Clancy Chassay in Beirut
Washington is waging a covert war against Hizbullah, according to the militant group, which accuses the US administration of arming anti-Hizbullah militias and seeking to undermine the Lebanese army in moves which could plunge the country back into civil war.
"Dick Cheney [US vice president] has given orders for a covert war against Hizbullah…there is now an American programme that is using Lebanon to further its goals in the region," Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hizbullah’s deputy secretary general, told the Guardian in an interview in a safe house deep in Beirut’s Hizbullah-controlled southern suburbs.
The accusation follows reports in the US and British media that the CIA has been authorised to take covert action against the militant Shia group, which receives substantial military backing from Iran, as part of wider strategy by the Bush administration to prevent the spread of Iranian influence in the region.
According to the reports, US intelligence agencies are authorised to provide "non-lethal" funding to anti-Hizbullah groups in Lebanon and to activists who support the western-backed government of Fouad Siniora.
But Hizbullah accused the Lebanese government of arming groups across the country. "This happens with the knowledge of the prime minister and is facilitated by the security forces under his command," said Sheikh Qasim.
The Bush administration recently set aside $60m (£30m) to fund the interior ministry’s internal security force, which has almost doubled in size to 24,000 troops. Sheikh Qasim said there was a growing anti-Hizbullah bias in the security services. "The internal security forces have not succeeded in playing a balanced role… The sectarian issue is very delicate when it comes to the security services."
Cabinet minister Ahmed Fatfat told the Los Angeles Times late last year that the increase in interior ministry personnel was to counter the growing influence of Iran and its Shia ally in Lebanon.
Earlier this year, in his state of the union address, President George Bush accused Hizbullah of "seeking to undermine Lebanon’s legitimately elected government."
Sheikh Qasim rejected the accusation, claiming Washington had scuppered attempts by the Lebanese government and the Hizbullah-led opposition to reach a compromise. "We think that if it wasn’t for America’s interference, we would have resolved the issue of participating in the government a long time ago," he said.
"America is forcing the government forces to prolong this crisis, because they want a price for it… They want to tie Lebanon into negotiations that benefit Israel and their plan for a new Middle East."
The political standoff in Beirut had revolved around an opposition demand for veto power over key cabinet decisions, including an international tribunal to try suspects for the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
But in a speech at the weekend Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said he had given up hope of reaching a compromise with the government. He said the only way out of the crisis was through a referendum or early elections.
Sheikh Qasim said Hizbullah did not rule out another confrontation with Israel this summer and confirmed that the group was rearming: "We are prepared for the possibility of another adventure or the demand of American policy that might push the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] in that direction."
(The Guardian – www.guardian.co.uk (April 11, 2007)
Clancy Chassay in Beirut