Lebanon's Ex-President Emile Lahoud explains exclusively: "We are in a State of War with Israel"

Posted in Other | 01-Dec-08 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud (left) with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad: "The Syrians know that I am not pro-Syrian. I…
Former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud (left) with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad: "The Syrians know that I am not pro-Syrian. I am a nationalist."
Manuela Paraipan: What are the few crucial moments that you can recall during your time as President of Lebanon and are willing to speak of?

Emile Lahoud: There were more than a few such moments, during 18 years, because I was Commander in Chief for nine years and President for nine years. As a commander, there were many, but I will tell you the most important.

At the beginning, nobody wanted to mix the brigades that were organized according to religious sects. When I was appointed there was a Maronite brigade, a Sunni brigade, a Druze brigade and so on. There are 18 official sects in Lebanon and there were 12 brigades.

From the start, I had problems with those who were politically responsible who said that we just went out of the civil war, and if we make the change they will kill each other. I said that if we treat them right, it would work. And it worked. And that's how the army became national. As president there were many important moments, but this time they were related more to international politics.

Manuela Paraipan: How did it start?

Emile Lahoud: I was elected in 1998 and everyone wanted Rafiq Hariri to be the prime minister. I wanted that also. According to our constitution, we ask the members of parliament to come to the Presidential Palace to put forward the name of the prime minister. I helped them choose Prime Minister Hariri because he had very strong relations at the international level, and I thought this would be good for Lebanon.

When the members of parliament came with their proposals, Rafiq Hariri came and said that some MPs would like me to choose the prime minister. I said, fine. I choose you. There were maybe 86 votes for PM Hariri and 20 gave the votes to me, to give them to whomever I wanted, and I have gave them to Hariri. He refused to take the position. I was elected President with 117 out of 128 votes, and he also wanted to be elected with 117. I told him that he had been in power for six years already, and I said in French: “le pouvoir use.” When you get the power everyone is around you, but in time, a part of the support fades away. I told Hariri to think it over. It was Friday. I asked him to come back on Monday, and we would start. I was just elected and I wanted to start doing my job.

During the weekend, Hariri spoke on television and said that the president who had just been elected had wronged the Constitution. It was not right and everybody knew that. If he is accusing me from day one, I cannot work with him, and on Monday, I had to make a crucial decision, and it was the right one. If Hariri did not want the job, then I would ask Salim Hoss to take it. He is well known for his probity, and he is a national figure in the country.

Another important moment was during the summit of the Arab League. A week before the summit, in 2002, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Saud bin Faisal came to me with a paper that Prince Abdallah, now the King, had planned to put on the table, and everyone would agree with it. All the Arabs knew about it. That paper was supposed to bring peace. May I read it, I asked? It was one page. I noticed a crucial point for Lebanon. In our constitution, in the introduction, we say “no” to the partition of Lebanon and “no” to the implantation of Palestinians. These two go together, and if the two were not there, there would be civil war again. I told Faisal they had to support UN Resolution 194 that stipulates the Palestinians right to return. He said that there was nothing he could do. They agreed with the US, Europe and Israel. Faisal said that Prince Abdallah would come to Lebanon a week later and I should talk to him about it. But by then it would have been too late. The summit was only two days away. The first day they arrived, the second day was the opening and the speeches and the third day they would leave.

I was at the airport to welcome the Arab presidents, and they all stayed for protocol only 5 minutes, with one exception: Prince Abdallah stayed for 15 minutes. No one asked why. I told him that we could not accept the agreement the way it was. Abdallah said that all countries agreed and they asked me to accept. I could not. Then he asked what he could do. I told him that he had to put the right to return in the document. I did not want to have surprises in the summit. He said that's fine, and that tomorrow morning Faisal would talk, Sultan bin Faisal. The next day I didn’t see Faisal, and they said that Abu Ammar, Mr Arafat, the President of Palestine, was going to give a speech live from his place in Palestine, through LBC television, to the summit, to say that we - all Arabs - welcomed the initiative of Prince Abdallah. Then by acclamation, the agreement was settled and they stood up and left and that was the resolution. This meant that I could no longer say anything if all the Arabs stood up according to the plan.

Manuela Paraipan: They were disregarding you as President.

Emile Lahoud: Exactly. I said that Arafat could not give his speech. Maybe the Israelis would come on the screen, and we didn’t want to spoil it. I did not say the exact reason. I did not want to say anything bad about any of the Arab leaders. I told the LBC that they could not transmit Arafat's speech.

