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Emerson Vermaat: Lebanese President says government not in control of Hezbollah

August 10, 2006

Emerson Vermaat – Lebanese president says government is not in control of Hezbollah

"Nobody knows about what they – Hezbollah – do. Not me, not even the ministers of Hezbollah in the government, they don't know. They have their own completely independent operation."

This is what the president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, said on August 3, 2006 in an interview with the Dutch newsprogram of RTL 4.[1He was asked if he, as the president of Lebanon and the head of state, could stop Hezbollah. No, he could not. But he did refer to Hezbollah as "the resistance."

It is wellknown that Hezbollah is a highly secretive and compartmentalized organization, this did not change after they joined the Lebanese government. Shortly after the recent bombing in Qana, where 27 civillians died, Lebanese prime minister Fouad Seniora praised Hezbollah for its resistance efforts. The Lebanese government does not at all distance itself from Hezbollah, and the state president publicly admits that nobody in the government – not even the Hezbollah ministers – knows anything about Hezbollah operations.

Who then is in control of Hezbollah? Salameh Nematt, the Washington Bureauchief of "Al-Hayat", claims in an interview with CNN that Iran and Syria pushed Hezbollah into this. Iran may face UN sanctions because of its nuclear program, and "the Syrians have an interest in pushing Hezbollah into this confrontation to open another front to ease the pressure on themselves." "Unfortunately the whole Lebanese state pays the price, the Lebanese people pay the price, but on the other hand they (Iran, Syria) did succeed in diverting attention from the Iranian nuclear issues for awhile and also from the international investigation into Syria's role in the Hariri assassination."[2

Claims that Hezbollah is simply a willingless tool in the hands of the Syrian and Iranian leaders may be exaggerated, but the ties are and always have been very close indeed. In his book "Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism 1979-1985," Edgar O'Ballance writes: "On 21 November 1982 Hezbollah led an armed rebellion against the local authorities in the Baalbek area, shouting slogans in favour of Khomeini and remaining in occupation of part of the town. The Lebanese government blamed Iran for instigating this ‘revolt', and its foreign minister protested to the Iranian ambassador in Beirut, threatening to break off diplomatic relations with the country if the Iranian contingent in the Bekaa Valley was not withdrawn. The newly elected president of Iran, Alia Akbar Khamenei, stated he had no intention of recalling them."[3

When I visited the Bekaa Valley and southern Beirut some eight year ago, my westernized Lebanese driver warned me not to leave the car and talk to the people in the street. He refused to stop anywhere. He himself was terrified. He called the people from Hezbollah extremists, Hezbollah leaders were, in his view, simply instruments in the hands of foreign powers (Syria, Iran). The atmosphere over there was rather spooky, surreal, it reminded me of what I so often saw in Eastern Bloc countries at the time of the communists: party slogans and the ubiquitous huge posters and banners. A few years ago a young and inexperienced female colleague from the Dutch radioprogram "De Ochtenden" went to the southern part of Lebanon to interview Hezbollah followers and their friends. The result was two hours of propagandistic talk. My young journalistic colleague had been fully indoctrinated. If there is one thing Hezbollah is extremely good at, it is propaganda and deluding naive westerners. I was even more surprised about the editor in chief who allowed this kind of propaganda to be aired by a Christian radio and television station.

Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the former Iranian ambassador to Syria, played an important role in creating Hezbollah in 1982. He was particularly close to Hasan Nasrallah, the current Hezbollah leader. In 1986 Mohtashemi became Minister of the Interior in Tehran but he stayed in close touch with the Hezbollah leadership.[4

Iranian Pasdaran or Revolutionary Guards, have been stationed in the Bekaaa-valley since 1982. The Syrians may have left Lebanon, the Iranians never did.

Since 1982, Iranian influence cannot be ignored by any Lebanese leader. Indeed, since they joined the Lebanese government Hezbollah and their Iranian backers are able to exert even more influence. The state president himself does not know anything about what he calls "the Hezbollah operation" – indeed, a terrorist and paramilitary organization more powerful than the central government and the army. Deploying the Lebanese army in Southern Lebanon will not work. The army is poorly equipped and neither able nor willing to resist the well-trained Hezbollah fighters backed by the fanatics from Iran. I am not at all surprised that Hezbolalh leader Nasrallah is in favor of deploying the Lebanese army in the south. The army will be as ineffective as the present United Nations force deployed in the border area. Hezbollah and Iran openly seek the destruction of the "zionist entity" (Israel). Their war against the "zionists" and Jews will go on, even if Israel would fully withdraw from Lebanon. In her book "Hezbollah – born with a vengeance" (1997) Hala Jaber writes: "As long as Israel continues to defy the international decree which calls for the end of its presence in South Lebanon, there is little hope that the circle of violence will end."[5 Is that so? In 2000 Israel did withdraw from Lebanon, yet Hezbollah continued to wage war on Israel. The whole of South Lebanon was transformed into huge military zone full of bunkers, tunnels and missiles. The weak and ineffectual central government simply chose to ignore an important UN Security Council Resolution calling for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias including Hezbollah. Nasrallah just threatened there would be another civil war should a Lebanese leader dare to touch his heroic men, the very ones who defeated the Israelis in the south. Anti Syrian politicians were assassinated by contract killers linked to Syria, Iran or Hezbollah. In his excellent article "Why Hezbollah can't be disarmed" J.F.O. McCallister makes the following observation: "As part of efforts to normalize Lebanon earlier this year, Hezbollah was engaging in a national dialogue with other parties in which it listened sympathatically to the entreaties to forget fighting and concentrate exclusively on politics for the good of the country – at the same time it was stockpiling missiles and preparing for a war it started without anyone's consent. Few would now trust any promise it gave."[6

