A proud native of Lebanon, Joseph A. Hakim is the President of the International Christian Union (ICU), an umbrella organization for Christian minorities throughout the Middle East. Hakim represents what we consider the “American Dream.” He arrived in America with $500 and became a most successful businessman. His attention however, has been focused on the plight of Christians in the Muslim Middle East, and the destruction of his original homeland – Lebanon, by Hezbollah. When asked about visiting the country of his birth, he replied, “It is no longer the country I once knew.” In his conversation with this reporter, he stressed the need for outside intervention in Lebanon in order to save it.
Joseph Puder (JP): Israel’s new Prime Minister Yair Lapid threatened to “rein in” Hezbollah if it interfered with Karish gas extraction platform on the Mediterranean Sea, within Israel’s territorial waters. He asked the Lebanese government to control Hezbollah following Hezbollah’s launch of three drones aimed at the Karish platform. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shot them down. Do you think the current Lebanese government is capable of “reining in” Hezbollah?
Joseph Hakim (JH): Frankly, Israel has threatened action a lot lately but delivered nothing. Sorry to be harsh, but each time Israel threatens action and does nothing, it makes Hezbollah and its supporters bigger and stronger, not only among the Shiite community but in the nation as a whole. In fact, Hezbollah declares to all Lebanese that “Israel is afraid of our missiles.” I therefore believe that if Israel cannot deliver, it shouldn’t threaten, since it makes its enemy Hezbollah more popular.
As you know, Lebanon is a multi-religious nation, and Hezbollah managed to divide and weaken the non-Shiite communities, every political and religious group. They (Hezbollah) caused them to fight among themselves, while uniting the Shiite-Muslim community.
If Lebanon were to derive gas off-shore today, it would be supporting gangsters and terrorism, and fuel more conflict in the region. In short, it would make Iran and Hezbollah stronger. It makes me sad to say it, but Lebanon should be banned right now from drilling for gas as long as Iran controls the country. Gangsters and thieves control today’s Lebanon. Lebanon has to deal with radical and undemocratic ideologies held by Hezbollah, Palestinians, and Syrian refugees that sharply contrasts with the Lebanon that produced such intellectual figures as Gibran K. Gibran, Charles Malik, Mikael Nehime, May Ziadeh, to name a few. Lebanon has moved away from producing high-minded people, and instead is producing poverty and radicalism.
The answer to your question is simply NO. The Lebanese government cannot “rein in” Hezbollah, because Hezbollah is much stronger than the government and the Lebanese army. Hezbollah is armed, financed, and controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Hezbollah is in a way the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is the most powerful figure in Lebanon today, and he and not the Lebanese President, sets the agenda for the nation. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the actual dominant figure, gives orders to Nasrallah and the agenda is a purely Iranian one. Nasrallah seeks to create an Iran-like Islamic Republic of Lebanon on the border with Israel.
To conclude, in 1982, Israel was able to expel the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon. Therefore, if Israel together with the free democratic community can help rid Lebanon of Hezbollah and Iran, Lebanon could be prosperous again, and establish a true democracy.
JP: What kind of presence does Iran have in Lebanon?
JH: Iran today controls the ports, the sea and air borders, as well as the judicial system, treasury, and national security. Iran has a decisive say on military and political decisions. Iran through Hezbollah can decide who is to be Lebanon’s president and the same goes for the country’s parliament. The entire government apparatus depends on Iran and Hezbollah. Lebanon at the present time is like an orchestra that is conducted by Hezbollah and Iran. Shiite politician Nabih Berri, the perennial Speaker of the House, runs the Lebanese parliament, and he and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah are partners in controlling the political arena, while the radical Shiite Hezbollah controls the military. The Christian groups, the Sunni-Muslims, and the Druze are divided; some support the Saudis while others are in cahoots with Hezbollah, Iran, and the Shiite bloc. Iran is using the old British system of divide and rule in Lebanon.
JP: Does the Christian community in Lebanon have any power to unite the Lebanese people against Hezbollah?
JH: The Christians are the most divided community in Lebanon. It has been very easy to bribe party leaders with millions of dollars and buy their loyalty. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun is essentially Nasrallah’s puppet. Lebanese politicians will trade their family for a dollar. None of them practice what they preach; they simply follow the dictate of the dollar sponsor. In the 1990’s, the Christian militias disarmed, leaving the Lebanese people at the mercy of the radical Shiites, unable to enforce democratic progress in the country, let alone bring down Hezbollah.
JP: What happened to the March 14 anti-Syrian Lebanese Alliance?
JH: On April 30, 2001, a group of mostly Christian politicians, intellectuals, and business people gathered at the town of Qornet Shehwan, on Mount Lebanon, with the blessings of the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, to form a coalition. Their objective was the withdrawal of all the Syrian forces from Lebanon, and the recovery of full Lebanese sovereignty. Then, on December 12, 2003, the 108th US Congress passed the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, and Sunni-Muslim leader and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, not wanting the Christians to receive the sole credit for expelling the Syrians, joined the alliance. Following Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005, the movement was named the March 14 Alliance. Ultimately, the Alliance disintegrated due to disagreement among the component groups, jealousies, and political rivalries. The March 14 Alliance was also weakened by infiltration of hostile elements. The Alliance did, however, achieve its one goal: the removal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon.
JP: Lebanon is currently a failed state. What solutions do you have to change that?
JH: If the current situation continues, Lebanon will remain a failed state, run by the dark forces of radicalism, terrorism, and corruption, represented by Hezbollah and Iran. And if Hezbollah cannot be removed electorally, then Lebanon has to be divided into four separate confessional entities: Christian, Sunni-Muslim, Shiite-Muslim, and Druze self-governing mini-states, with Beirut serving as the federal capital with equal representation between Christians and Muslims.
There is a special role to be played by the Lebanese Diaspora, if Lebanon is to be saved. A political party formed by the Diaspora would have two headquarters: in New York, and Beirut. The Party would raise the funds needed to sustain the economic and social needs of the Lebanese people. Instead of Diaspora Lebanese contributions being stolen by corrupt Beirut politicians, the Party would distribute the money where it is needed. Furthermore, the Party should be in charge of monitoring the distribution of foreign aid to Lebanon.
Until such a Diaspora Party is formed, the International Christian Union (ICU) could serve as a monitoring body for distribution of international aid to Lebanon. ICU has reliable and adequate manpower on the ground in Lebanon, and shares the western values of donor parties.