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memri
November 30, 2009 No.
2650

Lebanese Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt: The Slogans of the March 14 Forces Are Worn Out

On August 2, 2009, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt announced that his political alliance with the March 14 Forces had "stemmed from necessity, and now should be discontinued." He criticized his political allies of the past four years in the March 14 Forces, stating that their struggle was devoid of political content and based entirely on rejecting the other. [1]

In Lebanon, Jumblatt's statements were taken at face value as a declaration of quitting the March 14 Forces. But a few days later, after a meeting with Saudi Information Minister 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Khuja, who was sent to Lebanon following Jumblatt's statements, Jumblatt announced that his words had been misinterpreted, that he had not abandoned March 14 Forces leader and prime minister designate Sa'd Al-Hariri, and that the views he had expressed should not be taken to mean that he is quitting the March 14 Forces. [2]

Following Jumblatt's statements regarding the end of his alliance with the March 14 Forces, Lebanese figures close to the Syrian regime announced that Jumblatt was invited to visit Syria, and it was reported that he had also been invited to Iran. [3]

It should be noted that Jumblatt's statements came as no surprise either inside or outside Lebanon, because his change in position had been evident as early as May 2008, following Hizbullah's armed takeover of Beirut and other areas of Lebanon. [4]

Jumblatt's political about-face has had significant repercussions in the Lebanese political arena, especially after the June 2009 parliamentary elections. At this point, Jumblatt sees himself as not part of the March 14 Forces, but at the same time declares that he supports Sa'd Al-Hariri and is part of the parliamentary majority. These assertions, however, have no basis in reality, since there is no guarantee that in the important decisions that the Lebanese parliament or government will have to make in the future, Jumblatt will adopt the position of the March 14 Forces. Furthermore, during the recent months, it has become clear that Jumblatt is moving closer to the opposition, and in particular to Hizbullah, and even supports its positions and demands. Since Jumblatt's party has 12 members in parliament, his shift has neutralized the March 14 Forces' parliamentary majority and has rendered their elections victory meaningless.

Following are the main points of an August 7, 2009 interview Jumblatt gave to the Lebanese opposition daily Al-Safir a few days after he announced the end of the alliance with the March 14 Forces and after his subsequent qualification of that announcement, as well as excerpts from subsequent interviews he gave to the Iranian media:

Jumblatt to Al-Safir: "Some People in the March 14 Forces Have No Sensitivity towards Palestine"

Al-Safir wrote: "Walid Jumblatt noted that almost all the slogans that united him with the March 14 Forces after the assassination of [former] Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri were worn out. With regard to the weapons of the resistance [i.e. Hizbullah], the dialogue must continue, in order to discuss how [these weapons] are to be absorbed [into the framework of the state] when doing so is appropriate for the region...'

"'Some people in the March 14 [Forces] have no sensitivity towards Palestine, Arabism, or the danger posed by the [Israeli] settlements. Furthermore, they focus only on [the July 14, 2009 explosion at the weapons storehouse] in Khirbat Silm [that is, only on criticizing Hizbullah], or on the slogan [calling for Lebanon's] sovereignty, freedom, and independence. [5] We [in the Progressive Socialist Party] have suspended our membership in the [March 14 Forces'] general secretariat until things become clear. If the March 14 Forces guys don't want to see things as they really are, it's a problem...

"'Yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman came to Ghajar [village] in order to emphasize that it belongs [to Israel]. Furthermore, [Israel has] a new settlement law that discriminates against the 1948 Arabs. [6] However, some in Lebanon have no interest in all that is happening in the region - except for how to 'get rid of' the Palestinian refugees and to never hear about them again."

Jumblatt clarified that, in his statements, he was referring to "the Lebanese [political] right, including the Phalangist party [headed by Amin Al-Jemayel], the Lebanese Forces [headed by Samir Geagea], and most of the figures in the March 14 Forces." He further stated: "As far as the Lebanese [political] right are concerned, the Palestinian cause means only that there are Palestinians who are a burden [on the Lebanese state] and must therefore be gotten rid of."

Jumblatt also said: "Is it conceivable that the publications of [the March 14 Forces'] general secretariat contain not a word regarding the settlements, Ghajar, and the Israeli danger - as if we [are living] on a deserted island [?]..."

The Israeli-Druze Identity in Palestine - A Mark of Shame

In response to a question on his new political leanings and whether he was still part of the March 14 Forces or had left that movement altogether, Jumblatt told Al-Safir: "I am a special case. The past slogans [of the March 14 Forces] are worn out, and I will set conditions for the general secretariat of the March 14 [Forces] which it must follow in choosing its path... It can either remain where it is, constrained by the narrow Lebanese horizon, or speak Arabic and adopt [new] slogans reflecting its commitment to national and Arab interests, foremost among them the Palestinian cause.

