Senior Lebanese political analyst Nasser Qandil explores the current challenges facing Hezbollah inside Lebanon, particularly regarding the deepening economic crisis in the country, and the necessity for the group to concentrate its efforts on ‘economic resistance’ as well.
This is the second installment of this translation. Part one focused on the major changes and transformations in the military balance of power between Hezbollah and Israel over the last 14 years since the ‘July War’ in 2006.
Note: we have added our own sub-headings in the below transcript to make for easier reading
Source: Al Mayadeen News
Date: July 12, 2020
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What I want to get to is that in one of his appearances, his eminence Sayyed Nasrallah cut to the chase and said: “The resistance (Hezbollah) has already overtaken Israel. Israel is still standing thanks to US protection.” In 1996, the Resistance discovered – and this was the secret behind the liberation in the year 2000 – that the Israelis remained (in Lebanon) because they were under the illusion that the border buffer zone (that Israel established within Lebanese territory) protects the (Israeli) entity from the missiles of the resistance. So if (Israel) realizes that the border (buffer zone) is pointless and that the entity will be targeted no matter what, it will withdraw. And this is what happened (in the year 2000).
Today, his eminence Sayyed (Nasrallah) tells us that the resistance is certain that the (Israeli) entity continues to survive only because of the American presence (in the region), and that the decisive battle with the entity is a battle to expel the Americans from the region.
Whoever analyses the (American) sanctions and the logic behind them will discover that they are not aimed at escalating the situation such that it provokes a full-scale confrontation. This is nothing but propaganda. In fact, these sanctions have direct political goals. I mean, (Lebanese) parties affiliated to the US (in Lebanon) are proposing (very high demands such as) the disarmament (of Hezbollah) and the implementation of Resolution 1559 because this is the American approach. Just as they (Americans) did in 1983 with (Lebanese) President Amine Gemayel when they told him that they were (about to attack) Syria at the same time in which they were engaged in negotiations with (Syria). Two months later, McFarlane) the special US envoy to the Middle East) was asked: “why did you back out (of the attack)? You would have put (Gemayel) in big trouble.” McFarlane answered: “if we told (Gemayel) that we were (negotiating) with Damascus, he would have beat us to it. We trick our allies to make them think that we are escalating for the sake of imposing stronger terms in the negotiations.”
What do Americans want from the Caesar Act? Why are the Americans putting pressure on Lebanon, blocking access to US dollars in the (Lebanese) market, preventing the transfer of dollars to the country, and closing lines of credit – via the Central Bank of Lebanon’s accounts -for the purchase of fuel? What do they want? The Americans are not hiding (their intentions). They told us what they want. James Jeffrey (US Special Representative for Syria Engagement) told us. Why the Caesar Act? He said in the live appearance he made in which he spoke about the Act. He said ‘we wish to go back to (the balance of power) that existed before 2011. What does he mean by “before 2011”? He means the time when “we (Americans) will acknowledge the victory of President Assad. We were not present (in Syria before 2011), but Hezbollah and Iran were not there either. We leave (Syria), but (Hezbollah and Iran must) leave too.”
So he (Jeffrey) wants to ensure the security of the (Israeli) occupying entity in southern Syria by hinting at sanctions against Russia as the main target of the Caesar Act. Syria will be hit by sanctions anyway and Iran is drowning in a sea of sanctions. Therefore, these sanctions are actually against Russia. The Caesar Act was introduced originally at the beginning of 2016 in order to reach a compromise with Russia in relation to the battle in Aleppo. However, (the Caesar Act) now aims at reaching an agreement with Russia over the terms of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria and is not aimed at (prolonging) their stay.
Second, regarding Lebanon, David Schenker (US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs) publicly appeared on TV and said that Hezbollah is involved in ‘corruption, smuggling, money laundering, causing devastation, and that it is the cause of the crisis (in Lebanon)’ etc. Give it to me directly (Schenker), what do you want? He (Schenker) told us directly that “you are suffering greatly (due to the economic crisis). You have promising gas reserves in the (Mediterranean) sea, but they are in a region that is the subject of a dispute with Israel. We (the US) presented you with a plan, so accept it! So the US wants an exit strategy that provides the (Israeli) occupying entity with a security belt on the Syrian and the Lebanese fronts, and (the US seeks to achieve this) by exerting “maximum pressure on the resistance”.
This is the third pillar of the power of the Resistance. The first pillar is military capability. The second pillar is the political front, meaning the Axis of Resistance. The third pillar is economic reconstruction. Without a resistance economy, the resistance cannot speak of an ability to maintain a level of cohesion within its support base and environment. What I want to say here is that the measures and steps taken by the resistance are not new. It is not true that the resistance, being under pressure at the moment, is now discovering or searching (for solutions). This was in fact its original program. Its original program was and is ‘Openness to the East’, that (Lebanon) have multiple sources (for economic, financial, and political relations). Its original program is aimed at breaking the borders (created by) Sykes-Picot between the countries of the region to form a single (economic) market. Its original program is aimed at relying on industry, agriculture and the national currency for exchange with neighboring countries and where possible. This is the original plan of the resistance. But this plan is now being put into action. It is not a negotiating weapon to lure Americans into easing conditions. If the Americans want to cooperate they are welcome, but if they don’t we will proceed (with this plan). Either way, this plan is not subject to review. Industry and agriculture are objective needs (of Lebanon).
