Hezbollah's Motives in the Middle East
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Whether Lebanon is willing to follow Hezbollah's lead remains to be seen. Hisham Melhem is the Washington Bureau Chief of the Lebanese daily newspaper As-Safir.
Mr. HISHAM MELHEM (An-Nahar): I'm not, I'm not. I'm sorry. With An-Nahar.
SIMON: You're - oh, Hishem, is that you?
Mr. MELHEM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SIMON: Oh, nice to talk to you. You're not the Washington bureau chief?
Mr. MELHEM: No, I'm the Washington bureau chief of An-Nahar.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for our mistake and our apologies to your employer...
Mr. MELHEM: No problem.
SIMON: ...and your ostensible employer. Well, thanks for being with us. Help us understand what Hezbollah hoped to gain by the capture of Israeli soldiers earlier this week.
Mr. MELHEM: Hezbollah has been subjected to growing calls from the international community and from some Lebanese parties and groups to disarm and to disband its military wing, and of course they have been resisting this for a long time. Hezbollah today represents the strongest political party and the only political party in Lebanon with a very well disciplined and effective military wing. It has a strategic relationship, that's what they call it, with Iran and Syria. They have their own media outlets, they have their own sources of income. Hezbollah would like to be recognized as a major, if not the major, political party in Lebanon.
They look at the region in a strategic way and they believe in what they call the logic of resistance or the culture of resistance, and today Hezbollah is - the irony of it is that this is a non-state actor that is projecting itself as the party that can present a working or a workable or an effective deterrence to Israel. No Arab leader in the past would dare to tell the Israelis if you attack us, we will attack Haifa and then deliver. So in that sense, Hezbollah, because they were successful in driving the Israeli forces who occupied - that occupied South Lebanon for 18 years, in the year 2000, and because Hasan Nasrullah's charismatic personality and the fact that he lost an 18-year-old son fighting the Israelis over South Lebanese territory, Nasrullah's stature became almost the stuff of myth.
And given that the Arabs have been humiliated repeatedly by the Israelis and they chafe because of the fact that they have to live in the shadow of Israel, Hezbollah's bold action, call it brazen action, or whatever, recently...
SIMON: They captured the soldiers.
Mr. MELHEM: Yes, exactly. Has received a great deal of support in the public opinions of the Arab world. In Lebanon, it's more complex. Nasrullah's stature with his own constituency has been enhanced, obviously. But there are major Lebanese groups who are extremely appalled and unhappy and angry at Hezbollah because Nasrullah made a decision that should be reserved - that is the reserves of sovereign governments, issues that deal with war and peace.
And while in the immediacy of the event, while the Lebanese see the whole nation is being punished collectively for the actions of Hezbollah, their criticism may be muted at this stage, but later on I would imagine that there will be a great deal of tough questions being asked by Hezbollah as to why you did this while knowing in advance that the Israelis would come and visit Lebanon with their traditional and brutal reactions.
SIMON: Hishem, in the minute we have left, let me get you to address an issue that's been unfolding here too. In your judgment, what sway do Syria and Iran have over Hezbollah?
Mr. MELHEM: You have a very close, as I said, strategic relationship. This is not the relationship between a major party like Iran and Syria telling Hezbollah or dictating to Hezbollah what to do. It's more complex than that. There's an alliance, there is a convergence of interests, there is a similar assessment of who is the enemy and who are our friends and what we need.
And there is also a growing sense among Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran, that at this juncture the Americans are drowning in the quicksands of Iraq, that Israel cannot go back to Gaza and to occupy it or reoccupy South Lebanon because they paid a heavy price for it, and they - and that's why you see these - all of these parties are on the ascendancy at this stage at the expense of the - of America's friends in the Arab world. They see that the American moment quote-unquote is ending, and they do represent the alternative, and they want the United States to recognize them and to deal with them, whether they were talking about the Iranians or the Syrians or Hezbollah or even Hamas.
SIMON: Hisham Melhem, Lebanese journalist. Thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. MELHEM: Thank you.
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