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ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek

Lebanon’s stability is hanging on by a thread. There is war raging on its border; Syria, the economy has all but collapsed, the central government is extremely weak, and there are over 2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees. So when ISIS attacked the Bourj al-Barajneh district in southern Beirut recently, it is just one more problem that the Lebanese have to deal with.

I spoke with Andre Vltchek about the present and the future of Lebanon. Andre Vltchek is a writer and a journalist who has written extensively about the Middle East, and who was actually present in Lebanon during the recent ISIS attack. – Souad Sharabani

***

Souad Sharabani: until recently, relatively to the rest of the Middle East, Lebanon has been calm Do you agree with that?

Andre Vltchek: No, Lebanon was tremendously affected by the wars in Iraq and Syria. It has over two million Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Not to mention the Palestinian refugees. Two million new refugees is an enormous toll for such a small country. European Union is claiming they cannot coop with a million refugees in the entire continent.

You know those terrorist cells were dormant for months and years, in the capital of Beirut. Although Hezbollah was fighting ISIS in the northern border, the northern front. But the rest of those terrorists like ISIS were sitting dormant all over the country and in particular in Beirut, and they were waiting for the opportune moment to strike. ISIS did strike Lebanon in 2012 and 2013 but nothing as horrific as we have witnessed recently.

Souad Sharabani: Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, sent troops into Syria to fight on the side of Assad’s Army. Why did he do that?

Andre Vltchek: Hezbollah fighting ISIS is something very ideological, since Hezbollah’s followers see the destabilization of Syria as yet another imperialist act of the West. As you know Hezbollah was fighting the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in 2006. Furthermore, Hezbollah is very much opposed to the hegemony of Saud Arabia in the region. So it is logical to see Hezbollah fighting against the Wahhabi movement that is supported both by the Gulf and the West.

Souad Sharabani: Who is supporting ISIS in Lebanon?

Andre Vltchek: You have a sector of the population who believe that the radical approach is the only future for Lebanon. Furthermore, the destabilizing of Syria and destabilizing of the Middle East from Iraq, to Libya, to Syria, is sending millions of refugees all over the region. Among the displaced Syrian and Iraqi refugees there is a very small percentage of Jihadists, that hide among the refugees and they join the dormant Lebanese cells. These cells stay dormant for a long time. They wait for the moment that they can perform a spectacular action from their point of view meaning inflict as many casualties as possible.

Again this situation did not come out of the blue. It was expected that Western support of Syrian oppositions against Assad, and also supporting many Jihadist groups. Arguably they were making life of ISIS very easy by supplying them directly or in directly in Turkey and also in Jordan.

Souad Sharabani: We know about the wars in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya and now possibly in Lebanon. What are the benefits for Israel, and the West in destabilizing the region?

Andre Vltchek: at best it is a perpetual conflict because it feeds its military complex and its desire to control. The never-ending conflicts in the Middle East are benefiting its military production and its military complex.

Souad Sharabani: Let’s talk about Saudi Arabia; We know they have been arming and giving financial aid to Jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, fighting the Shiites ethnic group in Yemen, but are they also willing to see the destabilization of Lebanon?

Andre Vltchek: Saudi Arabia is very involved in Lebanon financially and in many other ways. What we do know there is a link between the terrorist organizations and Wahhabist teachings that comes from Saudi Arabia. There are fractions of the Lebanese government that are very closely linked to Saudi Arabia, as there are fractions of the government that are closely linked to Iran.

But the recent bombing of the suburb of Beirut did not come directly from Saudi Arabia. ISIS has been pounded by the Russian air force, and the Syrian government forces are gaining ground. Russians are intensely trying to get rid of ISIS. And as a result ISIS feels threatened. So they are panicking that they will lose in Syria, they would like to have another geographic location where they will be able to hold power and that is in Lebanon, or at least northern Lebanon.

Souad Sharabani: If ISIS starts getting stronger in Lebanon, do you think Iran would be drawn into the conflict because of the Shiite population and Hezbollah?

Andre Vltchek: No I don’t think so. But Iran is already very closely allied to several political factions inside the political establishment in the Lebanese government and of course it is closely allied to Hezbollah.