In terms of industry and agriculture, Lebanon … Lebanon, by the way – in the year 1960, the Iraqi market was running 60% of the Port of Beirut and 30% of Lebanese industrial production. Today, Lebanon, which used to export milk, cheese, juice, clothing and shoes to the Gulf, imports 200 million dollars worth of milk and cheese only! Thus, the revival of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, which were destroyed by the rentier economy, was and is the original plan. We are not talking about a knee-jerk reaction.
Has the goal (behind the sanctions) become counter-productive? Because the Lebanese internal consensus over the economic resistance that Sayyed Nasrallah called for was remarkable. I want you to comment briefly because we exceeded the time allocated for this file. The Patriarch (Bechara Boutros) al-Rahi said today: “The Lebanese people today do not want any majority (group in Lebanon) to tamper with the constitution and to keep them away from (Lebanon’s) brothers and friends.” This is noteworthy as well Mr. Nasser, is it not?
The truth is, the speech of his Beatitude (al- Rahi), at certain points, was vague and unclear. It seemed like he was targeting the resistance by talking about neutrality and keeping Lebanon out of conflicts. However, today there may be another direction. I think the Lebanese people know that when we talk about buying oil products in Lebanese pounds… if you don’t want to buy them from Iran, then buy them from Saudi Arabia. Aren’t you friends with Saudi Arabia and the UAE? Let these countries sell us oil products in Lebanese pounds. Half of the demand for dollars in the Lebanese market is because of oil imports. We are depleting the reserves of the Central Bank of Lebanon. They will last us for five years instead of ten if we keep using them for oil imports.
His eminence Sayyed Nasrallah announced that Iran is ready to help, and since oil imports are consuming half of the budget, the resistance is proposing to remove half of the pressure on the US dollar, meaning (that the exchange rate) would return to 3000 or 4000 (Lebanese pounds per dollar) if we buy these oil products in Lebanese pounds. We are not bound to (importing) from Iran exclusively. Bring any offer from any other country.
True…for the Americans, the (economic) war was aimed at Hezbollah. However, the entirety of Lebanon is suffering the consequences of this war.
Here, I want to say something so we can put things in the right perspective. When the uprising began in October (2019), Pompeo and his team went beyond warnings. (Jeffery) Feltman (Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs) said before the American Congress: “Do not overestimate the influence of this uprising. Let’s not allow Lebanon to become prey for China and Russia.” He said frankly that China wants Lebanon to be a base for its 5G (technology) in the Middle East.
The Americans are backtracking from this (maximum economic pressure) approach not only because of economic (considerations). Do not be mistaken. This is because a highly powerful security message was delivered to the Americans about what the resistance might do if the situation (in Lebanon) deteriorated further.
When someone with the great prominence, status, and figure of Sayyed Nasrallah comes out and says: “I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you” … These words were written down (on paper). He did not say them out of anger during his speech. He was establishing a (new) equation. He said: “You are making me choose me between hunger or death. My answer is: I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you.” Mediators received questions asking them “what is going on? (what does Nasrallah mean here by ‘I will kill you’)” Then they got the answer. The answer might be – I do not know the answer, only the resistance knows it – but it might be in the form of strong military strike that the US and Israel would never expect. Is it the announcement of the zero hour for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq and Syria? Maybe. Is it a precision guided missile attack on the Dimona (nuclear reactor in Israel), for example? Maybe. Is it a (codeword) for opening up the (military) front in the south of Lebanon, and the Golan Heights front (from Syria) under the title of liberating the Shebaa Farms and the Golan Heights in one go? Maybe. This is the level and size (of the warning that Nasrallah directed).
The resistance will not stand idly by while its people suffer (from the deteriorating economic crisis). It will fight hunger by establishing the foundations of economic reconstruction because this is its project. This (economic reconstruction) has nothing to do with merely fighting (US) sanctions. (The resistance) found an opportunity to launch this project. Other (Lebanese parties) did not accept these proposals (before). Now it is the chance (to put them forward).
Do we want to change Lebanon’s identity by (economically) cooperating with China and giving rise eastern totalitarianism and who knows what, as some (in Lebanon) claimed? No. But does it make sense that the NATO (member) Turkey dares to go to Russia and buy S400 (missile systems), while we (Lebanese) don’t dare to buy Kalashnikov bullets that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri pledged to buy but did not dare to allocate funds for? We have 10 billion dollars’ worth of offers from China to build power plants, factories and tunnels under BOT (Build–operate–transfer) contracts, but we don’t have the courage to accept these offers because we are afraid that the US might be upset with us!
Host: Saudi Arabia itself is now negotiating with China over avenues of cooperation…
Everyone is turning to China. (Check) the Boston Harbor now, all the equipment for loading, operating, and unloading are Chinese!
Host: This all goes back to the American-Israeli concerns, Mr. Nasser.
This is the economic vision of the resistance. The (military) dimension (of this whole picture) is something else. The (military) dimension is the following: when they raise the bar of the financial threat, we raise the bar of the military-security threat.
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