On August 14-15, 2014, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily, which is close to Hizbullah, published a comprehensive interview with the organization's secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah to mark the eighth anniversary of the 2006 Lebanon War. In the interview, which was conducted by several interviewers and published in several parts, Nasrallah presented Hizbullah's views on Israel, and described the close cooperation between his organization and Syria during the Lebanon War. He also addressed the issue of Hizbullah's relations with Hamas in light of the current fighting in Gaza. In addition, he spoke at length about the structure of Hizbullah and its decision-making processes.
On the issue of Israel, he used Iranian-style rhetoric, stressing that Hizbullah continues to view it as a "cancerous growth" that must be eliminated, regardless of the relationship with the Palestinians, since this view is a matter of religious faith. He also noted that the experience Hizbullah is gaining in the current war in Syria may be useful in future fighting against Israel.
Discussing Hizbullah's internal mechanisms, he mentioned that he is the head of the organization's Jihad Council, which is the leadership of the military wing. This means that he serves both as the head of Hizbullah's supreme leading body – the Shura Council – and as the head of its military wing, which confirms that Hizbullah's political and military wing are one.
As for the relations between Hizbullah and Hamas, Nasrallah noted that they are strained due to their different positions on the Assad regime: Hizbullah is an ally of this regime and Hamas has come out against it. However, he clarified that the ties between the two organizations have not been severed, and that the current fighting in Gaza may bring Hamas closer to Hizbullah and Iran again.
The secretary-general rejected claims that Hizbullah is a sectarian Shi'ite organization, saying that it acts in all arenas "according to the interests of the Arab nation." As an example he presented its participation in the struggle against the "American occupation" in Iraq in 2003. He stressed that Iraqi Shi'ites indeed led the resistance against the U.S., but that, in aiding them, Hizbullah did not act out of sectarian considerations.
The following are translated excerpts from the interview.
Hassan Nasrallah (Image: English Al-Akhbar)
Israel Is An Unnatural Entity That Must Be Destroyed
Explaining his position on Israel, Nasrallah used terms familiar from Iranian rhetoric, saying that it is a religious duty to destroy it, and condemned what he sees an Arab tendency to put up with its existence. He said: "The most severe problem we are dealing with now in terms of the atmosphere in the Arab and regional arena is that we are approaching a phase in which the peoples of the region see Israel's existence as natural and not a threat to them. [They think that,] if Israel is a problem, then it is the problem of the Palestinian people, not of the peoples of the region. This relates to politics, security, and economics."
"First of all, Israel is an illegal entity and constitutes a perpetual... threat to the entire region. [Since] we cannot coexist with this threat, the end of this nation must be its annihilation, unconnected to all the problems and the sensitivities, of everything that has happened or will happen between Palestinians and non-Palestinians, between Sunnis and Shi'ites, or between Muslims and Christians. All the conflicts, sensitivities, schisms, and struggles must not neutralize the culture that considers Israel a cancerous growth, absolute evil, and a danger to all peoples and governments in this region, and to their honor and their holy places. The final goal must be its annihilation...
"From the point of view of [religious] faith, [Israel] is a matter that cannot even be discussed. When it comes to the [religious] faith, the [extent to which] public debate that is impacted by mood and emotion is more limited. [Since] the people stress that their opinion on Israel stems from [religious] belief, this position has nothing to do with the question of whether we and the Palestinians are reconciled or divided..."
