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February 19, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8568

Statue Of Qassem Soleimani Put Up By Hizbullah In South Lebanon Sparks Criticism: It Is An Expression Of Iran’s Patronage Over Lebanon

February 19, 2020
Iran, Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 8568

On February 15, 2020, Hizbullah unveiled in the village of Maroun Al-Ras in South Lebanon a large statue of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps who was killed in an American airstrike on January 3, 2020 in Baghdad. The statue, which stands near the Lebanon-Israel border, shows Soleimani pointing towards Israel while a Palestinian flag flies behind him. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Soleimani's children and by many Hizbullah officials and supporters.[1]

Hizbullah’s erection of the statue sparked considerable criticism from Lebanese public figures, politicians, journalists and citizens, who described it as yet another expression of Iran’s patronage over Lebanon by means of its proxy, Hizbullah. They accused this organization of being Iranian rather than Lebanese and of ignoring the existence of the state. Some also criticized the Lebanese leaders, who they said allow Hizbullah to do as it wishes in Lebanon and never hold it to account.

In response to the criticism, a Hizbullah MP defended the decision to erect the statue, and asked why Beirut could have streets named after French WWI generals, yet a statue of the fighter Soleimani sparks objection.

It should be noted that this is not the first time Hizbullah has honored Iranian officials and Hizbullah commanders who were involved in terrorism by memorializing them in public places in Lebanon. The previous instances likewise sparked public criticism.

This report presents translated excerpts from some of the reactions to the statue of Soleimani.

 

The statue of Qassem Soleimani in Maroun Al-Ras (Source: Al-Jumhouriyya, Lebanon, February 17, 2020)

Lebanese Politicians: This Confirms Iran's Patronage Over Lebanon

Politician and journalist May Chidiac, former minister of Administrative Development and member of Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party, who is known for her tough stance against Hizbullah, tweeted angrily: "Are we in Lebanon or in Iran? After naming the road to the [Beirut] airport  after [Ayatollah] Khomeini [in February 2019], Hizbullah has now celebrated the unveiling of a statue of Soleimani in the South! Why this insistence on changing the identity of Lebanon and involving it in the struggle between the axes[?]! Where is [the policy] of disassociating [Lebanon from conflicts]?[2] Every day Hizbullah confirms that it is a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and of the [Iranian Rule of the] Jurisprudent, rather than a Lebanese body!"[3]             

The tweet from May Chidiac (Source: Twitter.com/may_chidiac, February 16, 2020)

Georges Hayak, also from the Lebanese Forces party, tweeted: "I might have understood if they had erected a statue of a late Hizbullah leader on the Lebanese border, even without the consent of all Lebanese. But putting up a statue of an Iranian military figure such as Qassem Soleimani [only] confirms what is said about Lebanon being under Iranian control. It is also an affront to the will of the entire Lebanese people."[4]

 Former justice minister Ashraf Rifi tweeted: "The erection of a monument to Soleimani in South [Lebanon] has nothing to do with the conflict with Israel, but is merely confirmation of Iran’s patronage of Lebanon. [Soleimani's] Qods Force did not fight for Jerusalem, but devastated Syria and Iraq and turned Lebanon into a failed state. Iran's patronage makes our economic crisis worse. This is a matter for the Lebanese president, prime minister and [other] officials to address.[5]

Diana Mukalled, a columnist for the Lebanese Al-Hayat daily, tweeted: "A statue of Qassem Soleimani has been erected in South Lebanon… As usual, [these are] useless and contemptible attempts to give this criminal murderer a false halo of sanctity."[6]

Former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Al-Siniora said that the roads were public spaces and that no faction was entitled to put up statues there without at least consulting the Lebanese government. "The country has no shortage [of problems], and the erection of this statue is an unhelpful and imprudent move," he added.[7]

Criticism Of The Authorities: The State Has No Presence; Its Officials Ignore The Iranian Occupation

Some former politicians directed their criticism at the authorities and current officials, who allow Hizbullah to do as it pleases. Antoine Zahra, a former MP from Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces party, wondered: "Are statues not considered idols? As far as I know, [Hizbullah] does not believe in idols and regards statues [as a form of] paganism and heresy… The problem is that the state does not seem to exist, [and its heads] think it wise to refrain from asking [Hizbullah] any questions, as though this can distance them from any problems. [Hizbullah members] recognizes the existence of the state only when they need it, and circumvent it when they do not need it. When they start wars in the region without asking anyone, Nasrallah expects us to come to an agreement and support the government, [warning that otherwise] the roof might collapse over our heads. How can we hold these people to account?... Hizbullah tries to impose a certain way of behavior, so that the Lebanese become used to refraining from asking questions, protesting or holding it to account for its illegal actions. This organization thinks the law applies to others, but not to itself."[8]

Former MP Fares Souaid also directed harsh criticism at the Lebanese officials, who allow the Iranian occupation, as he called it. He tweeted: "The criticism voiced by some over the erection of the statue of Qassem Soleimani is absurd. Lebanon is under Iranian occupation, [but] nobody has the honesty to admits it. Moreover, [even] some [state officials] are okay with it, on the pretext of being 'pragmatic.' You [officials] sit with representatives of the Iranian occupation in the municipal councils, in parliament, in the government and in [other] administrative bodies, and voice no objection. And you make muscles when it comes to a statue? Remove Iran's patronage [from Lebanon]."[9]

Lebanese Twitter Users: How Would Hizbullah Respond If We Put Up A Statue Of An American Or A Saudi?