"[However,] as things [now] stand… the country can no longer be [torn] between two camps. We must [find] a stance that will break down the acute sectarianism [in Lebanon between the March 14 Forces and the opposition]. The odd thing is that everyone ostensibly supports [Lebanese] President [Michel Suleiman], but he barely managed to [form] a [parliamentary] faction of five members..."

On his meeting with Saudi Information and Culture Minister 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Khuja, who was sent to Lebanon immediately after Jumblatt's statements about the end of the alliance with the March 14 Forces, he said: "[Al-Khuja] expressed hope that I would not back down from my support of [Lebanese] prime minister [designate Sa'd Al-Hariri]. I stressed to him my wish for Al-Hariri to succeed, and my desire to facilitate his mission [i.e. forming a government]. I stressed also the importance of reestablishing the Arab identity among the Druze, so that they will not turn to separatism and so that some of them will not cling to the Israeli identity [just] because they are a minority. [This is especially important] in light of the mark of shame [attached to us] because the Druze in occupied Palestine identify with Israel - [a circumstance] that is used against the Palestinians and the Arabs..."

"The Iranian Factor in the Region Cannot Be Ignored"

The article continued: "Jumblatt... stressed to [Saudi] minister ['Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Khuja] the importance of the Syrian-Saudi [dialogue], which is a guarantee [of stability] for the state [of Lebanon], and which opens a window to a possible future Saudi-Iranian dialogue. He said, 'The Iranian factor in the region cannot be ignored, and we made a mistake by treating Iran and Israel with the same hostility in our [past] publications...'

"Jumblatt noted that Wiam Wahhab, [former Lebanese MP and] head of the Al-Tawhid faction [known to be close to Syria], had given him a message from the Iranian ambassador to Beirut that included a dinner invitation, and added: 'In principle, I said that there is no objection to it, but I wanted first to consult with [Saudi] King 'Abdallah, since he is a friend of the Druze. I felt that it was inappropriate to visit the Iranian ambassador without consulting with him, and his view was that I should wait a bit, and that is how it was. But if the Iranian ambassador wanted to visit me, there wasn't anything preventing that'..."

I Yearn For Damascus; Bashar Al-Assad Has Changed

Regarding Syria, Jumblatt said; "Protecting the Druze will be realized by means of the broad Arab horizon, which looks over Palestine. Their protection lies in Arabism and in Syria - without which they will be trampled. [In the past], I used certain descriptions that went so far as to personally harm [Syrian President] Bashar Al-Assad, the [Syrian] regime and people, and in particular Syria's Druze, who were insulted by my manner of speaking. [7] But there is one figure, whose identity I will not reveal, and that figure is the only one who advises me what to do and how to amend my relations with Damascus." [8]

The article continued: "Jumblatt added that it was inconceivable for him to visit Syria before [Lebanese] prime minister designate Sa'd Al-Hariri [did so]... and confessed that he yearned for Damascus and for his connection to it, and added: 'Bashar Al-Assad today is different than [he was] in 2000 and in 2005. This is because he has developed greater capability..."

"We Must Stand by Hizbullah"

The article stated: "Jumblatt warned against the looming Israeli danger, and said that in his estimation Israel will again attack Lebanon, sooner or later, because it has not yet grasped its 2006 defeat, and because it does not accept the fact that at its borders [with Lebanon] is a military-political-ideological organization [i.e. Hizbullah] that constitutes a threat for it and can serve as a shield [for the] Palestinian [people]..."

Asked what his position would be this time if Israel launches a war against Hizbullah, Jumblatt replied: "In such a case, we must all stand by Hizbullah, [and must support it] with morale and materially, [on the level of] the state and the people. This is a matter that demands cooperation [among the Lebanese, which can be achieved only by] removing the remnants [of bitterness]... left from [the events of] May 7 [2008]. [9] It would be preferable to have a defensive strategy to deal with any act of aggression, but if we do not manage in the foreseeable future to absorb Hizbullah's military apparatus into the state, then ultimately we must support it."

Jumblatt to Iranian Daily: Syria Is Lebanon's Strategic Depth

In a September 2, 2009 interview with the Iranian daily Etemad, Jumblatt said: "We must look to the future, and know who our friend is and who our foe is. The main foe is Israel. The main foe is America's plan to sow division in the region, like the plan it implemented in Iraq among the… Shi'a, the Sunna, the Arabs, and the Kurds - or like the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan...

"However, Lebanon is judged according to its political reality: On one side, there is Israel as its main enemy; on the other side, there is Syria, which constitutes the strategic depth of Lebanon and of the Arabs... On yet another side of Lebanon there is the sea...

"Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran are Lebanon's friends. We in the Arab world are facing a problem that emanates from the existence of disputes among several Arab countries and Iran, which cause [the Arabs] to see [Iran] as an enemy. This is absolutely incorrect, and it should not be this way...