I saw one of the ministers of the cabinet, Marwan Hamade, and in 2002 it was Hariri who became prime minister. He went to the Palestinian delegation and talked to them, and the Palestinian delegation went to the Syrian delegation and then I saw one of the Syrian delegation members coming to me. Then I said to myself that the guy went to the Palestinians who went to the Syrians, who came to me, only to let Arafat speak. And that was true. The Syrians did not know why I did not agree to let Arafat speak directly, but I told the Saudis about it. I did not allow Arafat to speak knowing that this would have guaranteed the implantation of the Palestinians and I could not have that as President. I gave the floor to some other Arab president, not Arafat, and when this happened, the Palestinian delegation left, the Saudi, the Kuwaiti... There were five countries that left. I continued as if nothing had happened. At the official dinner, in the evening, they did not come and we had the official picture without five leaders.

The next day was the end of the summit, and I went down at 8 o'clock. The summit was supposed to start at 10. I had a small room at the Phoenicia (Hotel) where the summit was held, and I saw the five foreign ministers of the countries that had walked out the previous day and the foreign affairs minister of Lebanon, together with Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League. I asked what was going on. They asked if I wanted the summit to go down in history as a complete failure under my leadership. I said I didn't care as long as Lebanon got its rights. They started to argue with me, and Faisal talked to US Secretary of State Powell, who of course was talking to the Israelis, and gave us the feedback. I said that they have to put in that word or I would not accept the initiative. It went on until 11 o'clock.

People were starting to ask what was going on, and if you go to archives you will find this information. In the end they accepted to have the right to return, but outside the initiative. I said that it had to be in the initiative, and this led to another half hour of arguments. At 11.30, after Powell talked to the other side, they agreed to put it in. I had the initiative as it was, and how it became. They just said that everyone accepted the Saudi initiative. I don't have anything against Saudi Arabia. I would have done the same with the Syrians, with anybody, as long as it was for the good of my country.

Another moment worth mentioning involves Mrs. Albright. It was when Israel was withdrawing from Lebanon. There were talks with Mr. Larsen, and they were afraid that massacres would follow, like when the Christians withdrew from the Chouf area. I knew that this would not be the case. These people were fighting for their country. They had no interest in creating religious dissensions or other trouble. Larsen said that if there were a massacre they would have a donor conference; they had $3 billion for Arafat, which of course they did not pay, and he said Lebanon would get $10 billion. I told him that we didn’t want their money because nothing would happen.

I was in the south when the withdrawal started and there was not one incident, which proved that what we were saying about the resistance was right. We began to talk about where the Blue Line should be. This was not the frontier. We did not have time to send teams to find the precise location... Around midnight, on my way to Baabda Palace, Mrs. Albright called. The cellular did not work back then even 200 meters before the palace entrance, and I was told that Mrs. Albright was on the line. I stopped the car on the roadside thinking that we would talk to each other for five or ten minutes. She said the Israelis withdrew already. I asked to have a minute to check it on the ground. I found out that this was not true and told her that they were still inside the Blue Line.

At first she said nicely that if she were in Lebanon she would have convinced me otherwise, and then she put me on a telephone conference with UN officials and others. After four hours of sitting in the car and discussing, at around 4 in the morning, she asked, do you know whom you are talking to? Yes, I know, I replied. She accused me of undermining the US and the UN and asked, do you know what that means, Mr Lahoud? That means, I am sleepy and I want to sleep. I shut off the phone and went to sleep. They did not like it.

They thought Lebanon is this small country that has always been used, and that we comply with whatever they say. And now, I can say that Lebanon is the only Arab country that Israel thinks twice about before attacking.

Manuela Paraipan: Why not arm the national army?

Emile Lahoud: They will never give weapons to Lebanon. The proof is that when President Sulayman was in the United States and asked for the army to be better equipped, the Americans said they would give us a few helicopters worth $60 million. This is what we get while at the same time Israel receives more than $10 billion every year. The only way - and I learned this in the United States - to fight a strong, conventional army is to have a resistance, guerrilla warfare.

Manuela Paraipan: Why not keep it inside the army and instead either include Hizballah's fighters or train the military for such operations? Why resort to a group outside the army?

Emile Lahoud: When you keep it inside the army, it will be known. You have operations, officers will know and it will be vulnerable. The only way to fight Israel is to be an unknown resistance. It happened to be the Shias because they have the land in the south; why shouldn’t all Lebanese go to the resistance? When you have something working you scrap it and try something new that may not work?

