SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Lebanese Minister Nayla Moawad 'Hezbollah Wants to Force its Ideology on Lebanon'

Hezbollah is trying to seize power in Lebanon and turn the country into Iran's toehold on the Mediterranean, Lebanon's Social Minister Nayla Moawad warns. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, she speaks of the threat to Europe and slams the West's failure to act.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The government, which you are a member of, challenged Hezbollah and then was completely defeated. Did you not expect Hezbollah to fight back?

Nayla Moawad: After we had granted Hezbollah so many concessions, it simply came down to the authority of the state. Hezbollah's aim is to make it hard for the government to govern and to weaken it. Hezbollah has been preparing the coup which took place just now for two years -- since its so-called "divine victory" in the war between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Officially the conflict was about the militia's military communication system. Did this telephone network, which is meant to serve Hezbollah in the fight against Israel, threaten the state?

Moawad: At first it really was a telephone network for the Lebanese resistance against Israel; it connected south Lebanon with Beirut. But in the past two years it was drastically extended. We asked Hezbollah again and again for an explanation -- why they needed such a giant network. According to our information, it extends right across the country, from the south in Bekaa Valley to the Lebanese Mountains. It's a comprehensive telephone network and communications system, which cannot be controlled by the state.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The government would now have been finished, if the army had not intervened.

Moawad: That's not true. The army should never take sides: It has the constitutional duty to guarantee the safety of all citizens. All the same, with our armed forces I detect a lack of resolution to fulfil this duty. The army's leadership has now made the wrong decision -- under the pretext of not wanting to split the army into different groups along the lines of the political divisions in the population. I think the Lebanse army is simply overburdened.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you saying that, from your point of view, the army has taken the side of Hezbollah?

Moawad: That's not what I said.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: However, the reality is that Hezbollah, despite the army's presence in the streets, is doing whatever it wants.

Moawad: As far as Hezbollah is concerned, they can take control of the whole of Lebanon within just a few days if they want to. Firstly they took over the whole of west Beirut and now they want to forcefully secure control of the Lebanon Mountains. In the process they are using those heavy weapons with which they supposedly intended to resist Israel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Up to now the government has, in fact, been officially supporting Hezbollah's resistance against Israel.

Moawad: All Lebanese were proud of Hezbollah's resistance against Israel. But now Hezbollah's mask has been removed. They are just a typical militia, because they're turning the weapons they are supposed to be using against the Israelis against Lebanese citizens.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does Hezbollah want to start a new civil war in Lebanon?

Moawad: This is not a fight between religious groups. It's an attempted coup against the democratic, pluralistic and free structure of the country. Hezbollah wants to force its ideology on Lebanon. It's an extremist, theocratic ideology that comes from Iran and that Iran would like to see dominate the whole Arab world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If Iran is really trying to force the westward-leaning Lebanon to adopt its conservative ideology, does the West have a responsibility to come to its aid?

Moawad: The international community has reacted to this coup with a markedly loud silence. It's shocking because Lebanon has been taken hostage. We're disappointed in the Europeans. Arab governments have also not yet spoken out convincingly, even though we desperately need a stronger Arab engagement. After all, we're talking here about a coup that would make Lebanon Iran's forward position on the Mediterranean. From Lebanon, Iran can threaten the entire Arab world. If Lebanon and later the whole Middle East were to fall into the hands of radical Islamists -- be it Shiites or Sunnis -- that would pose a threat to Europe and the rest of the world. That is hardly in the interest of the international community.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What would you recommend?

Moawad: We would like to finally see tougher sanctions on Syria, Hezbollah's second biggest supporter. Without Syria, Iran could never deliver weapons to Hezbollah in such large quantities. Without Syria's logistical support, Hezbollah could never have become a state within a state.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What good would sanctions do at this point? Hezbollah already holds the military advantage in Lebanon.

Moawad: Hezbollah might militarily win its battles on the streets. But how will they implement their victory politically in Lebanon? How will they gain the trust of all Lebanese when they treat Sunnis like their sworn enemies? How will they gain the trust of the Arab world?

SPIEGL ONLINE: The Lebanese government is weaker than ever. Why doesn't Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's cabinet simply resign?

Moawad: A resignation would plunge the country into even deeper chaos. Seeing as we don't even have a president at the moment, it would be impossible to form a new government.

Interview conducted by Ulrike Putz in Beirut


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