Sunday, December 17, 2006

Iran Pushing Lebanon into Civil War

From the Globe & Mail:

Founder lashes out at Hezbollah
by Mark MacKinnon

BAALBEK, LEBANON — Hezbollah has lost sight of its original principles, according to the founder of the militant Shia group, and it is pushing Lebanon toward civil war to serve the interests of its masters in Tehran.

In a rare interview at his guarded compound in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Sheik Sobhi Tufeili criticized Hezbollah and the movement's current leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, for putting Iranian interests ahead of Lebanese ones in the country's flammable political standoff.

"The relationship of Hezbollah with Iran is [one of] complete, loyal submission," the bespectacled sheik said, a grey beard jutting out from his chin.

He said that while Shia groups in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon look to Tehran with deference, Iran sees Shiites outside its borders as expendable pawns to be used "if they need 1,000 Shiites to be killed here, or 1,000 Shiites to be killed there."

... In the current Lebanese political crisis, hundreds of thousands of protesters have answered Mr. Nasrallah's call to surround government offices in the centre of Beirut, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his pro-Western cabinet.

Neither side has shown any sign of giving in. Last night, Mr. Nasrallah called for demonstrators to remain in the streets for as long as it takes to topple the government. Tensions are high, particularly between Shia supporters of Hezbollah and Sunni Muslims who fiercely back the government. Mr. Siniora is a Sunni.

While Hezbollah says it is protesting against a government that is unrepresentative of most Lebanese and a puppet of the United States, Mr. Tufeili said such claims are really a smokescreen for the real goal: expanding Iran's influence in Lebanon and the region. He compared groups such as Hezbollah and the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the organizations the Soviet Union once used to spread its influence abroad.

"They [Iran] use the Shiites all over the world for their purposes, just as the USSR used to do with communist parties all over the world. Today, Iran sacrifices these Islamic parties for their benefit."

Mr. Tufeili said Hezbollah's protests in Beirut are leading the country toward a conflict from which only outside forces will gain. While Iran and Syria are backing the Hezbollah-led opposition, the United States, France and some Sunni Arab states have lent support to the government.

... Mr. Tufeili's condemnation of Hezbollah was fierce and wide ranging. He said the party should give up its arms for the sake of civil peace and -- remarkably for someone who once opposed any ceasefire -- questioned the leadership's logic in provoking this summer's war with Israel.

The reason Lebanon's current crisis is so dangerous is that most Lebanese are more loyal to their sects than to their country, Mr. Tufeili said. He said that needs to change and that Lebanon's Shiites in particular must break the tradition of blindly following their leader.

For that to happen, he said, Iran needs to stop buying the community's loyalty with money. He said that when he was Hezbollah secretary-general, Iran was the movement's partner. Now, he said, it has long since become the master.

"I beg [Iran] to leave us," he said. "Don't take us into civil war. If you can't leave us, don't harm us. We're fed up with wars and destruction."

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