Samir Geagea: Lebanon cannot be effective as long as Hezbollah is armed

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Lebanon cannot be as effective and strong as a state as long as Hezbollah continues to be armed, the head of the Lebanese Forces Party Samir Geagea told Al Arabiya in a wide-ranging interview.

“The truce exists because I have a firm belief that with Hezbollah’s weapons, there can be no effective Lebanese state as strong as we want,” Geagea told Al Arabiya’s Rima Maktabi.

Regarding the recent sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran, Geagea said he expected a decline in the funding of Hezbollah as an armed group.

“The tougher the sanctions the more it will be reflected in the funding of Hezbollah as it appears on the Lebanese arena,” he said, while adding that he predicts the group will suffer in its overall influence.

“Even though a huge part of Hezbollah is driven by ideology, doctrine and religious sentiment, we are talking about tens of thousands of people who are receiving salaries, social institutions, and a lot of aid. Consequently, it will have its effect,” he said.

Geagea also spoke on the situation in neighboring Syria, saying that he expects the collapse of Bashar al-Assad’s if the Iranians and the Russians decide to eventually withdraw from the conflict.

“The equation is well known, the power in Syria is in the hands of the Iranians, the Russians, the Americans and the Turks consequently we cannot talk about the presence of a state in Syria,” the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party said.

Below is the full transcript of Al Arabiya’s interview with Samir Geagea:

Welcome to this special interview with Lebanese Forces Party leader Samir Geagea

Thanks for having me.

Welcome. Let’s start with the regional files. Although we have a lot to talk to you about the affairs of Lebanon and the world; Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are on the verge of a new package of sanctions. In your opinion, what impact does this have on Lebanon?

There is no direct impact, but there will be an indirect effect by virtue of our presence in the region itself, but I do not think it will be significant.

Will Hezbollah’s funding remain the same with Iran, which is burdened with economic troubles?

Of course, it won’t. The tougher the sanctions the more it will be reflected in the funding of Hezbollah as it appears on the Lebanese arena.

Will Hezbollah lose influence if funding is weak or will it not affect militias?

Of course, it will. Even though a huge part of Hezbollah is driven by ideology, doctrine and religious sentiment, we are talking about tens of thousands of people who are receiving salaries, social institutions, and a lot of aid, consequently it will have its effect.

In your opinion, what is the future of the party in Lebanon since it has become an important part of the Lebanese government?

There is no future for the party or any party except adhering within the framework of the Lebanese constitution and the exercise of its role as a political party like others. Anything else and even from our experience as Lebanese forces, although they are not identical, ultimately anything illegal is doomed, only law prevail and by that I mean that in any state the army and the security forces hold weapons and the strategic decision should be in within the framework of the legitimate government. Anything other than that can last for a year or two or five or ten or twenty as in our case, but in the end, things must return to their natural state.

So, after how many years?

Nobody knows. The important thing is that we are persistent. From the first moment, we have sought this, and you know the difficult circumstances, but I do not doubt for a moment that this illegal situation will end and therefore the status of Hezbollah cannot continue as it is.

Unless Iran’s regime changes, can Lebanon be free from Iranian interference?

There is no doubt that the current Iranian regime with its existence, especially with its theory of exporting the revolution, caused unrest in many Arab countries starting with Yemen and not ending in Lebanon. But if you want to talk about Lebanon, the country has the elements of constitutional life and has enough history to overcome these challenges, even if the regime as a whole does not fall in Iran. Some may say that Lebanon and the Lebanese didn’t resist enough in the sense that we followed Hezbollah, but in my opinion, we cannot dismiss what happened so far, it may not have reached our ambitions but sooner or later. We will be able to build an actual state in Lebanon where the state and only the state hold the strategic decision and the arms.

Frankly, there is an impression in the Arab world that Lebanon has become the state of Hezbollah and that Lebanon is in the realm of Iran.

This is absolutely false, there are many facts even if small that indicate this; almost a month ago, a supreme council for the trial of presidents and ministers was formed within the parliament. Hezbollah tried to include a member, MP Albert Mansur and failed while another deputy from March 14th won the election along with Eli Hanakash of the Kataeb Party.

