In an interview we conducted with Sheikh Naim Qassem about Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and the interplay they had had during Syrian crisis, Sheikh believed while Iran had been a strategic ally to the Resistance Front, it had followed a policy which eyes mutual interests, especially with Turkey who had been supporting terrorists fighting Assad whom Iran supported; Qassem believes Hezbollah would not have achieved the level of relations with Turkey by virtue of being a group inside Lebanon, while Iran was a sovereign country and would act extremely freely in foreign policy, espousing sometime conflicting causes.
Syria, the backbone of Resistance, is now witnessing a global struggle on its soil. How important is Syria for Hezbollah so that Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah himself expressed willingness to fight there if necessary?
Syria is the only Arab state that still works on to liberate Palestine and exerts all efforts and potentials needed for that end. It hosted the Palestinian leaders and ferried arms to Palestinian as well as Lebanese territories, thus politically backing up the Resistance and acting as an essential partner in the victories achieved in 2006 and 2008.
In other words, Syria is the link binding together the Axis of Resistance and the key pillar in defending it. Hence, by fighting alongside the Syrian government, we've been fighting for the Resistance, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and the entire region. For us, Syria is more than just a country, it's the stronghold which for long hosted the Resistance, provided the logistical, political and strategic support.
When demonstrators in Syria first took the streets demanding democratic reforms and release of political pressure, the attitude taken by Hezbollah regarding the events in Syria was diametrically different from that taken toward other countries in the region. Was Hezbollah aware of the plot being schemed against Syria? And how is that related to the defeat of Israeli Army in 2006?
As a neighboring country, the circumstances and considerations in Syria are different from those in other countries. The decisions taken by Hezbollah were not built on interfering in other countries' affairs, rather on a factual basis of fighting Israel from Lebanon and supporting the Resistance from Syria. In 2006, the United States failed to implement the New Middle East [plan] from Lebanon, in 2011 they began Plan B, but this time in Syria.
From the very first day, we knew it was not about reforms, but about destroying Syria, and turning it from a pro-Resistant to pro-Israel state. Our viewpoint proved true when thousands of extremist fighters came to Syria from across the world, given easy access into Syria's territories; they wanted to change the course of events in Syria. That's why we felt responsible for confronting this plot and defending our ally.
At first, Hezbollah was fighting along the borders to prevent the terrorists from entering Lebanon. Inside Syria, Hezbollah's role was limited to protecting the Holy Shrines. Nowadays, you are almost in every frontline. Can this be seen as returning the favor to Syria for its role in the 2006 Lebanon war or maintaining Syria as a key backer for the Resistance? Is not Israel now more comfortable for what it calls as 'attrition of Hezbollah'?
The sacrifices being offered by Hezbollah are solely for maintaining the key pillar of the Axis of Resistance rather than a personal relationship. All roles we have undertaken are meant to return the favor, enhance the strategic relationship, good neighborliness and cooperation with brothers.
The battles we fought along the borders have proved pivotal in preventing the terrorist groups from establishing themselves in Lebanon. Later on, it was necessary to fight alongside the Syrian Army in some fronts inside Syria to prevent the fall of the Syrian state. Militarily speaking, there is no point protecting the borders for a while and risking the fall of the state; they [terrorists] will attack the borders again in bid to enter Lebanon. Hence, our military intervention in Syria, in coordination with the Syrian Army and leadership headed by President Bashar Assad, was for defensive and protective purposes.
Whether Israel is happy or not about this matter is not our concern since we do the right thing. Sometimes, the Israelis consider our military involvement in Syria as a good thing for them as it will weaken us, other times they express concerns since Hezbollah is accumulating warfare experience. In fact, they are confused and totally ignorant of the great achievement which have been and will be made by Hezbollah.
While Iran remains Syria's strategic ally, it maintains ties with Turkey; a country that has sponsored terrorists and granted them easy access into Syria. Those Turkish-backed militants have killed scores of Hezbollah fighters and Iranian military advisors. Yet, Iran failed to convince Turkey to change its hostile policy toward Syria. How do you explain these contradictory and often confusing political equations?
Many have been mistaken in their views about Turkey, especially after the failed coup attempt in mid-July. Turkey is a member of NATO which harbors US military bases. Erdoğan is obsessed with an expansionist fantasy to revive the Ottoman Empire either directly or indirectly. The Turkish regime fiercely fights with its opponents, blatantly violating human rights. Such a state will not be in easy terms with its southern neighbor and their being a stable and autonomous state, neither will it be responsive to Iran's perspective regarding the independence of the states of the region or the Axis of Resistance.
Iran follows a policy of mutual interest. Following the failed coup attempt, there have been signals indicating Turkey's tendency to reactivate positive ties with Iran. The latter promptly responded. However, two months later, it turned to be a chin music and Turkey re-aligned itself with NATO. In inter-state relations, there might be agreement and disagreement about different topics at the same time.
Where does Hezbollah’s stand on this?
Hezbollah has its own network of relations and ties, which is clearly different from Iran's; we are a political party while Iran is a sovereign state. It's pretty much different. We've never had deep relations with Turkey; it was all restricted to a few visits and meetings with the Turkish ambassador in Lebanon and some other activities.
As a military partner, does Hezbollah intervene in Syria's strategic decisions and is it involved in the negotiations for the political settlement?
Syria is for Syrians, and it is led by its own leadership and President Assad. Hezbollah has nothing to do whatsoever in Syria's future, negotiations with the opposition or any potential settlement. The future of Syria is solely decided on by the Syrians through Syrian-Syrian dialogue. Moreover, we have always disapproved of the idea of interfering in Syria's internal affairs by any third party.
What if the Syrian negotiating parties choose to adopt a policy inconsistent with what you are fighting for?
We have faith in President Assad. Having borne 6 years of global aggression and offered countless sacrifices, the Syrian people who ever since supported Assad and his policy will never give up its national strategy of resistance.
Aleppo battle was dubbed 'Mother of all Battles.’ How does it differ from other battles in terms of strategic importance?
In my opinion, Aleppo was extremely important for the US and its proxies because it was meant to be used as a second capital whenever negotiations reach a political impasse. By liberating the city, they have lost the privilege of threatening to divide Syria, abstained from negotiating or arisen their demands.
For the last 6 years, Hezbollah have been insisting that it has defended Syria not for a particular person while keen on that President Bashar Assad remains in power; what does President Assad represent for Hezbollah?
We have examined President Assad before the start of the Syrian crisis, during the presidential term of his late father, President Hafez al-Assad, and later when he was elected president. It was a period of mutual trust, credibility and understanding. During his term, Syria largely supported the Resistance politically and militarily, upgrading the relation between us to a strategic level. We have been in various risks and challenged together, where he proved his support for the Resistance.
When the war broke out in Syria, we knew that the main reason behind it is that President Assad is a brave, far-sighted man with a strategic way of thinking, decisive and uncompromising regarding his national and regional decisions, honestly adopting the Palestinian cause, and ready to sacrifice everything for the dignity of Syria.
What would you like to say to the Syrian People?
For the Syrian People I say: we have examined each other in many difficult and complicated situations, we have sought your help in July 2006 and you had resorted to us during the aggression on Syria. It would have been impossible for Syria to withstand such a global war without the bravery of the Syrian Army and the support of Syria people; all under the wise leadership of President Bashar Assad. I wholeheartedly salute your courage, the martyrs and wounded, families; be patient as the matter requires patience. In the end the Righteous shall win. You are achieving successive victories on both military and political levels, but the battle is huge and requires courage and resilience.
Interviewed by: Fadi Boudaya