbollah undertake this at this time, and what is the goal?
Prof. SAAD-GHORAYEB: There remain three Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, and Hezbollah has been calling for their release for many years now. In the year 2004, Hezbollah managed to strike a prisoner exchange with Israel, and it was able to secure the release of over 400 Arab prisoners. But these three prisoners remain. Israel kept them as bargaining chips, in exchange for information on the lost Israeli pilot, Ron Arad.
CHADWICK: Well, what is going to happen now? Israel's got a very strong military response in Lebanon, bombing the airport, blockading the country according to some reports. How long can Hezbollah go on holding these prisoners?
Prof. SAAD-GHORAYEB: From the Lebanese side it's seen as a case of, you know, the ball being in Israel's court. I think Hezbollah has quite a large defense capability at its disposal. It has threatened to bomb central Israel, to go as far as Haifa and Tel Aviv, if need be, because Israel threatened to strike Beirut and Lebanese infrastructure.
CHADWICK: How about the role of the government of Lebanon here? Does the government have the power to do anything?
Prof. SAAD-GHORAYEB: In fact, the Lebanese government did not condemn the abductions. I think the government's in a difficult position. It has displayed some ambivalence.
One the one hand, yesterday it tried to distance itself from, you know, taking the initiative. And it's true, the government had nothing to do with this abduction. It had no knowledge of it. However, since Israel retaliated heavily for these abductions, the Lebanese government found itself in a position whereby it had to stand alongside, not merely Hezbollah but the Lebanese as a whole in defending Lebanese territory.
CHADWICK: Would it be possible for the government of Lebanon to say to Hezbollah, we don't want this to go on any longer, give back these two soldiers?
Prof. SAAD-GHORAYEB: I seriously doubt that the Lebanese government would call for the release of these soldiers. I mean, that would not go down well at all in Lebanon, amongst the Shiite community. It would not be accepted by Hezbollah. It would definitely - I mean this is against the Arab street. The entire Arab world firmly backs Hezbollah's abductions. All Sunni Islamic movements have voiced their support for Hezbollah. It would look quite ridiculous for the Lebanese government to turn its back on its own Lebanese detainees in Israel.
CHADWICK: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is the author of Hezbollah: Politics and Religion. She's a Professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. Professor, thank you.
Prof. SAAD-GHORAYEB: Thank you.