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After Hezbollah and political allies won seats in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in 9 years, Israeli minister Naftali Bennett threatened to retaliate against the Lebanese state for Hezbollah’s actions. Journalist Jamal Ghosn says this is the latest in a long string of threats, and Israel violates Lebanese sovereignty every day.
BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton.
Top Israeli officials have threatened Lebanon’s government after the Shia party Hezbollah earned new influence in the parliamentary elections. On May 6, Lebanese voters went to the polls in the first parliamentary election in nine years. Hezbollah and its political allies gained new seats, weakening Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s grip on power. Immediately after the election, Israel’s far-right minister Naftali Bennett tweeted, quote: “Hezbollah equals Lebanon.” He added, quote: “The state of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign state of Lebanon and Hezbollah, and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within its territory.”
This follows numerous similar threats against Lebanon from other Israeli officials. For instance, in an interview with a Saudi newspaper in December, Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz threatened to bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age. Several top Israeli officials have made similar threats to bomb civilian areas in Lebanon.
Joining us to discuss this is Jamal Ghosn. Jamal is a writer and political commentator, and the former managing editor of Al Ahkbar English. Thanks for joining us, Jamal.
JAMAL GHOSN: Thank you, Ben.
BEN NORTON: So Israel has, of course, waged numerous wars on Lebanon, most recently in 2006. Is this a declaration, do you think that this is a significant development? Naftali Bennett, you know, saying that the Lebanese government and Hezbollah are the same? And do you think that this is a kind of indirect declaration of war?
JAMAL GHOSN: Well, I mean, Israel does not need to directly or indirectly declare war. They’re in a constant state of war with all of its neighbors, including Lebanon.
You mentioned that the last war was in 2006, but violations of Lebanese sovereignty have not stopped one day since. There are daily overflights there, and the encroachment of the border there. They have kidnapped civilians and shepherds that are in the border area, and they keep them there. They do not need to declare war, and they always keep escalating with their threats. This is just the latest in a series. You mentioned a couple of others. But if you go, almost on a daily basis you’ll find some local Israeli officials threatening war, whether on Lebanon or on Palestinians or on Iran. We saw that cartoon show that Benjamin Netanyahu put up, and that was that’s just the way, the way the Israeli state is built. It needs constant war to survive, and, and we just we have to take them seriously, because they do launch wars and they do use heavy weapons against civilian populations, which they’ve done over the years.
But, but these, you know, turning the country back to the Stone Age and whatnot, these don’t make a difference. The threat is a threat. And the only thing keeping Israel from attacking Lebanon at the moment, one would have to say, is the deterrence, military deterrence that Lebanon possesses in terms of the Hezbollah resistance arsenal. And any words that are said are not going to change that. So this is basically just empty threats at the moment. But with an aggressive state like Israel. We always have to take these threats seriously. And this is why the Lebanese have always prepared a defensive arsenal that have grown over the years, and that successfully blocked any attempt by Israel in 2006 to invade Lebanon. And trust me, over the past 12 years this arsenal has improved, and the military experience of the resistance fighters has improved as they’ve been involved in, unfortunately in a wide conflict in the region. We’re talking about Syria and Iraq, and other places also.
And this, this scares Israel more than a parliamentary vote. So they’re just taking this occasion just to raise the bar in terms of threats. But what really scares them is the military preparedness of Lebanon over the past years.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, there are a few things to address there. I want to get to the point you made of Israel’s regular violation of Lebanese airspace to launch airstrikes in Syria. That’s a very important point. But before that let’s just talk a bit more generally about Hezbollah. There are so many misconceptions here in the U.S. A lot of politicians, they try to conflate Hezbollah with ISIS and al Qaeda, even though Hezbollah is fighting ISIS and al Qaeda. And in fact, Hezbollah worked with the Lebanese army to save Lebanon from being overrun by ISIS and al Qaeda. But even beyond that, of course, the U.S. government considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization. What’s not often mentioned is the U.S. also considered the south, the anti-apartheid South African leader Nelson Mandela a terrorist until 2008. So this is clearly a very politically motivated term.
But what is what do you think the international perception is of Hezbollah outside of the U.S., the UK, specifically when it comes to, as you mentioned, the frequent Israeli threats against Lebanon? For those who are trying to get out of this Eurocentric, American-centric world view, what do you think the perception is of Hezbollah in Lebanon?
JAMAL GHOSN: Well, I mean, we just had elections that showed the popularity of the movement. So it’s basically, it does have strong popular support. And that, that’s on a popular level. If you look at what they actually have done over the years, they have been able to, have been a very pragmatic political force that has grown since its creation in the early ’80s to become a very major influential player on a regional level. This cannot be done by being, you know, genocidal maniacs like ISIS was. They have a political agenda that takes into consideration the local environment and its people. And they have successfully been able to grow by addressing some of these issues that are faced by the people of the region, mainly. And this is where they started and where they continue, is fighting off an occupation, foreign occupation of the people’s lands.
So if this is where Hezbollah started, it didn’t need to pick a war with anyone, or as you called, as they label it, had any terrorism activity if there wasn’t an occupation army in Lebanon, in their home towns. And this is where it started, and it’s along that line that it continues to operate. And of course the direct Israeli occupation of Lebanon was terminated by the resistance of Hezbollah. But there are other threats that are in the region. You mentioned ISIS, and while there is constant American war threat, which, like you mentioned, the perception here of America is that they are, it’s a war-hungry country that’s willing to bomb countries into smithereens. And this is, this is why there is a need for resistance movements, and military resistance to deter that, and here is where we are in the region.
BEN NORTON: Yeah. And then, finally, you mentioned the Israeli military occupation of south Lebanon, which is often just conveniently forgotten in many media reports when we’re discussing these Israeli threats against Lebanon from senior ministers in the government. Let’s also briefly talk about Syria. We know that Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes inside Syria, targeting the Syrian government, Hezbollah, and Iranian forces. And frequently, Israel has flown through Lebanese sovereign airspace in order to launch these airstrikes. The Lebanese government has criticized Israel, and in fact, filed a formal complaint at the United Nations. Can you speak about Israel’s violation of Lebanese sovereign airspace?
JAMAL GHOSN: These happen on a daily basis, whether it’s drones or fighter jets, with the air raids it launched against Syria. So this is, there are complaints filed on a daily basis with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. I’m sure it’s accessible, if anyone wants to read thousands and thousands of pages of Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty. So they’ve never respected the sovereignty. And the Lebanese state does what it can without escalating, but at times with an increased level of threat. And when the increased rhetoric of war in Israel, you never know when one of these threats or violations may escalate rapidly into a war. And this is why preparedness against Israel is always, has always been at its top alert.
BEN NORTON: Well, unfortunately we’ll have to end it there. But we were speaking with Jamal Ghosn. Jamal is a writer and political commentator, and the former managing editor of Al Ahkbar English. Thanks for speaking with us.
JAMAL GHOSN: Thank you.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.