But the government was only formed when Hezbollah got everything it wanted and the Lebanese presidency can ensure Hezbollah’s interest?

Honestly, disabling the presidency cannot be assessed in the same way. Hezbollah was not the only party involved. Hezbollah and its immediate allies were not able to disrupt the presidential elections, but it was the large bloc of the Free Patriotic Movement who disrupted the process to be able to deliver his candidate to the presidency of the Republic. Consequently, there are many times where there is a kind of intersection of interests between Hezbollah, its allies and other Lebanese parties which can give the impression that Hezbollah alone is leading the disruption, but in any position where there are no shared interests we can see that Hezbollah and its immediate allies are a minority and not a majority.

Does Hezbollah’s heavy involvement in the government mean that it has begun to prepare itself for its purely political role in Lebanon, and not only in the military?

I do not know what you mean by heavy involvement, in reality Hezbollah only has three ministers as direct allies; with three ministers and two other allies present in the Gebran Bassil bloc. The Future Movement alone has six ministers and a prime minister so who has the greater influence? The movement of the president has 10 ministers. Sometimes we tend to mix things together.

But there is sometimes a sense that Hezbollah is hiding behind the Amal movement in many cabinet posts.

Yes, in certain strategic issues I agree with you as in tactical matters both related to the administration of the state and some other things and this is witnessed all the times at the table of the Council of Ministers and the House of Representatives. The rule is to agree, but this rule does not always prevail.

So you declared a truce with Hezbollah and its weapon?

No, not fighting all the time does not mean a truce, and one should not fight north and right without a reason. But the truce exists because I have a firm belief that with Hezbollah’s weapons there can be no effective Lebanese state as strong as we want.

There is the impression that you formed a government in which all the Lebanese political parties participated, except for the Kataeb Party, therefore with no real opposition in Lebanon, as if you ignored Hezbollah’s weapons under the slogan of the economic concern of the Lebanese citizen.

First of all, it is not under the slogan of economic concern because these are actual economic factors that lead to deterioration of the situation to undesirable consequences and therefore this is essential.

In a deal between all the political parties?

Among many political parties

Are you among them?

Never, not for a moment or within a subject, that is why we are free to oppose or support any position, and no one can accuse us of anything because there is nothing to be said.

Economically speaking, there is a feeling that Lebanon is safe and a lot of Lebanese officials have called on tourists to come to Lebanon on Al Arabiya and Al Hadath’s screens, but there is the impression that the country is on the verge of economic collapse or social revolution; to what extent can that be tolerated?

I do not think we are on the brink of a social revolution on of economic collapse like that of the Great Depression, either. The country has entered into enormous financial and economic difficulties, but this is something and the popular revolution is something else. If the necessary measures are not taken, it is possible that the government will witness difficult days.

Will these measures be at the expense of the Lebanese citizen? There was talk about the deduction of pensions and the rise in the price of gasoline.

There are a lot of steps involved. All of these steps are being discussed. At present, we will not take a position before we see the entire picture, but for us we have to start with huge financial possibilities and then go down to some small economic possibilities so we can evaluate the situation. We do not agree with rising gasoline prices and we will not be forced to do so if we deal with the problem adequately.

The impression on the street is that the Lebanese officials enjoy a very luxurious life, there are stories that tell about the deals of electricity to the benefit of political parties and organs in Lebanon, there is also talk about oil companies founded on behalf of political parties, there is a sense of distrust which is present at the grassroots of all the supporters of political parties.

We share this impression with the people. There is real corruption in a large part of the political class, in terms of electricity it is no longer a presumption since we touched it in many places, but in relation to oil there is nothing tangible at the moment. We are following all leads to know what happened. But let me say that because of the general situation as a whole, we are able, even if we were 4 out of 30, to face in the cabinet and stand up to supposed deals.

Welcome back again in this special interview with Lebanese Forces Party leader Samir Geagea.

There is an impression that the region is on the verge of a security agitation. First of all, the US sanctions against Iran, the performance and the actions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the other threat is Israel which we will discuss later. Do you fear an attack on the Strait of Hormuz as reaction from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in areas where they enjoy influence such as Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen?