Some legal issues: Who is repsonsible?

In July 2006, a well trained Hezbollah commando crossed the Israeli border, a few Israeli soldiers were killed and two Israeli soldiers were taken hostage. This was not just a normal border incident. It was an act of war, an act of aggression by a terrorist organization which is part of the Lebanese government. The same government cannot exonerate itself by claiming that they do not control Hezbollah and are not responsible for what is going on in the south. Saying: "It wasn't us, it was Hezbollah," is no excuse either. As a matter of fact, neither the prime minister nor the president have distanced themselves from Hezbollah and its actions. On the contrary, Hezbollah has been hailed by them as a legitimate resistance movement. This very fact as well as Hezbollah participation in the government raises the question of "state responsibility." On the one hand Hezbollah is an irregular force, on the other hand it is represented in the government. By allowing Hezbollah to freely operate in the south and conducting military operations against Israel like the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Lebanon is clearly violating essential principles of international law concerning friendly relations and co-operation among states: "Every State has the duty to refrain from organizing or encouraging the organization of irregular forces or armed bands, including mercenaries, for incursion into the terroriry of another state."[7

While questions can be raised about proportionality and so on, there can be no doubt that Israel has the right to defend itself after it has been subjected to an unprovoked armed attack. However, in the past, "Israel has relied less and less on a self-defense argument and has taken action which is openly admitted to be a reprisal," says D.W. Bowett, an authority on self-defense in international law. On December 28, 1968, 13 civil airplanes were destroyed while on the ground at Beirut airport in Lebanon by Israeli commandos. The raid was in retaliation for an attack on December 26 on an El Al airplaine at Athens airport by Palestine guerrillas. The Israeli action was condemned by the Security Council, yet, Bowett states, "there is clearly some evidence that certain reprisals will, even if not accepted as justified, at least avoid condemnation. Obviously, if this trend continues, we shall achieve a position in which, while reprisals remain illegal de jure, they beome accepted de facto."[8This time Israel bombed the landing strips of Beirut ariport, and now the Security Council did not pass a resolution condemning the action. Whether such an action is self-defense or a reprisal and whether such actions are justified, proper or wise is a matter of dispute. What cannot be disputed, in my view, is the responsibility of the Lebanese government for the actions of Hezbollah against the territorial integrity of other states (by taking Israeli soldiers hostage for example). The Lebanese government failed to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 demanding to disarm Hezbollah and to deploy the Lebanese army in the south. Moreover, there are two Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese cabinet.

Hezbollah and its allies are the main problem, lack of leadership and bowing to their demands will not serve the cause of peace nor is it in the interest of the people of Lebanon. Quite the contrary. One may criticize Israel's military response as "disproportionate" or "counterproductive," the fact is that the Israelis do not wish to occupy parts of Lebanon permanently. So far, any occupation has been provoked by elements committed to the elimination of the state of Israel.

August 10, 2006.


Emerson Vermaat, MA (law), is a Dutch journalist and specialist on international law, terrorism and crime. His website

[1RTL 4 (News), 3 August 2006.

[2 Salema Nematt, CNN, 8 August 2006,

[3 Edgar O'Ballance, Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism, 1979-95. The Iranian connection (London: Macmillan Press, 1997), p. 65

[4 Dennis Happee, Hezbollah. De Ideologie van de Partij van God (Netherlands: Doctoraalscriptie, Leiden, 1997), p. 46, 47.

[5 Hala Jaber, Hezbollah. Born with a vengeance (London: Fourth Estate, 1997), p. 214.

[6 J.F.O. McCallister, Why Hezbollah can't be disarmed, in: Time (European edition), August 7-August 14, 2006, p. 23.

[7 United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 2625 (XXV), 24 October 1970.

[8 D.J. Harris, Cases and Materials on International Law (London: Sweet&Maxwell, 1998), p. 915 (essay by D.W. Bowett on "Reprisals involving recourse to armed force").

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