Criticism of Hizbullah for putting up the statue was also voiced by Lebanese users on Twitter. Paula Nawfal, who writes in the Al-Nahar daily, tweeted: "A statue of Soleimani on the Lebanese border [with Israel]. What do you think? Imagine it: how would [Hizbullah's] respond if we put up a statue of some American or Saudi figure?"[10]

 

Lebanese user Walid Ghanem tweeted: "What did Qassem Soleimani do for Lebanon to deserve having his statue [put up] in Maroun Al-Ras?  Who is more important, Qassem Soleimani, or the martyrs of the Lebanese army who sacrificed their lives to liberate the land? Only they deserve a statue [in their honor]."[11]

Many Lebanese also tweeted under the hashtag "Lebanon is greater than your Soleimani." Among them was user Abu Rimas, who tweeted: "The Lebanese will pay the price for Lebanon melting into Hizbullah's mini-state and its joining of the Iranian axis. Sadly, we will pay very dearly."[12]

Hizbullah Official: Iran Came To Lebanon's Aid; Putting Up The Statue Is Legitimate

In response to the criticism, Hizbullah MP Anwar Jum'a said: "There are several streets in the capital Beirut named after enemies of Lebanon. Let’s replace the names of the streets named after the [French] generals Foch and Gouraud, who conquered Lebanon."[13]  He condemned what he called the ceaseless attacks on Iran, "which always extends aid to Lebanon when the Americans are throttling us. We have placed the monument in front of the [Israeli] occupier who [once] humiliated us and today does not dare to glance in our direction…"[14]

Highway Named After Khomeini; Street Named After Senior Hizbullah Member Accused Of Assassinating Al-Hariri

This is not the first time that Hizbullah has chosen to memorialize Iranian leaders and its own senior commanders in public places in Lebanon, and especially in the Dahiya, its stronghold in Beirut.

In February 2019, the Lebanese were surprised to discover a sign indicating that the highway leading out of  Beirut international airport was now called Imam Khomeini Avenue, after the founder of the Islamic regime in Iran. This aroused many angry reactions among Lebanese who wondered, "Why does the name of the imam Khomeini meet us just as we leave the airport? Are we in Beirut or in Teheran?" Others accused Hizbullah of attempting to transform Lebanon into an Iranian province, to change its identity, and to take over its culture.[15]

In response to the criticism, the mayor of the town of Al-Ghobeiry, which is part of the Dahiya, said that the town had decided to name the highway after Khomeini already in 2002, and that the interior ministry had approved this, but that implementation of the decision had been delayed.[16]


Imam Khomeini Avenue at the exit from Beirut airport (Source: Lebanondebate.com, March 1, 2019)

Furthermore, in September 2018, the Al- Ghobeiry municipality announced that it had named  a road in the town after  Hizbullah official Mustafa Badr Al-Din, who was killed in Syria in 2016 and who was identified by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as one of the main suspects in the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri. Then-interior minister Nohad Al Machnouk stated that the ministry had not approved the naming of the street after Badr Al-Din and demanded the removal of the sign, since the matter was politically controversial and was likely to disrupt public order in the country.[17] Other political figures and journalists agreed with the criticism, while Hizbullah members justified the naming of the street after Badr Al-Din.[18]


Street named after "the martyr Mustafa Badr Al-Din" (Source: Al-Nahar, Lebanon, September 19, 2019)

 

[1] Raialyoum.com, February 16, 2020.

[2] In August 2011, following UNSC discussions on the events in Syria, Lebanon – at the time headed by the administration of prime minister Najib Mikati comprising primarily allies of Syria, and also at the time a member of the UNSC – took an official position of "disassociating itself from" events in Syria. The UNSC passed, 14 to 1 (Lebanon), a Presidential Statement condemning Syria. Lebanon "cut itself off" from the consensus, thus refraining from criticizing Syria, but also not thwarting the UNSC's condemnation. Since then, every Lebanese government has defined its policy as one of "disassociating itself" from events in Syria and from the disputes in the region – meaning also from the Saudi-Iranian dispute. This solution, which is essentially refraining from taking a stand at all, has successfully bridged the tremendous gaps between the pro-Saudi camp in the country led by former prime minister Sa'd Al-Hariri and the pro-Iran camp led by Hizbullah.

[3] Twitter.com/may_chidiac, February 16, 2020.

[4] Twitter.com/georgeshayak712, February 15, 2020.

[5] Twitter.com/Ashraf_Rifi, February 16, 2020.

[6] Twitter.com/dianamoukalled, February 16, 2020.

[7] Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), February 17, 2020.

[8] Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), February 17, 2020.

[9] Twitter.com/FaresSouaid, February 17, 2020.

[10] Twitter.com/paulanawfal, February 15, 2020.

[11] Twitter.com/walidghanem, February 15, 2020.

[12] Twitter.com/mufrh1, February 16, 2020.

[13] Henri Gouraud was a high-rankling French general in World War I and the first French High Commissioner in Syria and Lebanon after the war. On September 1, 1920 he declared the creation of the Greater State of Lebanon. Ferdinand Foch was also a French general, who served as the Supreme Allied Commander in World War I. In 1983 a destroyer named after him helped the French forces that were posted in Lebanon as part of a multinational force.  

[14] Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), February 17, 2020.

[15] Almodon.com, February 21, 2019.

[16] Lebanondebate.com, March 1, 2019; Lebanon24.com, February 23, 2019.

[17] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 19, 2018.

[18] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 19, 2018; Arabipress.org, September 24, 2018.

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