Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Sign of Strength or Something Else?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," March 9, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

BRIT HUME, HOST: So what about that big demonstration in Lebanon yesterday, organized by Hezbollah (search)? And what about Hezbollah's decision to cast its lot with Lebanon's Syrian occupiers? What about the sheer size of that demonstration? Is this, as it appears, a sign of strength or of something else?

For answers, we turn to Walid Phares, a professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, who is also secretary general of the World Lebanese Cultural Union.

Welcome to you, sir.

WALID PHARES, LEBANESE CULTURAL UNION: Thank you.

HUME: If Lebanon does lose the Syrian occupation, we'd still have this issue with Hezbollah, which is many things, including a terrorist organization. It was Hezbollah who put that demonstration on the streets of Lebanon yesterday. And a quite impressive one it was, at least outward appearances. What to make of that

PHARES: First of all, Brit, Hezbollah was supported by the Syrian regime, by the Iranian regime, by the Lebanese pro-Syrian regime, to produce the show that we saw yesterday. And by the way, last fall they did a similar demonstration. They called for a million people. Got 225,000. There were 500 buses carrying Syrian workers actually from the Bekka Valley into...

HUME: Yesterday?

PHARES: Yesterday. It's on the news. It's actually — actually, TV stations, Arab TV stations were interviewing members of these demonstrations. And they proudly said that they were Syrians coming in solidarity with the Hezbollah. But more over, they were Palestinians from the Palestinian camps. They put all their strength — it is true, that Hezbollah has 40,000 members. Forty thousand times four, each one brought four. This is the maximum that Hezbollah and the Syrians could muster. The problem is that they cannot do it every single day. The Lebanese demonstrations — the free Lebanese demonstrations came in lesser numbers most of the time.

HUME: So what about — what does it mean though, for the future of Lebanese democracy that Hezbollah, which is armed has decided that it's going to back Syria? What effect does this have on the internal politics there?

PHARES: Hezbollah, Brit, is afraid that if Syria withdraws really under international pressure into Syria, not into the Bekka Valley or next to the borders, they will lose the geographical connection through Syria with Iran.

Remember that Hezbollah is a militia and a political network, receiving up to $30 to $40 million a year from Iran. It's also protected by Syria and Lebanon. All of that will change dramatically. So they are really fighting for their future.

If they do not reform and become only a political party, they will fight this battle. Now with demonstrations, they may recourse to East Timor scenario, meaning fighting, really.

HUME: So you don't view that display yesterday as a setback for Lebanese democracy.

PHARES: Not at all. This is the major war that they are building around the last square of resistance of Hezbollah to the upcoming democracy.

HUME: Well, now what about this effort now in the parliament to reinstall the guy that just resigned last week as prime minister as the new prime minister?

PHARES: Well, this is part of the scenario, well designed by Damascus. They, first of all ask...

HUME: You say the Ba'ath — you mean the Ba'ath Party (search)?

PHARES: The Ba'ath Party in Damascus. They asked Karami to resign. They organized this demonstration. Their spokesman around the world will come and say see, the Lebanese people is with Syria. Then bring back Omar Karami again.

HUME: Will it work?

PHARES: It won't work, because the Lebanese democratic movement will basically continue with strength, now that they have the support of the international community...

HUME: Well, do they have the votes in parliament to put this guy back in?

PHARES: This parliament is Syrian. Remember, the government collapsed, not the parliament. The parliament was voted, was elected under the Syrian occupation. It's only the next parliament to be elected in May that will produce what really the Lebanese want to see. That is the withdrawal of the Syrian forces.

HUME: So what, in your view, happens next? I mean there is the possibility, is there not, that there could be civil war? If Hezbollah, which has guns, and I guess the other militia, the Druze militia, the Christian groups, they're unarmed. Or are they?

PHARES: Brit, since the '80s, when you were there or knew about it, things have changed. The civil society in Lebanon, mostly the Christians, the Druze and the Sunni have really decided not to engage in the militia route anymore. Do what every civil society does around the world, protest, have the international community assume their responsibility. Meaning if Hezbollah wants to fight, they will face a multinational force in the future, at the end of the day.

HUME: Well, you say that, and certainly the United States would obviously be in favor of a multinational force being sent in there under some auspices, the E.U., the U.N., whoever. But is there really any confidence that that will happen? I mean the United States has sanctions against Syria, sanctions against Iran. It hasn't got any economic levers left to push there.

Would you be — are you confident that France and Germany and those countries will come to the aid of the Lebanese people, if they rise up and face violence from the Syrians and their Hezbollah supporters?

PHARES: I spoke with many members of the Security Council over the past 48 hours, including the U.S. delegation, the French, the Russians, the Arabs. And all of them have said we're going to give all the chance possible to the envoy, the United Nations envoy to go to Damascus and tell them that at the end of the day, you've got to withdraw.

Now, if they won't, if basically they arm Hezbollah, they will be declaring war not just against the Lebanese civil society, but against the international society. And they know it. The Syrians knows that.

HUME: Is there anything that President Bush is not now doing, in your judgment, that he could be doing to further support the Lebanese people?

PHARES: President Bush has unleashed, basically, a movement in the Middle East. Which is civil society for democracy. The Lebanese heard the call. Now, what is interesting is that it has changed from the Iraqi situation. It's that the French, many Europeans, many Arab moderates are in support of the withdrawal of the Syrians.

Meaning this is a one road leading to the Syrians out of Lebanon. It's up to them to decide if they want to do it peacefully...

HUME: We heard that Syrian officials in Jennifer given's report saying, with some force, that this is about a withdrawal from the whole country back into Syria, the intelligence forces going along with them. Do you now believe that?

PHARES: No, because President Assad himself in his speech in Arabic, you have to understand the language, said No. 1, I am redeploying into Bekka. Now, as far as...

HUME: Bekka Valley being a part of Lebanon.

PHARES: Part of Lebanon, of course, within Lebanon. And he said but to withdraw out of Lebanon, I have to talk with the Lebanese government. Now, he's now appointing a new pro-Syrian Lebanese government. Which means they don't want to withdraw from Lebanon.

They want to tell the world that the Lebanese, demonstration of Hezbollah and the new appointed Omar Karami cabinet will not ask the Syrians to withdraw completely from Lebanon. He's gaining time.

HUME: You mentioned earlier that this kind of stuff would not be acceptable to the Lebanese people. Everyone has noted that they seem to lack the fear they once had of the Syrian authorities. Do they also no longer fear Hezbollah?

PHARES: I think Hezbollah is dragging itself into routes that they have not used. I mean why do they have to have a demonstration? Hezbollah could result to weapons, because they understand that if isolated worldwide, if their cause is de-legitimized by the other Lebanese, they may not find enough popular support in the future. Even Hezbollah will have to do demonstrations today to show its strength. That's very new.

HUME: Dr. Phares, it's nice to have you. Thank you for coming.

PHARES: Thank you.

Content and Programming Copyright 2005 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.