Mohammad Fneich is one of the three Lebanese ministers belonging to the Islamist movement. Israel, Iran, Syria … He does not elude any question.
Protected by barbed wire and large blocks of concrete, a decrepit building in the heart of Beirut contains the Lebanese Ministry of Youth and Sports. A dilapidated elevator leads to the top floor where, in a modest office, sits a man in black suit and white shirt. Mohammad Fneich is Minister of Youth and Sports and a member of Hezbollah, an organization considered as terrorist by Israel, the United States and the European Union (only its armed wing). The 63-year-old, elegant three-day-bearded man is one of the first Hezbollah activists to enter politics in 1992.
At the end of the legislative elections of May 2018, which confirmed the importance of the Party of God in the Lebanese political life (it won 13 seats and has, at the game of the alliances, a power of veto on any governmental decision Mohammad Fneich has been appointed Minister of Youth and Sports. Questioned by Le Point, the Hezbollah activist does not elude any question.
Is Hezbollah a movement of armed struggle or a movement of political struggle?
Mohammad Fneich: We can not separate the two branches. The Resistance has several roles that are related. It has first of all an armed pole, which is apart, and which aims to protect Lebanon. Thus, when it is necessary to react, the Resistance, which is part of the people, is solicited. But we also have a political representation that defends the line of the Resistance, because of popular demand in this direction. In fact, these two roles are complementary.
As Minister of the Lebanese Government, do you obey Prime Minister Saad Hariri or Party Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah?
Each Lebanese party has its priorities when they are outside the government. But Lebanon is not France, where a single formation has the majority and forms the executive. The government is composed of all parties. Thus, each formation is represented by one of its members who proposes the program of his party. The executive discusses and makes a consensus decision. So I work as a government and act in my ministry according to Lebanese laws.
During his last visit to Beirut, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Lebanese state to dissociate itself from Hezbollah. Is it possible ?
The problem of the United States is that it interferes with the internal policies of countries, of which they do not respect the laws or the will of the people. They intervene through the blackmail of war and sanctions. They do not do that with us, but also with the Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, Europeans, Russians … In Venezuela, it is they who want to change the president. These are rogue behaviors! They behave like an emperor of antiquity. And it is this American who comes to talk to us about democracy? But it is the people who decide who represents it. Hezbollah is one of the most popular parties in Lebanon, and in reality, it is the only one that stands up to Israel and that is why it will never agree with the United States and Washington terrorist deals.
Has Hezbollah not lost much popularity after its intervention in Syria from 2013 alongside Bashar al-Assad’s army, where he killed many Muslims?
It is wrong to say that it is a war of Muslims against Muslims. Trump himself acknowledged that Daesh had been supported by the United States when Hillary Clinton was at the State Department (during the 2016 US presidential campaign, the Trump candidate claimed that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq decided by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was at the origin of the emergence of the group Islamic State, Ed). The Islamist fighters, whether they are al-Nusra Front (former Syrian branch of Al Qaeda) or Daesh, come from foreign countries. And we can not believe that their country of origin – France, Great Britain, Belgium, the United States and the Arab countries – through their intelligence services, was not aware. Let no one try to convince us that the 100,000 foreigners who came to Syria to fight against the Syrian state acted without the political will of their countries.
If the raison d’être of Hezbollah is the fight against Israel, what was it doing in Syria?
The Israelis admitted to helping Islamist groups by providing weapons (IDF allegedly helped rebel groups in southern Syria to secure its border, Ed). These armed groups have threatened Lebanon. After two and a half years of war, we have seen the threat emerge at our borders. However, the Syrian state was not able to defend them. And since the Lebanese state did not do its duty and we understood the will to fight Hezbollah from the outside, we decided in 2013 to intervene in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian state.
Mohammad Fneich, in his office at the Lebanese Ministry of Youth and Sports, a decrepit building in the Badaro business district, located in the heart of Beirut.
It is to forget the peaceful demonstrations by which the Syrian revolution began in 2011 and which were fiercely repressed …
Although there was initially a revolution in Syria, we all know that the rebellion had back bases in Turkey and Jordan. The problem was not internal to Syria, but went beyond it, and there was a will to fight Hezbollah from there. Because of the terrorism that has hit Europe, France and Britain have granted themselves the right to intervene in Syria, without referring to the Syrian state. We, too, intervened in Syria in 2013 to defend ourselves, but with the agreement of the Syrian government. And now that Syria is no longer at war, what are the United States still doing on the spot? Who gave them permission to be present in Syria? In fact, they are there to give Syrian land to other countries.