Let me just give an idea of the region as I see it. The American confrontation with its allies and Iran with its allies as well is a serious confrontation that I do not consider temporary, interim or tactical. I see it until further notice as going all the way and not necessarily with a military stage. The proof is what we heard in the past few days, essentially that the exceptions given by the Americans in the first stage regarding Iranian oil will stop, which means that from now to the third or fourth of May there will be a big problem in the export of any Iranian oil, this will increase tension in the region. In this context, with the tightening on the Iranian economy, Iran can react at any time because the economy is equal to the military and security.

At any given time, Iran can make an uncalculated reaction somewhere. The Iranians are generally careful, but no one knows. In my estimation and I take the case of the Strait of Hormuz, if any Iranian reaction is misplaced, it will go down easily because the general atmosphere is that of escalation on all levels.

Is Lebanon an ally of the Gulf states or that of Iran?

Lebanon adopts a foreign policy called the policy of self-distancing and we as a state are committed to it.

This policy is not very convincing by the way.

I can give you several examples of the state’s commitment to this policy, some sides inside the state, such as Hezbollah, for example and from time to time, the foreign minister, unfortunately, do not comply, but the state as a state is committed that’s why I see that the situation in Lebanon is calm.

What about the relationship with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Arab countries?

At the present time, the relationship is very normal, it is true that has not restored the 1990- 2010 amicable state, but normal relations have returned at the present time. In addition to the fact that the Gulf whether Saudi Arabia or the UAE have other pressing concerns than Lebanon, the most important of which is Yemen today.

The other threat is Israel, with the signature of the US president, the occupied Syrian Golan was made an Israeli territory.

It’s not possible.

This is America and it can do whatever it wants.

This is on his paper, in some things even America cannot do anything. Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are not a declaration made by the American president.

Lebanon did not draw its borders with Syria and therefore we have Lebanese land on Syrian paper and the Syrians refused to demarcate the border in the past.

Honestly, the Syrian regime is a situation that we have been suffering from for over 50 years. It came to the point where Lebanon was occupied as a whole by Syria and you are talking to me about the demarcation of the borders which is the latest of our problems, in addition to the problem of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian prisons and the Lebanese missing persons. Yes, we have a problem on this level with the regime in Syria, but I do not think that this regime will continue and I am awaiting a new Syrian state.

Some experts believe that the war with Israel is inevitable?

I’m not saying that. The situation in the region is open to all possibilities, but that does not mean that the war is coming inevitably.

Hezbollah is your partner in the government. Do they have to talk to the government before any military operation on the border?

Of course, this is our opinion, but if you ask me whether it will take our opinion or not is something else and our position will be different as well. This is what can be done with politics

Regarding Syria, did Bashar al-Assad win?

Not at all, everyone believes this wrong idea.

Will he return to the international community?

He will never return to the international community.

Lebanon has officially called for Syria’s return to the League of Arab States.

No, not officially, but Minister Gebran Bassil as a partisan. The Lebanese government has another opinion.

President Michel Aoun was at the Arab summit and he called for the return of Syria.

He can demand, but not formally, the official position comes from the Council of Ministers. He made no decision and even pledged not to intervene in this regard.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime restored areas in Syria and controlled most of them.

The Iranian forces present in Syria are ones who regained these areas with the help of the Russians, the Assad regime did not recover anything. The Assad regime in itself will collapse if the Iranians and the Russians withdrew together. The equation is well known, the power in Syria is in the hands of the Iranians, the Russians, the Americans and the Turks consequently we cannot talk about the presence of a state in Syria.

Russia says it is the protector of the Christian minority in the Middle East, are you comfortable as the head of a Christian party in general that there is a great force two or three hours away from Beirut?

Frankly, we do not feel at any moment that we are a minority in the region, we are indigenous to the land. Also, when we need to defend ourselves, we defend ourselves and do not need someone to protect us. As for Russia as a protector of minorities, I do not see it. As the policy of every major country, Russia protects its interests in the Middle East and they act accordingly, they do not sacrifice their interests for the sake of minorities or majorities. We have seen for the last 7 years that the majorities are those who need protection in the region and not minorities.