Now we have to remember, in the West, Hezbollah is portrayed as a terrorist organization mainly because of its decisive stance against Israel. But Hezbollah is the only inclusive force in Lebanon. By inclusive I mean they do not only assist their supporters, the Shiites, they extend help to other Muslims and to Christians.

You know Lebanon is absolutely a destabilized country economically. And Hezbollah is the only social force in the country that helps the people. Hezbollah is an extremely respected force even among Christians. When you talk to Ashrafiya or to most people even if they do not support Hezbollah they respect them tremendously for the things they are doing. They are a pure socialist movement that acts by its strict socialist doctrine. It is not the perfect force, but the only one in Lebanon that works for the good of the people.

The West and Israel do not want you to know that about Hezbollah. They want you to believe that Hezbollah is a fundamentalist terrorist movement. So Hezbollah is a sore in the eyes of the West and Israel.

Souad Sharabani: So now what is next? What is going to happen in Lebanon?

Andre Vltchek: What is going to happen in Lebanon is not yet certain. Very disturbing things are happening there and people are fed up. They do not want sectarianism they want unity. Most Lebanese do not want to be seen as Sunni, or Shiite or Christians or Druze. They want to be seen as Lebanese. They are fed up with the present economic system when everything is collapsing in a country that prides itself as being Paris of the Middle East yet its is sinking socially and economically. The Country is producing almost nothing. You are talking of a country, which lives from remittances, that lives from direct and indirect foreign aid, and from the production of narcotics. We just had a situation, which I wrote an article about, where one of Saudi Arabia’s Princes tried to smuggle two tons of narcotics out Rafic Hariri international airport. This was at the end of October so imagine the entire Bekaa Valley is producing drugs. Everyone talks about it. It is not a secret.

So people are fed up in Lebanon. It is not only the issue of ISIS, or other terrorist groups like al-Nusra, which is armed, helped and supported by Turkey and other NATO countries and western alliances. So Lebanon could collapse. It is a very volatile and dangerous situation.

I don’t really know what the future of Lebanon will be. But what I can see clearly is the more the Russians squeezed ISIS out of Syria, the more panic we see amongst ISIS, and they will install themselves in Lebanon. The Lebanese will inherit them from Syria and the devastation we saw in Syria will come to Lebanon. It would be very easy to destabilize a much smaller country than Syria with a weaker central government than in Syria.

Souad Sharabani: It feels like wherever you turn in the Middle East there is more destruction and there is no end in sight to the destruction and suffering.

Andre Vltchek: There is no Middle East any more. We are talking about the oldest and the greatest cultures of the world with great humanist traditions, not only religion. There is nothing left, a complete devastation. Totally uprooted. You have people who are running the Gulf countries and the Middle East who are basically criminals. Basically, there is nothing left there except confusion.

As one of the greatest Turkish writer said to me. In Turkey and in all the Middle East

People are very smart and they know perfectly well what is going on but they are all feeling helplessness hopelessness’ and full of cynicism. Because you either accept the game and try to get ahead, or you will be crushed. And Lebanon is a great example of this. You go to Beirut and you see the unimaginable contrast between the rich and poor. If you go to Abu Dhabi after Zaitunay Bay in Beirut, Abu Dhabi bay would look pathetic. Zaitunay Bay has all these yachts and speedboats; Ferraris and Maseratis racing in the middle of the night, but there is no public transportation during the day. You cannot even move because of the total collapse of public transportation. You see the mansions and skyscrapers going up everywhere but when you look around there is misery and no one wants to deal with it. It is all show. This is what the Middle East is. Their leaders with the encouragement of the West have injected the lowest type of consumerism, of capitalism.

Souad Sharabani: You left us on a very low note with no hope for the future of the Middle East and more specifically of Lebanon.

Andre Vltchek: Before we leave it on this hopeless note. I think there are still many positive elements. People in Lebanon are educated. Lebanon has great artists great filmmakers, musicians and writers. All are watching the world and they follow closely what is happening in the world. I believe it has hit rock bottom and it can only go up from here. It is going to prevail.

Souad Sharabani: I hope so.

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Soud Sharabani for 30 years has been a freelance radio journalist based in Toronto Canada. She has worked for the CBC and BBC, as well as for PEN INTERNATIONAL.

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