Manuela Paraipan: Would you say that the role of the army has been diminished because of Hizballah's armed wing?

Emile Lahoud: Hizballah talks very highly of the army. Furthermore, the army is complementary to the resistance. Instead of having it inside the army and weak, I left it outside, and it is strong. We did not have joint operations. We conducted our own, and they conducted theirs.

Manuela Paraipan: No one is willing to help Lebanon with weaponry, military training, gear and so on?

Emile Lahoud: The gear needed and the weapons used, to this day, we don't know how Hizballah gets them. The Israelis would have hit them, provided they knew.

MP: Is it rational to assume that the gear and weapons come through Syria?

Emile Lahoud: They say so. Until now nothing has been proven. If it’s inside the army, Israel has only to hit the army and the provisions. When the resistance has no more weapons, how can they fight? That's why they want to put it inside an institution. Once they hit the institution there is no more resistance.

Manuela Paraipan: Isn't it important to have one commander in chief and not several from different parties, for all the military operations in one country? How is their struggle nationally?

Emile Lahoud: We are in a state of war with Israel. Inside the army they will know the leaders of the resistance. They will hit them to weaken the resistance. Now they don't know. They cannot work in known operations. In the army, you give an order - for example, to go through Beirut to Saida, up the mountain.... With Hizballah, nobody knows what holes they are in. They are underground. They have their rockets hidden underground. This is their strength. I can understand why they say that it’s important to have only one commander in chief, but in fact if you have only one of both, we are no stronger than Egypt, Jordan etc. Israel defeated them all in 6 days. Here they stayed 30 days and they had to run away. This means that it worked. I can understand when foreigners like you ask why don't you make a commander for all, but for a Lebanese to say this it means that they have an outside agenda - one that goes through Europe, America to Israel.

Manuela Paraipan: What about the foreign agenda that goes through Hizballah to Iran? What's the difference?

Emile Lahoud: The difference is, and I am using myself, a Maronite that has been in the West as an example, that if until now they thought that I get some little personal interest from Hizballah or Syria, everybody would have put it in the newspaper. Here they say all they want, but they know that I did it because I saw that these people were ready to die for their country.

Manuela Paraipan: Do you blame Rafiq Hariri for the huge debt of the country?

Emile Lahoud: I do not blame him. In 1990, we had only half a billion dollars debt. Then we started to take money from the IMF and the World Bank, and now we have today's situation.

All I am saying is that there was this new trend of the IMF, the World Bank etc, and they wanted to sell our water, electricity, and most importantly, our gas in the name of privatization. We have problems with electricity. If we put it on gas, and we found gas in our sea, we would save two thirds of the money spent on it now. I got a report from the security saying there was a French warship going along the coast in Lebanon, in our territorial waters, and it had been there for one month, coming and going.

Manuela Paraipan: When was that? Which year?

Emile Lahoud: Around 2003. Thus, I ask the ambassador of France what this warship was doing here. He came with the commander of the ship, and as I told you, I am a naval officer, I know about charts. They put the charts in front of me and said that President Chirac, at the request of his friend, Prime Minister Hariri, wanted to know if there was a possibility there might be an earthquake. I asked the commander if it was true that by looking at the sea for earthquakes you know if there is gas there. He said this was true. Is there gas? The commander answered positively. And we are taking gas from Syria!

Afterwards, I invited Mr. Hariri to come and see me. I asked him how it was possible that I was not informed of something as important as this. Hariri said that if the Syrians knew then me might lose the gas. But as the gas was in our waters, Syria had nothing to do with it. Hariri sent the person in charge of the project to me. The person told me that a US firm was conducting a study and that I would soon get a report. Meanwhile, poor Mr. Hariri was assassinated, and now no one talks about this issue.

Manuela Paraipan: Why did you accept to have your mandate extended?

Emile Lahoud: The Constitution was amended for the president before me as well.

Manuela Paraipan: Is it right to amend the Constitution every once in a while?

Emile Lahoud: It happened many times before and…

Manuela Paraipan: Does it mean that it should happen?

Emile Lahoud: No, it should not, but I am saying that there are essential reasons, and former President Mr Hrawi had the same thing and nobody said anything.