"With regard to Syria, it always stood alongside us in the great entanglements, like the Israeli attack and occupation of Beirut - and this led to the liberation of Beirut and of southern Lebanon. In addition, Syria's unflagging support for the resistance forces in Lebanon [i.e. Hizbullah] is an important matter... "

It's a Mistake to See Syria and Iran as Our Enemies

"The enemy is Israel, and Syria is our friend. Syria is our entrance [gate] to the Arab countries. In the Taif agreement, [Syria] extinguished the fire of the internal wars...

"Unfortunately, in some of the Arab countries and organizations there is a theory that Iran and Israel are two grave dangers. This is a great mistake. Israel is the main enemy of the Arab and Islamic world. On the issue of Iran there is misunderstanding.

"The tense relations between Iran and Egypt must be resolved by means of dialogue and negotiations. It is in the Arabs' main interest to maintain friendly and honest relations based on negotiations with Iran, in order to deal with the fundamental danger - which is Israel." [10]

Jumblatt on Iranian TV: Lebanon Can Buy Weapons from Iran

In an interview with the Iranian channel Press TV, Jumblatt said that Lebanon could turn to Iran to purchase weapons for defending itself against its enemies. Saying that Washington was refusing to provide Lebanon with essential weapons for fear that they could be used against its ally Israel, he added: "We need anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons... We think that we can find such weapons in Iran, in Russia, or in China."

Jumblatt also called for dialogue among Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran, stating that unity among the Arabs and the Iranians could help prevent possible Israeli aggression against any of them. [11]

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 3, 2008.

[2] Al-Akhbar, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 6, 2009.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), August 6, 2009; Al-Safir (Lebanon), August 10, 2009.

[4] In May 2008, Jumblatt began to draw close to various elements in the Lebanese opposition, primarily to Hizbullah, and to moderate his views regarding Hizbullah's weapons and regarding Syria. This change was manifested by a closed meeting that Jumblatt held with several Druze sheikhs loyal to him, in which he called on them to accept the new reality in the country and to stop fighting the Shi'ites. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2383, "Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: 'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites,'" June 5, 2009, Walid Jumblatt in Closed-Door Meeting with Druze Sheikhs: :'We Have No Choice But to Coexist with the Shi'ites'.

[5] On July 14, 2009, a Hizbullah weapons storehouse in the Khirbat Silm region of southern Lebanon exploded. Following the incident, UNIFIL launched an investigation, which led to friction with local residents that reached its height on July 18, 2009, when a UNIFIL patrol was attacked by residents of the villages of Khirbat Silm and Bir Al-Salasil, resulting in the wounding of 14 UNIFIL troops.

[6] Jumblatt is apparently referring to land reforms by the Israel Land Administration that were ratified by the Israeli Knesset in early August 2009.

[7] In a January 16, 2006 interview for the British Telegraph, Jumblatt said that "the only way to topple [Assad] is to try him like Milosevic." In a speech on February 14, 2007, on the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, Jumblatt slammed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, calling him the tyrant of Damascus, a monkey whom nature did not acknowledge, a snake from whom [all the other] snakes fled, a whale spit out by the sea, a wild animal among the wild animals of the desert, a creature belonging to the half-men, a [creature] made in Israel, a liar, a criminal, and the chief of the murderers in Syria and Lebanon. He also warned Assad that "this year, the [international] tribunal [for Al-Hariri's assassination] will come and [mete out] punishment, justice, and execution..." Al-Mustaqbal, Lebanon, February 15, 2007.

In a January 1, 2008 interview with the Iranian Press TV channel, Jumblatt blamed Syria for the assassination of his father, Kamal Jumblatt, and for the assassinations of Rafiq Al-Hariri and other Lebanese leaders, calling the Syrian regime "a collection of murderers." See MEMRI-TV clip: http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/0/0/0/0/0/377/1647.

On July 20, 2009, Jumblatt said that Assad controlled Syria by force, turned its citizens into miserable paupers, and imprisoned Syria's intellectuals. See MEMRI-TV clip: http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/0/0/0/0/0/0/1201.

[8] The journalist who interviewed Jumblatt, 'Imad Marmal, noted that the "figure" Jumblatt referred to as influencing him to change his views is former Syrian chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Hikmat Al-Shihabi. According to Marmal, Jumblatt paid frequent visits to Shihabi, who until recently resided in Paris and who has since returned to Damascus. Marmal added that Jumblatt has relied on Shihabi since he took upon himself the responsibility for his party and for the Druze, and that it was Shihabi who repeatedly warned Jumblatt not to abandon his Arab [identity]. Shihabi was also the first to congratulate Jumblatt following his statements announcing the end of the alliance with the March 14 Forces, on August 2, 2009.

[9] On May 7, 2008, Hizbullah gunmen took over Beirut and other areas of Lebanon, with the aim of forcing the government to back down from two anti-Hizbullah decisions: declaring that Hizbullah's private communications network to be "illegal" and "harmful to state sovereignty," and to prosecute those responsible for establishing the network; and to fire Beirut airport security chief Wafiq Shukeir, who is close to Hizbullah.

[10] Etamaad (Iran), September 2, 2009.

[11] Presstv.ir, September 13, 2009.