Lebanon's Hezbollah Ties Two weeks ago, NPR Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel was in southern Lebanon, the area Israeli forces recently attacked after two soldiers were abducted by Lebanon-based Hezbollah. The incursion is Israel's first since pulling out of Lebanon in 2000. Melissa Block talks with Koppel.
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Lebanon's Hezbollah Ties

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Lebanon's Hezbollah Ties

Lebanon's Hezbollah Ties

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR's Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel was in Beirut and southern Lebanon several weeks ago, where he talked with members of Hezbollah. He joins us now.

Ted, back then, when you talked to Hezbollah, did military leaders talk about having planned the capture of Israeli soldiers, which apparently had been planned for some time.

TED KOPPEL reporting:

I suspect, Melissa, if anyone had been incautious enough to express that publicly he would no longer be a leader of Hezbollah. No. We talked about a number of things. We talked about their enduring animosity toward the State of Israel. We did talk about the fact that they have in their possession in the south of Lebanon at least 12,000 missiles rockets.

Thus far, the understanding has always been that those were short ground-to-ground rockets. This one particular - he was the commander of Hezbollah forces in the south, which effectively makes him the military commander of almost all Hezbollah forces. He did concede that they have some longer range rockets now, which they have been receiving from Iran. And then when I asked him how many and what kind of range, he said I'm not going to tell you anything that will ease the concerns of our enemy.

BLOCK: You mention their animosity toward the state of Israel. Presumably, their intention is still the destruction of the state of Israel. Did they describe that to you?

KOPPEL: Yes. Animosity, and you're quite right to call me on that. Animosity is too gentle a word. They want nothing less than extinguishing the existence of the state of Israel. As far as they are concerned, that is territory that does not belong to the Jews and they are absolutely determined that they will take it back or, as they put it, liberate it.

BLOCK: When you think about the timing of this escalation - Israel, of course, pulled out of Lebanon back in 2000 - why would Hezbollah take this action, provoke this response?

KOPPEL: I must tell you Melissa that I think, and I don't want to be too Conspiracy-minded here, but I really think that Iran is playing a very dangerous game. And I think Iran is forming - or has already formed a coalition of sorts with its enduring support for Hezbollah. And you have to know that Hezbollah relies in large measure for funding on Iran, in large measure for its weapons on Iran and in large measure on its training so that the military commander that I was talking to in the south, he spent 11 years in Iran. He has five children, all five of them and his wife are living in Qom, the holy city in Iran. There is a very, very close connection. You could almost say that Hezbollah forces are a forward contingent of Iranian intentions, only this time placed in southern Lebanon. Similarly, they have increased their support for Hamas, which, of course now controls the Palestinian Authority.

BLOCK: Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, has cabinet ministers, is part of parliament. Does the Lebanese government have any control over what Hezbollah does? And if they don't, why not?

KOPPEL: The simple answer is no. This is going to be an over-simplification of sorts, Melissa. But there is a great deal of corruption in many parts of the Lebanese government, and the Lebanese government has not been terrific about serving its people.

By contrast, while we always focus only on the military and terrorist aspect of Hezbollah, Hezbollah has enormous popularity, especially in the south of Lebanon, because it carries out, and has for many years, in a very uncorrupt fashion, carried out civil action programs. It runs hospitals, it builds schools, it provides social services to people who desperately need them. And it has not escaped the notice of Lebanese that Hezbollah is doing for them what their government is not. So, you know, the Lebanese army has never been terribly powerful to begin with, there have always been sectarian differences in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims and Druze, and if I had to point to a single strongest unitary force in all of Lebanon, I would have to say that is Hezbollah.

BLOCK: Ted Koppel, thanks very much.

KOPPEL: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: NPR's Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel recently back from Lebanon. He was speaking to us from his current assignment, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More on that tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.

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