In Syrian War We Are Gaining Experience That May Be Useful In Future War With Israel
Nasrallah addressed his organization's ties with Syria, and said that, in its current fighting in that country, Hizbullah is learning lessons that may benefit it in a future confrontation with Israel. As for Syria's role in the 2006 Lebanon War, he said that it served as a conduit for weapons to Hizbullah, despite Israel's bombing of the Lebanon-Syria border crossings:
"I don't think that there is any [weapon] that Hizbullah has prepared, hidden, or concealed [for use] in a confrontation with Israel and was exposed [in Syria]. The [Syria] campaign gives us experience, knowledge, and wide horizons, that can be used more optimally in any future conflict with the enemy, whether defensive or offensive... Israel is monitoring Hizbullah's experience in Syria. After [Hiabullah] gained experience [in its fighting against armed Syrian groups] in Al-Qusayr and Al-Qalamoun, Israelis asked many times whether Hizbullah could implement the lessons and knowledge it had gained from this experience in a [future] campaign against the Galilee. On occasion, the Syria campaign gives us additional qualitative advantages [that could help us] in any conflict with the Israeli enemy. We have overlooked nothing that could benefit us in fighting the enemy."
"Throughout the  war, weapons transfers from Syria were not stopped. It was not clear how long the war would last. Therefore, the more options we had, and the more weapons and ammunition, the better the situation would be. Although Israel attacked nearly all the [border] crossings [between Syria and Lebanon], it was still possible to transfer weapons...
"It was a reasonable possibility that the war would spread to Syria, because Israel placed part of the responsibility for the steadfastness of the resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] on Syria, as well as [responsibility] for arming it with some of the weapons that had a significant impact on the course of the war. Therefore, this possibility was reasonable due to developments on the ground, especially when talk began of an [Israeli] ground incursion towards Hasbaya, Rashaya, and the western and central Beqaa [areas in northern and northeastern Lebanon]. Then, around the second week of the aggression, Brig. Assef Shawkat [deputy defense minister and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad], who maintained contact with us throughout the war, asked my opinion on an idea examined in Damascus – the possibility that Syria would have to enter [the war] on the side of the resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] in the event of a wide-scale [Israeli] ground incursion. I am not saying that such a decision was made, but it was proposed to the president [Assad] and to the relevant group of decision-makers. They monitored every move, and were updated on everything that was happening. After consulting with the brothers [i.e. Hizbullah], I answered [the Syrians]: You are not obligated to do this; the situation here is not so bad, and our ability to handle a ground [operation] is very good. On the contrary, we hope Israel does launch a ground incursion, because then the characteristics of the campaign would be clear. In effect, [a wide-scale Israeli] ground incursion, which might have prompted Syria to enter the war, did not take place, so the idea was scrapped, and there was no discussion afterwards [on this issue]."
The Shura Council, Headed By Nasrallah, Directs The Jihad Council, Also Headed By Nasrallah
In the interview Nasrallah described the decision-making process in Hizbullah: The Shura Council, which he heads, takes strategic decisions, such as the decision to kidnap the Israeli soldiers in 2006 or to enter the Syria war, whereas the planning of the operations themselves is the job of the Jihad Council, which is also headed by Nasrallah:
"In principle, the decision to capture the Israeli soldiers [in 2006] was made by Hizbullah's Shura Council several months before the operation. Under our modus operandi, when the Shura Council makes a decision such as this, [responsibility for] its administration and its execution are transferred to the Jihad Council, which is headed by the secretary-general in accordance with the Hizbullah charter. This council is made up of a group of central jihadi commanders.
"On the execution level [of such a decision], the matter is discussed by the Jihad Council from several aspects, such as the appropriate location for a successful operation, timing, tactics, the battle plan and how it is to be administered, the participants, [Israel's] possible responses, and precautions that must be taken. All these are usually discussed by the Jihad Council, and decisions are made unanimously or nearly unanimously – that is, not by a vote.
"[Even] after the selection of a location, participant groups, and a course of action, this [operation] was not simple and took months to carry out. More than once, the brothers infiltrated the area and even the land of occupied Palestine, conducting lengthy ambushes, withdrawing from and then returning [to Israel], and waiting for a suitable opportunity. Sometimes targets appeared but it was unclear whether they were civilian or military. We stressed that we must capture soldiers, not settlers, so that they cannot later say that we kidnapped civilians...
