The Arab Spring has borne no fruit for any of the affected countries, so the ongoing process should rather be called the Israeli Spring, since no country now poses a threat to Israel, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told RT.
External forces seek to divide and weaken all the countries surrounding Israel in order to ensure that state’s security, he said to RT in an exclusive interview.
RT: Lebanon is affected by internal tensions and regional conflicts. All decisions related to security issues are made outside Lebanon, by other countries. So how can you talk about security in Lebanon then?
Marwan Charbel: Lebanon’s security doesn’t depend on Lebanon alone. Politically – and in terms of security – Lebanon depends on external factors as well. The people of Lebanon have close religious and family ties with neighboring states.
RT: Is there an alternative to external influence?
MC: There has to be an alternative. Even smaller countries than Lebanon resist external influence.
RT: What do you think about the conflict between the Shia and Sunnis in Lebanon?
MC: In 1974-1975, we had a conflict between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. This conflict was resolved. We adopted a new Constitution and achieved harmony. It is possible that, at some point, Lebanon will face the threat of being broken up into pieces, and of course it concerns me. Look at Iraq, for example.
The US occupied the country, then they withdrew their troops, and what do we have now? Iraq is divided. There is a danger that something like that will happen in Syria too, if the current situation persists. If Syria is divided, this will directly affect Lebanon.
RT: Do you think the current Syrian regime can protect Lebanon?
MC: The question is not whether this regime stays in Syria or is replaced by another one. The problem is that the insurgence in Syria affects the situation in Lebanon.
RT: Who do you think is behind the Syrian conflict?
MC: We have some global and Arab interests clashing here, and we all understand that. What we don’t understand is where this clash will take us in the end. But we can say one thing with certainty: if the Syrian conflict is resolved one way or another, this will affect the situation in Lebanon.
RT: The recent events in Lebanon – the murder of two sheikhs, the situation in Akkar, the detention of Shadi Mawlawi, who was later released in Tripoli – all these events indicate that certain forces are not only trying to flare up a conflict; they want to start a wave of violence in the country. We all understand it, but the big question is – who stands to benefit from this?
MC: It is being done so that Palestinians can become citizens of Lebanon. If Lebanon is divided, Palestinians will eventually be able to become Lebanese citizens.
RT: Who is trying to divide Lebanon?
MC: I can ask you the same question. External forces seek to control Lebanon. They seek to divide and weaken all the countries surrounding Israel in order to ensure Israel’s security.
RT: Based on the current situation in the region and the information we have, can we point the finger at somebody and say that they are interested in this scenario more than anybody else?
MC: I can put it this way: We have all heard this expression the Arab Spring, but who has seen the fruit of this spring? No one. Has Egypt elected its president? Or has the spring ended? Almost the same thing is happening in Tunisia and in Yemen. There’s no fruit, there’s just this expression, the Arab Spring.
I really think what we see today is an Israeli Spring. Who will pose a threat to Israel now? Palestinians die every day, and no one protests. Before, even if one Palestinian was killed, there was an outrage. Today, three Palestinians get killed, or ten, or twenty – and nobody says anything. There is not even talk about differences within the Palestinian movement.
RT: On the abduction of 11 Lebanese citizens. No doubt, you follow the situation closely and you discussed it with Turkish colleagues during yours and the prime minister’s visit to Turkey. What is the current situation with these people? Who kidnapped them? When will they return home to their families?
MC: I can only give you a very general answer, because we made an agreement with Turkey not to disclose the details to the media. The kidnapped people are on Syrian territory, two kilometers away from the Turkish border. We are working together with the Turkish Foreign Ministry to liberate these people.
RT: Was the Syrian opposition involved? Can we say that they are the kidnappers?
MC: Yes, these people were kidnapped by the Syrian opposition, but we don’t know which group within the Syrian opposition is responsible. The Turkish authorities are looking into this.
RT: Is it true that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is the only person who can bring these people home?
MC: I don’t think so. But the Secretary General of Hezbollah did say that, if his personal involvement is necessary to resolve this problem, he would be willing to resolve it.
RT: But none of the kidnapped individuals are Hezbollah commanders?
RT: Do you know how soon the kidnapped individuals may be freed?
MC: Quite soon. It will happen this month.
RT: Lebanon says that it will only rely on itself in defining its policies and will not take into consideration Syria’s internal conflict. But some say that this is impossible as the geopolitical ties between the two countries are very strong. What do you think about that?
MC: Let me ask you a question. What will happen if Lebanon pursues a policy that is based purely on its own interests? Where will such a policy get us?
We have a problem in Lebanon: part of the people support the current regime in Syria, and another part support the opposition. But we as a state pursue our own policy. We recognize the Syrian government. So, as the minister of internal affairs, whom should I support? If a million people in Lebanon are against the regime, the minister too should be against the regime.
Whom do we as the Lebanese Republic cooperate with in Syria? We cooperate with the Syrian government. The UN recognizes the Syrian ambassador. He represents Syria in the United Nations. What I’m saying is that we cooperate with the government of the country. If there is a regime change in Syria, we will cooperate with the new government. Lebanon recognizes Syria as a nation, as does the UN.
RT: Can clashes between the Sunni and the Alawi in northern Lebanon lead to a civil war in Lebanon?
MC: It’s not true that the clashes were only between the Sunni and the Alawi. Perhaps something like that did happen, but not on a large scale. Back in those days when the Syrian Army was in Lebanon, including Tripoli, there were certain conflicts but we never had clashes between the Sunni and the Alawi. Syrians did not support the Alawi against the Sunni. You always have people standing up for their interests.
RT: The Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, has appealed to international organizations, among other things, offering evidence that there were terrorists on Lebanese territory.The Lebanese president, the prime minister and yourself – you all deny these allegations. You say that while the ideas of Al Qaeda may be present in Lebanon, there are no grounds for terrorism or terrorists. Yet your defense minister says that terrorists, including Al Qaeda cells, may be present in Lebanon. Could you please explain these differences on such an important issue?
MC: I have personally met with the defense minister, and we have cleared up this situation. There was some misunderstanding regarding terminology. What the president said on the issue is correct. We meant that there are no Al Qaeda cells in Lebanon, but it is possible that individual members of this international organization are present in our country. But we don’t have Al Qaeda camps or Al Qaeda cells in Lebanon.
RT: Mr. Minister, why don’t you make an official statement in the UN and refute the facts presented in Bashar Jaafari’s letter? Why don’t you announce officially that there is no terrorism in Lebanon and that nobody supports terrorists?
MC: There is no terrorism in Lebanon. No one can say for sure that it is Al Qaeda who is behind the terrorist attacks. Terrorism is a very wide concept. No one can say that there are no terrorists in this or that country. Terrorists may be anywhere – in the US, in an Arab country.
Recently, there was a terrorist attack in France. A man from Tunisia or Algeria killed three or four children. Wasn’t that a terrorist attack?
Terrorist attacks happen all over the world. The best way to address this problem is to consolidate the people of Lebanon.
RT: Perhaps the repercussions of the Syrian crisis may be avoided by demarcating the border between Lebanon and Syria?
MC: The demarcation of the border will not stop terrorists from crossing over into another country.
RT: But the situation will be more transparent.
MC: That’s true, the situation will be more transparent. We should have had a proper border a long time ago.