In what sense?

Syria, for example, was the victim of the most casualties.

Sunni people?

Yes, the war is no longer between Christians and Muslims or between the majorities and minorities, the war is between other parties, let’s call them moderate and extremist.

A quick look at the regional countries like Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, how do you see Lebanon and the surrounding countries?

What’s happening in Sudan, Algeria and Yemen is another issue.

In Yemen, there is a Houthi minority not to be confused with the Yazidis. Unfortunately, Iran gave them much importance, as such circumstances helped that they make certain alliances with the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh and we all know how that ended so Yemen is an entirely different problem.

As far as Sudan and Algeria are concerned, what is happening now is similar to what happened in Lebanon in 2005, it reveals a certain degree of civilization and progress despite the difficult situation in these countries. I wish that these popular revolutions reach their happy ends. They have made great strides but they still have other challenges which I hope they will peacefully pass.

If I were to briefly ask you, what is the problem of Lebanon?

Many problems beginning with its geographical location. I remember that one of the artists in Lebanon was asked what she wanted for the country, she said that she hoped that it can be transferred from its place to a completely different location as opposed to between Israel on the one hand and Assad’s Syria, not Syria on the other. If we start with the geographical problem we can reach the composition of the country, Lebanon is a group of groups. Unlike what some think that Lebanon always has problems, I congratulate the people and Lebanon on the ability of these groups to live with each other in an explosive situation in the region at the moment.

In addition to that we have a political backwardness, a large group of political class that no one envies so we have many problems, not just one.

Are the displaced Syrian a problem?

They are a big problem at the present time, and we cannot afford it because it is certain that Bashar al-Assad does not want them for well-known strategic and demographic reasons.

The only solution is that the Lebanese government cooperates with the Russians which will require Russia to establish safe areas because Russia is capable of doing so.

It seems that Russia did not accept President Michel Aoun’s proposal and we did not hear of any radical decisions. It has been said that it can take up to 20 years from now for the political agreement and the reconstruction.

Frankly, I do not know exactly what the President of the Republic proposed, and if this issue has been discussed in depth or just pitched.

He did not inform you as a government?

No, but in any case, the delegation’s composition does not suggest that the issue is about the displaced.

Can the Syrian displaced go back while his home is destroyed and his life in danger?

Do you think that the displaced living in Lebanon has a nice house and lives safely? Therefore, we demand safe areas and the same conditions of life as they have here, but this requires serious consideration between the Lebanese government and Russia because they are the only ones capable of doing so.

Are you saying this because you are afraid of the demographic structure in Lebanon, the Sunnis are becoming a majority?

From all aspects, Lebanon has a demographic population of 4 million people and cannot afford a million and a quarter Syrian displaced with all their economic weight, the infrastructure, the demographics and all factors.

Personal question, will you ever be president of the Republic of Lebanon?

It does not matter, I do hope so, but there is a beautiful Arabic saying that says the joy of striving towards a certain goal is totally equal to the pleasure of reaching it.

It is important that we do what we need to do from any position with all honesty and integrity.

The political faces in Lebanon have not changed since the days of the Lebanese war and many of them participated in this war. Why do we feel that Samir Geagea was not forgiven for his past while the rest of those who participated in the war were not held accountable while you were in jail?

The first thing is that I do not have a past that needs forgiveness. This is the invention of the regime of Bashar al-Assad when he was in Lebanon and wanted to put an end to the last box opposing him by inventing a past based on our participation in the war and I think that the criminal is the one who did not participate. Criminality is when your people are exposed and you do not participate in the war. I was in my last year of medical studies and left to defend them and I became a criminal. This is all the invention of the regime of Bashar Assad and the trials he did in this regard. Others were not held accountable because we did not attack them when we should have.

Has the Christian parties that participated in the war been demonized more than others?

Of course, I repeat that this is the act of the Syrian regime, which considered itself victorious in this war and demonized all those who were against it, not because they were committing a mistake but because they were against it.

Have you been wronged?

I do not see it like that and I consider it in the context of confrontation that began in 1975 with the Syrian regime and is still going on to this day and will continue until its fall.

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