"It is the secretary-general who decides on [how] the jihad operation will be run, but he of course does not directly manage the jihad units, the fighters in the field... The jihad commanders – or those whom we call the jihadi aides – are in charge [of them]. They, together with the secretary-general, monitor the operation; he is aware of the Shura [Council's] decision-making policy – to some extent, he serves as its proxy, [as he is] updated on the status of the jihad, on the possible options, and on the political situation. For this reason, the secretary-general is the decision-making factor, sometimes also on matters relating to the field, while consulting with, and sometimes on the consent of, the Jihad Council members. For instance, on the decision to strike areas within occupied Palestine – it is not [the commanders] in the field who decide where to attack. This is a decision we [in the Jihad Council] make.
"When a decision is made, the jihadi officials monitor its execution and coordinate among [fighting] units, intelligence elements, and the [units] firing artillery and rockets. That is, if we say we entered the stage of [attacking] Haifa, it refers to a decision [that has been made]. The type of weapons to be used [require] that a decision [be made]. Targeting a Sa'ar 5 [Israeli Navy Corvette requires] a decision. Decisions such as this are made by the Jihad Council and the secretary-general, since he heads the council, and in consultation with and while reaching understandings with the brothers... Every step has its own considerations. For instance, targeting a Sa'ar 5 means that it was decided to attack a quality target, [and that] has many consequences. Additionally, when we use a particular weapon for the first time, it means that the Jihad Council has decided to unveil a weapon that no one knew we had. After the decision is made, the discussion becomes technical, professional, and executive. I have nothing to do with that, and I don't intervene...
"Another example relates to targeting Tel Aviv. This is not a procedural matter, but a significant decision. When the Dahiyeh and other cities in the south and the Beqaa [Valley] were attacked, there was a serious discussion on whether to target Tel Aviv at that time. The result of the discussion is that we created a new equation: Tel Aviv-Beirut. Since the Dahiyeh and other areas came under heavy attack in any case, we said, Let's create a new equation by means of which we will defend Beirut or [at the very least] participate in defending it."
In response to another question, Nasrallah stressed that he was part of the decision-making process in the Shura Council, but made no decisions on his own: "The Hizbullah secretary-general is not the commander of Hizbullah and is not the decision-maker in Hizbullah. In principle, political decisions are made by the Shura [Council]. It is the Shura [Council] that sets out the processes and formulates the positions and principled decisions. Of course, the secretary-general is an influential partner in the decision-making, but he is not the one who makes the decisions... For instance, the decision to enter the battle of Qusayr [in Syria] was made by the Shura [Council], not the secretary-general. Even the decision to announce [the decision to do so] was made by the Shura [Council]. All that remains for me is to [decide] how to express this position..."
The Fighting In Gaza May Bring About Warming Between Hamas And Hizbullah, Iran
While implicitly acknowledging that Hamas's relationship with Hizbullah and Iran is strained, Nasrallah stressed that the ties with Hamas were never severed. In the context of the current fighting in Gaza, he criticized Turkey for trying to aid the Palestinians without cooperating with Egypt, emphasizing that anyone who wishes to help them must do so only via the Egyptian channel.
In response to the question whether the Palestinians had asked Hizbullah to directly intervene in the recent fighting in Gaza, Nasrallah said: "[Hamas senior official] brother Moussa Abu Marzouq talked about this. No one from the [other] factions spoke to us about this... If such a demand is serious, it will be discussed in private circles, not in the media. The lines of communications between us and Hamas were never severed, even when there was talk of a strained relationship. Communication is ongoing. [Abu Marzouq] or another Hamas leaders could ask to discuss this matter, but to raise it by means of the media – this is inappropriate and surprising...