They amended the Constitution to elect Mr Sulayman. Why accept now? It means they use what is good for their personal interests. It’s not that they know what is right or wrong. They all said that I was isolated after UN Resolution 1559 by both the Americans and the Europeans. This is not true. Six months after UN 1559, Condoleezza Rice came to me. In the meeting she started to say that we have to stop Hizballah, and so on, and I told her what I told Mr. Powell. When Iraq fell, he came to see us. He had only 30 minutes and the first thing he said was that we had to finish off Hizballah, we had to put the army on the front line and thirdly, we needed to have democracy in the country.

I said that for us, they (Hizballah) are the liberators; moreover, its up to the Lebanese to say where they want the army to be or not, its not up to the Israelis to tell us what to do. Hizballah is trouble for them. Therefore they want the army on the front line to be like before Hizballah, when they jumped over us, did their operations and the army was looking. This continued until there was no respect left for the army; then we had no army in 1975 and we had the civil war. We don't want to repeat this. They did not like that. After that they stopped seeing me.

Let me give you another example. When I became president in 1998, the mobile business was in the hands of two people. One was Hariri's son in-law, and the other was someone close to Syria, Mikati. These two were taking all the gains while giving the state about $ 200 000 million a year. An expert on this issue from the UN came to see me. He was Lebanese. This individual told me that it was a pity and that Lebanon should get much more.

When I inquired about this, and on a personal level there was nothing between Hariri and me, Hariri said he did not want to put an end to these contracts. Therefore, the attack from the media started. Now we get $ 1.2 billion a year which means that for ten years they were taking $1 billion from the state, and that's what made the debt. Once we took this road, debt brought more debt, from the IMF, the World Bank and so on.

Manuela Paraipan: You said it was not only Hariri. It was Mikati and Syria as well.

Emile Lahoud: Syria was not taking from Mikati. Mikati did it for himself. The speaker went to see Dr. Bashar and told him that there was a big fight between the president and the prime minister regarding the mobile business. The speaker asked what they did in Syria. President Bashar said that they gave the management to the people, and all the earnings are for the state. The speaker asked President Bashar if I had talked to him about it. Of course I did not talk to him about such matters. This was an internal matter. I only thought of the good of my country.

Manuela Paraipan: We talked about Hizballah and Israel, but what about the Syrian occupation? You had it for almost three decades. Did you ever stand up to President Hafez al-Assad or to President Bashar al-Assad and say that you didn’t want Syria or its army in Lebanon?

Emile Lahoud: That is a very good question. First, it started before my time. In 1975 the Americans gave the green light to the Syrians to go in and help Lebanon because the Palestinians were getting very strong. The Syrians said that it was an international decision accepted by the Lebanese. If the Lebanese were to tell us to leave, we would go. This is what they were saying, but the Lebanese could not agree with each other. Some wanted the Syrians out, some did not. And now you ask why I did not tell them to leave? They were leaving because of the way I dealt with them, because they respected me.

Manuela Paraipan: The point is that they were still here.

Emile Lahoud: Do you know how many Syrian soldiers were in Lebanon? 40 000. Do you know how many there were when they officially left? 11 000. It was confidence building between us, and slowly they were leaving. At the time of the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, Lebanon was according to Interpol the number one country in the world in terms of security and stability. It was all over the Internet. Number two was Austria and number three was Switzerland. They killed him because our enemies did not want Lebanon to stay strong.

Manuela Paraipan: Which enemies?

Emile Lahoud: Lebanon has two enemies: Israel is the permanent enemy, and the second enemy is fundamentalist extremists. I will tell you about the extremists.

Manuela Paraipan: You did not mention when I asked you about the Syrian occupation how exactly you confronted them?

Emile Lahoud: But they were leaving, I told you.

Manuela Paraipan: In 2005 you said there were only 11 000 Syrian troops on Lebanese soil. What about intelligence, what about Khaddam and the others?

Emile Lahoud: The soldiers left for Bekaa. One second, Khaddam was with Hariri. And many things I wanted to do I could not do because of Khaddam and they had been given this...

Manuela Paraipan: Then you admit it was an occupation.

Emile Lahoud: You cannot call it occupation when the Lebanese wanted it and when the UN told the Syrians to go in.

Manuela Paraipan: Have you ever asked the Lebanese people since then, through a national referendum, if they want them here?

Emile Lahoud: We have asked many times, but they do not want to make a referendum. The last referendum was in 1932. They have kept it as it was then with the Christians equal in numbers to Muslims. Now there is a big difference. There are two-thirds Muslims and one-third Christians. What I am saying is that because we have built confidence, the Syrians would have left on their own, and this was the appropriate way for them to leave, and it was not an occupation because the Lebanese accepted them to come in, and they did not agree together to get them out.

