Toni Nissi is an old friend and a proud Lebanese patriot. While being an engineer by profession, he has devoted his time and energy contributing to the betterment of his country. Toni is President of the Committee for the UN Security Council Resolutions on Lebanon, and Secretary General of the Council for the Cedar Revolution. Toni Nissi is an experienced lobbyist, skilled in International Relations and advocacy. He works on many sensitive files with the UN Security Council (UNSC), the US, and the European Union. He lobbied for the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, and UNSC Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701. He is currently the Vice President of the International Christian Union in charge of Middle Eastern affairs. He resides with his family in East Beirut.
Joseph Puder (JP): To what extent do Lebanese feel their connection to Lebanon’s Phoenician past?
Toni Nissi (TN): Lebanon used to be a part of Phoenicia for a long period of time. Perhaps the closest community to be identified with the Phoenicians are the Aramaic Christians. These days Aramaic Christians have several organizations working on teaching the Syriac language and rehabilitating the Aramaic heritage. However, as you know, Lebanon today is a multicultural and multi-confessional country and four years ago it was declared by the United Nations as the Academy of the Civilizations Dialogue.
JP: Would you please describe to our readers the extensive control Hezbollah has on Lebanon?
TN: Hezbollah is controlling the political and military decisions of all the Lebanese institutions by imposing its project, its ideology, and its will on all the official decisions. The Foreign Affairs Ministry is serving Hezbollah’s project and is reflecting Hezbollah’s will. As long as Lebanon is unable to form a government or elect a president against the will of Hezbollah, Lebanon is no longer sovereign. Hezbollah controls such crucial decisions as war and peace. Hezbollah protects the corrupt people inside and outside the government by virtue of its power. Hezbollah, as we know for fact, is not only a militia that follows Iran, it is in essence Iran in control of Lebanon. Hezbollah’s Secretary General has confirmed on several occasions that is, in fact, the case announcing that Iran’s funding, its weapons, and its orders come from Iran, and specifically from Ayatollah Khamenei.
JP: Are the Saudis successful at countering Tehran’s influence?
TN: Lebanon, by virtue of receiving a constant flow of cash, sophisticated arms from Iran, and given the corrupt political figures who sold out, has provided Hezbollah with influence and power. Lebanon is therefore under direct Iranian occupation. This state of affairs is opposed by most of the Lebanese people, and it is imposed on them against their will. The Lebanese people are now going to the streets holding the Lebanese flags with one slogan written on the red area of the Lebanese flag, which is: “Iran out.”
Unfortunately, the Lebanese people will not be able to defeat the Iranian occupation alone. Hezbollah’s role of destabilizing the region will end up by transforming it to be a part of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The Lebanese people are powerless to change that. It is the duty of the free world, and the friends of Lebanon everywhere, as well as the impacted countries, to form one front to defeat the Iranian occupation. We are seeing that the Lebanese people have been left to their destiny – to Hezbollah’s influence. Lebanon was abandoned by their supposed friends and allies including Saudi Arabia. We are watching the Arab world and the international community retreat, as if they are accepting the dominant role of Hezbollah, and not hearing all the voices asking for their help to be saved from the Iranian revolution.
JP: The PLO triggered the Lebanese civil war, and Hamas is now seeking to open a new front against Israel in Southern Lebanon. How are the Lebanese Armed Forces and the government reacting to that?
TN: Under the Iranian occupation all the terrorist groups in the Middle East including Hamas may find a safe haven in Lebanon, controlled by Hezbollah. Hamas has existed in the Palestinian Lebanese refugee camps for years now. Iran has decided to bring non-Lebanese militias into Lebanon, as well as train them. This policy is being implemented by Hezbollah, which is not only Iran’s proxy in Lebanon but throughout the world. And if you look at what is happening inside Lebanon you will find every Iranian militia and proxy such as the Houthis being facilitated. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and many others are on Lebanese soil. The Lebanese government is being directed by Hezbollah, and it complies with its wishes and demands. When Hezbollah wishes it, the government will stop functioning, as we have seen lately. The Lebanese army, that we Lebanese respect and admire, acts according to the government’s decisions. That’s why we believe that the army itself will never act without direct orders from the government. As long as we are under Iranian occupation the Lebanese army has its hands tied.
JP: Many in the international community consider Lebanon a failed state. Do you agree with that description?
TN: If you look at the definition and the requirements of the failed state as described by the rules and regulations of the United Nations (UN), you will discover in no time, and without any effort that Lebanon nowadays is a failed state. We actually held several conferences and have written several papers and memorandums asking the UN to declare Lebanon as a failed state and to take the proper legal actions based on this declaration. It seems, however, that for now, the free world and Lebanon’s friends haven’t decided yet to take the responsibility for such a declaration.
JP: In your estimations, what are the prospects for a peace treaty between Israel and Lebanon?
TN: I believe that the Middle East is changing and that Lebanon may be a part of the Abraham Accords. Lebanon and Israel have to start by the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701 including getting back to the 1949 agreement between Lebanon and Israel and finding a solution to the land border and the Maritime border demarcation. I believe that both people in Israel and Lebanon deserve to live in peace and prosperity as full sovereign nations.
JP: How can the US and the free world help Lebanon?
TN: The free world needs to listen to the daily cries, demonstrations, and sacrifices of the Lebanese people, and help them regain their sovereignty by supporting the Lebanese people in implementing the National Pact. The National Pact is based on Lebanon’s neutrality, through an international conference that would lead to: A) UNSC resolutions on Lebanon, B) Resolving the situation with the Palestinian and Syrian refugees, C) Economic reform, D) Fully monitoring and inspection of elections in Lebanon.