"Gaza is situated between two problems: the problem of trust with Israel – which is fundamental and essential – and the problem of being between two axes – the Qatar-Turkey axis and the Egypt-Saudi Arabia-UAE axis... We, for example, have consulted with our friends in the Palestinian factions and with our Iranian friends. I proposed that the Iranians contact the Turks, the Egyptians, and the Saudis, even with the mediation of the UAE or Oman. As for the resistance axis, we do not seek to score points or to use the resistance movement to promote internal or regional considerations...
"Turkish Prime Minister Recep [Tayyip] Erdogan launched a personal attack on Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi. Even Qatar, [via] Al-Jazeera [TV], expressed a negative opinion of Egypt. Those who want to provide aid to Gaza should talk to Egypt. The Palestinians themselves say that any solution or arrangement would be impossible without Egypt. This requires both these axes – between which Gaza falls no matter what – to prioritize Gaza above other disagreements or conflicts, and so far this hasn't happened as it should have...
"Naturally, our situation is impacted by the events in Syria, Iraq, and the region. In the Syrian issue, in all our meetings there was a call for us to understand their [Hamas'] position and for them to understand ours, even if we disagreed in our assessments of the situation. There were serious debates between us on this matter. Obviously, the Gaza issue revives the need to prioritize it, so that we can maintain closer ties and closer cooperation. Of course this will have an encouraging effect on Hizbullah's relations with Hamas and with Hamas' relations with the Islamic Republic [of Iran]. The Syria issue is different and complex, and [more] time [is required to deal with it]..."
In 2003, Hizbullah Aided The Iraqi Resistance Against The 'American Occupation'
Asked whether Hizbullah is responsible for all Shi'ite Arabs, Nasrallah said that some Arab elements like to present it that way, but that, fundamentally, the organization's activity is not motivated by sectarian considerations. At the same time, Nasrallah himself used sectarian terms in describing his organization's activities in Iraq. He said:
"There has always been someone to ensure that we would be defined that way [i.e., as responsible for all Shi'ites. But] Hizbullah has always been a national project as well as a regional [factor] in resisting Israel, and has made substantial achievements and marked tremendous victories in that campaign..."
He added: "When Hizbullah provides aid in any arena, its considerations are nonsectarian. They are a part of what we call the ummah campaign, the ummah enterprise, and the interests of our [Arab] homelands and peoples. For instance, when the Americans occupied Iraq [in 2003] the popular atmosphere mostly did not support the resistance, because of the Iraqi people's oppression at the hands of Saddam Hussein, because of the constant wars, and because of the siege [on Iraq].
"This was natural, since the people were weary... Hizbullah chose to operate [in Iraq] not in accordance with the Shi'ite attitude, but in order to influence it, and to influence any [element], however minor, [to promote] resistance to the American occupier in Iraq. When the resistance [to the American occupation] in Iraq began, it was largely a 'Shi'ite resistance' – that is, the factions that carried out resistance operations comprised Iraqi Shi'ites.
"Many operations were documented on video, but the [Qatari] TV channel Al-Jazeera and the [Saudi channel] Al-Arabiya refused to air them. Isn't that strange? Why? Because they did not want to recognize Shi'ite resistance as part of the Iraqi resistance. This is not an accusation against Sunnis, but only against a few regimes.From the start, [those regimes] used sectarian incitement on the issues of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It just so happens that those situated along the border with the enemy entity are Shi'ites. That is why it was they who fought it. But [those regimes] insist on calling it an Iranian Shi'ite resistance, and so on.
"We adhere to our claim that our presence in Syria is nonsectarian, and the same goes for the resistance in Iraq. [The proof is] that we also helped Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and [other] Palestinian factions, which are [all] Sunni."
 Likely referring to the Hizbullah attack on the Sa'ar 5-Class INS Hanit during the Second Lebanon War.
 Abu Marzouq said in a July 29, 2014 interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti: "We hope that the Lebanese front will open up, and together we will fight against [Israel]. There’s no arguing that Lebanese resistance could mean a lot." Ria.ru, July 29, 2014.