Manuela Paraipan: You have the massacres, the prisoners - all these issues documented by the UN and not only. How did you deal with the Syrians on these matters?

"The only way to fight Israel is to be an unknown resistance."
"The only way to fight Israel is to be an unknown resistance."
Emile Lahoud: There was killing on all sides. Christians and Muslims killed each other. Muslims killed Muslims. The Palestinians killed both Muslims and Christians and both killed Palestinians.... All this was done because of a big plot from outside Lebanon, to have Lebanese kill each other. They didn't want Lebanon.

Manuela Paraipan: Was Syria part of the plot?

Emile Lahoud: For Syria, they were asked by the Christians to come in.

Manuela Paraipan: I know that. What about later on?

Emile Lahoud: Later on, they said if you make a consensus and we agree with your consensus. They did not agree.

Manuela Paraipan: What about the political influence and the Syrian intelligence presence here?

Emile Lahoud: This was done even before the army entered Lebanon. It was always osmosis between Syria and Lebanon. I strengthened Lebanon, and Interpol said it was getting stronger and in two, three years later they would have left. When the assassination took place they displayed the picture of the four security officers. How did they know from day one? It reminds me of what happened in Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Third World countries, and they thought Lebanon would be the same, with the president running from one of the windows. They started to put pressure on the president, so that I would leave. I said that I would stay until the last moment. It was not because I was happy; no one could be happy under these circumstances.

Manuela Paraipan: Your mandate was over.

Emile Lahoud: According to the Constitution I had three more years. They killed Hariri three months after the mandate was extended, so I still had three years in office.

Manuela Paraipan: Did you ever think that maybe it would have been better for the country if you had just stepped down?

Emile Lahoud: There would have been civil war. What was it that they wanted? They wanted Hizballah's weapons. Who prevented this from happening? I did. I kept them all together. When I left I said that it was now up to the army, because this government, the one before this one, was not constitutional. They knew I was right, but it had the backing of the United States and of Ms Condoleezza Rice.

Manuela Paraipan: What's your opinion of the May events? Do you believe Hizballah should have done it? Should they have entered Beirut and exercised force inside?

Emile Lahoud: I often said that the cat should not be pushed into a corner. It will scratch. What did they do on the last day? They wanted to know about Hizballah's communication. The minute they knew that, there would be no more Hizballah. It would be finished.

Manuela Paraipan: Do you believe that Hizballah does not have an agenda? They say they won't stop with the Shebaa Farms or the Kfar Shouba hills.

Emile Lahoud: I said it before Hizballah. For as long as we are in a state of war with Israel, we need to be strong. When there will be peace, I will be the first to ask Hizballah to give up its weapons. But from now until that day comes, they want to trick us.

Manuela Paraipan: And the Iranians do not want the very same thing?

Emile Lahoud: Of course not.

Manuela Paraipan: Are you sure? The Iranians, like everyone else, act according to their own interests.

Emile Lahoud: They do, but for me, as I said before.... I saw them acting in their own interest as well as acting for mine. Lebanon became strong in the face of Israel; therefore they are my friends. It’s not that I became their friend and did what they wanted. They became my friends and as the Syrians said, I was difficult to deal with.

Manuela Paraipan: President Lahoud, during your leadership as president there were many times when the students were attacked. They were demonstrating against Syria, against military presence, against the occupation. What did you do? The Lebanese army did not protect its fellow citizens. How do you explain this?

Emile Lahoud: Students held many demonstrations. They used to use water and not one...

Manuela Paraipan: Some were beaten, and I have met a few of them personally. Others were taken to the intelligence headquarters.

Emile Lahoud: There was only one incident where they were beaten...

Manuela Paraipan: It was not only once.

Emile Lahoud: Maybe, but many things happen...

Manuela Paraipan: Why did not you do anything about this?

Emile Lahoud: At that time the responsibility in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan, Khaddam, did not lie with me. And they wanted to show that because I came from the army, I oppress the people. This time they put my picture on the wall, and they started to beat them under my picture, which means they wanted to give the impression that I was ordering this. I saw it on television. I phoned those responsible and asked how this could happen. I told them that they had to punish those who beat the people.

Manuela Paraipan: Did you go to the Lebanese state, to the speaker, to the government and ask why the Syrians were doing this?

Emile Lahoud: It was not the Syrians who were doing it. It was the Lebanese security that did it.

Manuela Paraipan: True, but the orders were from the Syrians.

Emile Lahoud: No, nobody knows, but I think that at the time...