In this case, why is it not the Lebanese army that defended Lebanon?
The problem is that the Lebanese army was not allowed to act because the Lebanese state had not made a decision. There has never been a political consensus allowing the army to protect our borders and prevent the passage of Islamist rebels. If President Michel Aoun (Christian Lebanese Patriotic Current, allied with Hezbollah, Ed) had not acted, the United States would have crossed the Lebanese border by the city of Ersal and entered Lebanon through these groups Islamist.
Is it true that Hezbollah’s decision to intervene in Syria was taken in November 2012 in Tehran?
In any case, Iran, as a state, has cooperation agreements with the Syrian state. And Tehran made decisions after she saw the US, Turkish, Saudi and Qatari intervention in Syria. Thus, it is not revealed a secret to say that the Qatari State has poured billions of dollars to Islamist groups in Syria. Thus, Iran’s intervention was intended to support the Syrian state under the agreements that the two countries possess. Tehran did not send its army, but granted state aid to Damascus at the request of the state to help the government, unlike other countries that have illegally intervened in Syria to defeat the state.
But who asked Hezbollah to intervene? Bashar al-Assad or Iran?
It was in 2012 that the Iranians discussed with the Syrian state to help them, while Hezbollah made the decision to intervene the following year. So, Hezbollah decided to intervene in 2013 when it observed the threats at the Lebanese border. This does not exclude that there are agreements between Syrians, Iranians, Russians and Hezbollah to protect the sovereignty of Syria. We intervened after the Iranian aid, but before the Russians: it is a decision of Hezbollah.
Read also In the land of Hezbollah: “resistance” to Israel in the name of the land
Hezbollah is often described as the armed arm of Iran in Lebanon. How far does he obey Tehran?
Hezbollah is an independent Lebanese party that represents the Lebanese people. He represents the Resistance and has agreements with Iran, Syria and any country that stands alongside the resistance against the Israelis.
Could the movement ever say “no” to the Iranians?
Iran will never force Hezbollah’s hand. He does not ask him anything. Nobody gives us order. When we started to resist the Israeli occupation, before the creation of Hezbollah, Iran was still at war with Iraq. Then the Iranians came to support us and we reached agreements with Tehran. We took Imam Khomeini’s vision of resistance. He gave us his conducting line, his vision for the people and society (the “velayat-e faqih”, or “power of the supreme guide”) and we put it into practice. If Iran gives a political line, it is Hezbollah, and therefore the Lebanese who, on the ground, decide how to put it into practice.
You insist on the Lebanese character of Hezbollah. But, in the Syrian conflict, has your party not become a regional movement?
Perhaps our intervention in Syria, to defend Lebanon, has given us a regional image. But we’re not there. We do not have offices throughout the Middle East. We will not intervene in the internal politics of the Syria of tomorrow.
Hezbollah did not take advantage of the war in Syria to approach the Golan Heights, at the gates of Israel?
This is an Israeli-American invention that aims to assert that Hezbollah threatens Israel in the Golan Heights and thus give them a pretext. I explained to you why we were present in Syria. At the first second when the Syrian state will tell us that it does not need us anymore, we will leave. But the real question that must be asked is why Israel occupies the Golan Heights. Why do we always point out the one who wants to defend his rights and not the one who confiscates the rights of others? The Golan is a Syrian territory and Israel occupies this land. Hezbollah is present in Syria to counter the small groups armed by the Israelis, not to liberate Palestine.
But is not it 45 years since Syria did anything to recover the Golan Heights and that the line of demarcation between the two countries is one of the calmest in the region?
It is calm because the Syrian army, the Lebanese army and the UN were there. But who created a problem in the Golan by arming small groups against the Syrian state? It’s Israel. This is not a secret and has even been published in the Israeli media.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, Israel has repeatedly hit convoys of Hezbollah without provoking a reaction of magnitude of the movement. How do you explain it?
It is not Israel that decides when Hezbollah must react, how and when. It is Hezbollah who decides. When one attacks him, the movement has the right to reply with the means it considers the most just.