Manuela Paraipan: Who gave the orders then? If it was not from the Lebanese side, who else could it have been?

Emile Lahoud: No, I am not saying... You seem to think that everything in Lebanon is clear-cut. In Lebanon, the president does not give orders. After Taef is the Council of Ministers.

Manuela Paraipan: And you have the Troika.

Emile Lahoud: The Troika has meetings but they cannot decide. It must go through the government and parliament and then you get the decree. When you have the decree, the president must sign it, the others don't. So what happened did not happen in the clear, by orders. It happened subversively. They wanted to give the impression that since the president is from the military, he is beating our children.

Manuela Paraipan: But who were these people?

Emile Lahoud: The ones who were accused were Lebanese not Syrians.

Manuela Paraipan: Fine, but who were they?

Emile Lahoud: You say, they (Syrians) gave the orders, I don't know... I don't know who did that...

Manuela Paraipan: Then you are not sure if they were Syrian or Lebanese orders. How did it happen?

Emile Lahoud: I saw it on television, children being beaten and pushed onto the ground. I called and asked what was happening.

Manuela Paraipan: Whom did you call?

Emile Lahoud: The security on the ground, and they said they would investigate.

Manuela Paraipan: The Lebanese security?

Emile Lahoud: Of course. I did not talk to the Syrians. I had to know what happened. In the Council of Ministers we talked about it, and they said they wanted to wait for the decision of the investigation committee before doing anything.

Manuela Paraipan: What was the conclusion?

Emile Lahoud: The conclusion was that something happened between the security forces and the students. You know how, if you make an investigation, you can write anything you want. No decision was taken in the Council of Ministers and at that time Hariri was the Prime Minister. Why should one have then only talked about the president who had no say in this?

Manuela Paraipan: It was not only Rafiq Hariri's assassination. There were other assassinations and attempted assassinations under your watch. How could this happen? Is Lebanon a battleground? What about the security of the state? You talked about a strong state. How could the state have been strong when you had all these people killed?

Emile Lahoud: Is the state strong in the United States? It is. They killed Kennedy. It does not mean that security was not good in Lebanon. It was the best. However, with all the fundamentalist groups.... it’s not impossible to do something like this.

Manuela Paraipan: Who do you think did it?

Emile Lahoud: When Hariri was killed they displayed the picture of these guys, and they took them out of office. After they were taken, about ten were killed. It was not the president. All four were put out, the majority replaced them, and the assassinations continued. When you put in new people and there is an atmosphere of non-security after the killings, it is very difficult to find who is doing what...

If they'd have let things develop normally, I am sure...

Manuela Paraipan: What do you mean by normal?

Emile Lahoud: Not to remove the security chiefs from office until the investigation is over. It would have been much better, because they knew the ground. It was much easier after they took these guys to do the assassinations.

Manuela Paraipan: Who do you think is behind the assassinations?

Emile Lahoud: Those who gained more from the assassinations were the fundamentalists and the Israelis.

Manuela Paraipan: Fundamentalists? Who? From Tripoli? Which groups?

Emile Lahoud: There are many groups - not only al-Qaeda. There are groups affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Manuela Paraipan: Why would they kill Lebanese politicians? For what purpose?

Emile Lahoud: Why second-guess the investigation? When the report comes out, people will know. I am not going to go before...

In the year 1999, 2000, as we are talking I remember... It was the turn of the Century, and everyone was waiting for the moment. We had people from Australia to India coming to Lebanon for that. I was in office for about a year. Suddenly I got a call that in Dinniyeh one officer and eight soldiers on patrol in a Jeep were killed. This was in the morning. I thought that whoever killed them wanted to show that in Lebanon instead of celebrations, we have security incidents.

Next morning, I told the commander that he has to make a group with two brigades and go up the mountain. He said that it would be cold, and I said that maybe we would be lucky and it would be sunny, but either way, we would have to catch these people. We did have a sunny day, and in four days we had ten soldiers and officers killed. About fifty of theirs were killed, and fifty were put in prison.

At that time, the US ambassador and the US assistant attorney general asked to see me.

Manuela Paraipan: After you had placed these men in jail.

Emile Lahoud: Yes, in five days it was finished. He asked, you know there is a big problem. Why? I asked. He said it had to do with human rights. The head of the group had a US passport. So what? I said. He is a Lebanese but he had another passport. The ambassador said that this man should not have been killed. I replied that the man was shooting at us. We shot back and killed him. They made a big fuss about human rights then. After 9/11, they came and said, please, give us information about these people. They were al-Qaeda. They were doing the same kind of businesses, dealing in spare parts in Germany...

Manuela Paraipan: What were they doing in Lebanon?

Emile Lahoud: They were Lebanese.

Manuela Paraipan: Fine, but what were they doing up in the mountains? Were they training, smuggling - what exactly were their activities, and why did they kill the soldiers?

Emile Lahoud: To make a Muslim state. That is what was in their heads. Maybe they wanted to start like Castro did in Cuba, from the mountains.

Manuela Paraipan: As far as you remember, they were all Lebanese? The leader was Lebanese, but what about the rest?

Emile Lahoud: I am not sure. But mostly Lebanese. We started fighting terrorism but it is still going on, in Tripoli, in Damascus. Let us come together as Lebanese and help each other. Some say that maybe these people are not al-Qaeda thinking and that in the elections they will have their votes. They are the same people that were caught, and some beheaded one of our officers, and they took them out of prison for election reasons in 2005.

Manuela Paraipan: Who is giving them weapons? How are these weapons entering Lebanon? It cannot be from the border with Israel, so it has to be from the border with Syria. Who is guarding the border?

Emile Lahoud: It could be by sea, or it could be by land.

Manuela Paraipan: Assuming it is by land, who is guarding the border?

Emile Lahoud: This is very difficult. For example, the incidents that happened in Israel. Is there a stronger army than theirs? And still arms are smuggled inside Israel. Here they think it is clear-cut... but it’s not like this. On the ground you have valleys, you have mountains. Israel cannot keep Hizballah from going inside the country to carry on its operations. How can Lebanon, which has nothing, stop this? How can Syria stop this? Syria is now paying the price. This is why I said we should all come together instead of accusing each other. Let international justice do its work and don't bring it into the internal affairs of Lebanon.

Manuela Paraipan: Do you believe in the International Tribunal? Do you think it will bring justice?

Emile Lahoud: I believe that international justice has much at stake not to be correct. The UN will pay for this, so they are going to make sure that it is done correctly. Why then use that in internal politics? Like with the officers, just because the UN investigator Detlev Mehlis suggested interrogating them. That was three years ago. Others came afterwards and said that it was not up to the UN to tell us what to do; if we find anything, we can take them out and if not, why keep them imprisoned?

Manuela Paraipan: President Lahoud, what was your relationship with the Palestinians? Why to this day are the camps filled with weapons and militias?

Emile Lahoud: If you want to take it by force there will be many casualties. You see Nahr el Bared. Nahr el Bared is a small camp. You know what price we paid in soldiers and officers?

Manuela Paraipan: What is the solution then? Let them impose their rules?

Emile Lahoud: I planned to do something in this respect, but by killing Mr Hariri, they stopped that. The Syrians were going out slowly, the army was getting stronger and Israel was thinking twice before attacking Lebanon. Then we could, with all our might, Lebanese united, tell the UN that we don't care about the other Arab countries, that it is their business but the Palestinians should not stay here. Start taking them to Palestine or to other places. If you leave them as they are, you cannot take the weapons, unless by force.

"I saw that these people were ready to die for their country"
"I saw that these people were ready to die for their country"
Manuela Paraipan: What are they doing with the weapons? Did you discuss this with the Palestinian leadership? Did you ask what they were doing with the weapons? For what purpose?

Emile Lahoud: Since there were attacks against them many years ago, they were given the right by the Arab League to keep their weapons to defend themselves.

Manuela Paraipan: But Lebanon is a sovereign country...

Emile Lahoud: I agree, but to protect themselves...

Manuela Paraipan: No one attacks them.

Emile Lahoud: For example, other Arab countries keep them in camps with their weapons.

Manuela Paraipan: Do they have weapons in Syria?

Emile Lahoud: Yes, they say that if an airplane comes and hits them they have the right to defend themselves. I don't believe this helps, with the new, modern technology.

Manuela Paraipan: So, this is an excuse, and in fact various parties can and do use the Palestinians. Isn't that a risk worth countering?

Emile Lahoud: The Palestinians are not as much of a risk as they were before. They are weak and they don't have the heavy weaponry. It’s not like it was under Arafat. I don't remember the year, but at some point Palestinians in Saida killed five judges that were presiding the court.

Manuela Paraipan: The judges were Lebanese and the killers were Palestinians.

Emile Lahoud: Exactly. Later on, we found out that Palestinians started to work with Tripoli people, and that's how Nahr el Bared started.

Manuela Paraipan: You mean Palestinians working with Sunni fundamentalists?

Emile Lahoud: Yes.

Manuela Paraipan: Lebanese fundamentalists from Tripoli?

Emile Lahoud: Lebanese with Palestinians, Saudis, lots of Saudis in it, fundamentalists.

Manuela Paraipan: What is your relationship with the Maronite community leaders? With Amine Gemayel, Samir Geagea, General Aoun, Suleiman Franjieh?

Emile Lahoud: Franjieh thinks like I do. He is a strong nationalist. They accused him of being close to Syria. With Amine Gemayel I tried many times. When I was elected President he was the first to call me. I told him that he was always welcome to come to see me. Later, I found he had an agenda from outside. All that we wanted, he did not want. He had his own agenda and his own beliefs. Samir Geagea. I have never seen him and I never talked to him. With Michel Aoun, I sent my son to convince him to return to Lebanon. We needed him because at that time they were using Hariri’s death to start a coup d'etat. He is working well. He is creating a nationalistic feeling by being close to the Muslims.

Manuela Paraipan: Did being labeled pro-Syrian bother you? Would you say you are pro-Syrian?

Emile Lahoud: The Syrians know I am not pro-Syrian, and this is enough. I am a nationalist and this is enough for me. I would not have respected myself if I were anything else but a nationalist. They (the Syrians) are good for Lebanon and that's why we are good together.

Manuela Paraipan: Do you believe in the Maronite reconciliation?

Emile Lahoud: The trouble with Maronites, and just to be frank about it, is that everyone thinks he is a president. This is the mentality. Because of this it is very difficult for them to agree, and we pay a high price. Lebanon was created because of the Maronites. They wanted one country in the whole Middle East for all sects, and Lebanon, as the Pope said is a message that we can live together, and we must prove we can live, but for that we need to be strong and united. Strong we are, we need to be united. Unless they make us fight each other and then we lose everything again.

Manuela Paraipan: As a former President, what role do you see for yourself in today's situation?

Emile Lahoud: When I left, I was asked if I wanted to do a party. Never. I was never in politics. I came by mistake. I mean, I never thought I would be commander to start with. In Lebanon, to reach a position, you need to make interventions left and right and I did not do that. When I became President, I was myself surprised, I did not ask anybody... Here, I'd like to tell you a story. There are many stories, and a book will come out, anyway, the speaker of the House, who used to go up before the presidential elections to know what the Syrians were thinking, met with late President Hafez al-Assad, and he said, what are the inclinations of Syria, what are their thoughts with regard to the presidency? I know all this because I met him afterwards. Hafez al-Assad said that Lebanon has a commander in chief like Fakhreddine.

I forgot to tell you that my mandate as commander was also extended. I reached the age limit, and they gave me three more years. Berri asked, if by this remark, Hafez al-Assad meant that I would also be president, as Fakhreddine was commander and head of state. I told Berri that I didn't know. You keep secrets from me? The speaker asked. I said no, but truly I have no idea. Berri was astonished to find out that although Hafez spoke of me, I never talked to him, not in person, not by phone. I last saw Hafez in 1993, and we were in 1998. Maybe that's why Syrians managed to build a state. They choose the right people for each position, not looking at who is a friend, who is making the money... When I did something good for the army, it bounced back to me. I became President. Why take away from the state? Do something good for it, and it will repay your efforts. This is what I am trying to do by talking, going to TV, writing, seeing people and sending messages.

Manuela Paraipan: What is your relationship with President Michel Sulayman?

Emile Lahoud: I nominated him as commander in chief of the army. I told him then that he is the commander of the national army. When I was in his place, I did not allow even the president to interfere. The army must be separate from politics, and from now I tell you, whatever you do, I will back you up, without asking. I did that. Now he is president, and I hope he will follow the same line as he did as commander in chief.

Manuela Paraipan: What is likely to happen in Lebanon in the next months?

Emile Lahoud: It is very critical. We are going through critical times. On the one hand there are the fundamentalists, and on the other the elections and lots of countries with agendas and interests. If we don't put aside the private interests, and this is difficult to achieve in Lebanon and I know this from my experience as Commander in Chief of the army for nine years and President for nine years, that inside the system you cannot find more than ten honest politicians, though many are outside, but the rest are concerned about individual gains and that cannot make a state. And because it’s critical, I am afraid something will happen.

Manuela Paraipan: Thank you, Mr. President.

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