Interview of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah Secretary General, with Ghassan Ben Jeddou, founder of the pan-Arab and anti-imperialist Al-Mayadeen channel, January 26, 2019.
This live interview, much expected in Israel and the Arab world, lasted for more than 3 hours.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Good evening, Eminent Sayed Hassan Nasrallah.
Hassan Nasrallah: Good evening.
Thank you for being here tonight and granting us so much of your precious time.
Eminent Sayed (descendant of the Prophet), we have received hundreds of thousands of questions (online) to ask you, but I will begin with a remark from Abu Nour, who told me not to forget to begin by saying ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful’ for my 19th interview with Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, in this year 2019.
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, and in God we rely. This is a question asked by thousands (of viewers). Why have you stayed silent since November 10, and decided to speak (only) today?
Hassan Nasrallah: In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Obviously, this silence, or the fact that I stayed away from the media, have nothing to do with health problems, and I will return to this in a moment, because during this period, I was often asked about my health, but I confirm that everything that was said (in the Israeli media) is just lies without any basis of truth. My brain, my heart [Laughs], my body, and before that my soul and my intellectual abilities, with the grace of God, my senses, everything is fine. I do not suffer from any health problems, and I had no health concern whatsoever.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: You did not go (get treatment) in Shiraz (Iran)?
Hassan Nasrallah: [Laughs] If only it were true (Shiraz is one of the most beautiful cities of Iran)! But none of this has happened.On the contrary, in a previous denial, I said to those who asked us and to those who spread these rumors that basically, I had no health problem, thank God, despite the fact that I just turned sixty. Thank God, by the Grace of God Almighty and Exalted, I suffer from no health problems at all, and all that has been said is lies. It is laughable that some writers and some sources speak not only of disease, but say I’m dead, my body has been in a cold room for several days, and the Hezbollah leadership is holding exceptional meetings, etc.
Anyway, I mentioned this issue to call people to (be mindful that) we live in a time where our slogan should be “Ascertain the truth” (Cf. Qur’an, 49: 6, “If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth.”). And I say even more than that. We should only ascertain the truth or falsehood of (credible) information. But when it comes from a compulsive liar, from a fundamentally deceitful and hateful enemy, we should be paying no attention, we shouldn’t be in any way worried nor give it any kind of credence. That’s what I wanted to say by way of introduction.
As for the real reasons (of my silence). First, I don’t like to speak too much or too often, as you know. When there is a special occasion in which I have to speak, I do. We hereby set out the principles which will remain valid in the future (in case this situation happens again). On some occasions, I have to appear and talk, such as the day of commemoration of the martyred Hezbollah leaders, on February 16, I have the obligation to speak, of course: it’s part of our tradition in Hezbollah. There are special occasions when I have to talk at length.
Sometimes there are events and developments that occur, and we study the question of whether I have to speak, or if another of our (Hezbollah) brothers has to do it, etc. We have no use for talking without reason.
The reality is that during the months of December and January, we had no (special) occasions. It turned out that none of our key opportunities –like the Day of the Martyr, the Day of the Martyred leaders, the Day of Ashura, the Al-Quds Day, for example–, especially those of the Hijri (Islamic) calendar, fell during December or January. Therefore, there was no (special) occasion for me to speak.
Second, some events occurred. The important event that took place is what is called Operation Northern Shield, about which we’ll talk tonight with the grace of God. During a special press conference alongside former Chief of Staff of the armed forces (Gadi) Eizenkot, Netanyahou announced something which is more than military measures but less than a war, and he called it Operation Northern Shield. And Netanyahu has engaged in a huge media operation. The truth is that we met with the brothers (Hezbollah cadres) and we did an assessment (of the situation). We had several hypotheses of action, and it was envisaged that I speak two or three days after the announcement of Netanyahu but our discussions have led us to the following conclusion: the best is to let Netanyahu, Eizenkot and the Israelis say whatever they want until the end of the Operation. For it was clear that both Netanyahu and Eizenkot needed this huge media operation, and we’ll discuss it later with the grace of God. We have chosen not to help them, and not to participate in their big media operation. We decided, me and my brothers (cadres) of Hezbollah, not to make any comment on Operation Northern Shield until it ends.
And by the way, to confirm this idea, the mandate of Eizenkot just ended, and to allow him to leave with some kind of achievement –I will evaluate it in a moment–, they announced the end of Operation Northern Shield while it is not even complete. Until yesterday, drilling equipment continued to search for tunnels…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Yesterday?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, until yesterday, Friday, today being Saturday. Today, before coming here, I got in touch with the brothers, and I told them that yesterday, according to their report, drills were still active at the border. What about today (I asked)? They said that today, they are at rest, because it’s Saturday. It didn’t occur to me that they’d be on weekend, I thought the military worked (even) on Saturday.
You see, Eizenkot announced the end of an operation that is not yet finished, and he did so only to be able to count it as one of his personal achievements. So we made the decision to remain silent until the end of the Operation. That’s it.
Similarly, in this context, a few weeks ago, news began to circulate about my health, my death, (emergency care at) Shiraz, (at) a Damascus hospital, Iranian doctors…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: … the Hezbollah Leadership being on full alert…
Hassan Nasrallah: And to tell you the truth, we also consulted with the brothers, and it seemed that the enemy wanted to force me to appear in the media, for me to speak at the timing that suits him. But I do not want to follow their timing. We choose our own timing.
Second, we do not want to establish a principle that whenever a worthless website, a ridiculous author, some information or analyzes say that I am ill or deceased, I have to appear on TV to tell everyone that I’m fine and healthy, because then I would have to appear every day on TV.
That is why I say to all those who love me, and also to the enemy, that we are under no obligation to do this. Will we deny (such gossip) or not? We have no established principle, and we decide our own way (depending on circumstances). This time, we decided to keep silent in order not to commit ourselves (for the next time). Because last time, we have denied (such rumors). If we had done it again this time, we would have (somehow) established a principle that whenever some news, some website, some newspaper or media says that so and so (Nasrallah) is sick and we do not deny, it’d mean that he’s really sick. We do not want to go on this way.
There is also another reason (for my silence). In 2018, I had agreed with you that our annual interview would take place in January, the first month (of the year). I also thought that if I had to make a speech once or twice (before our scheduled interview), our conversation might sometimes be repetitive and boring for the spectators, and I do not want to bore people.
That’s the whole story, with God’s grace.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Thank you very much anyway (for this attention).
Hassan Nasrallah: Anyway, February arrives, and we have three occasions when I have to talk. May God the Almighty and Exalted preserve us all.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: May He grant you health and long life. But I still have a question, Eminent Sayed. In everything you have just said, it’s as if you were speaking to the enemy, the Israeli enemy. But didn’t you have the possibility to reassure your popular base, your masses? In the end, they too were worried. The allies, friends and those who love you were worried.
Hassan Nasrallah: No, they were reassured one way or another (a picture of Nasrallah taken on January 1 was published). There have been inside contacts and inquiries to which we replied, but mere signs from some friends were sufficient to reassure.
The important thing is that even our grassroots begin to understand things, and they must become stronger (against the psychological warfare of the enemy) so it can not reach us and manipulate us about this issue.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Let us therefore evoke the “Operation Northern Shield”, Eminent Sayed, and the question of the tunnels. Undoubtedly, this was a major event, or at least Israel did everything to present it as a very important development, and not only through the media. They brought the issue to the UN Security Council. And Israel said they had discovered Hezbollah tunnels, and destroyed them on the side of occupied Palestine.
I have two clear questions: 1 / What is your first analysis about the tunnels, and 2 / Frankly, were you surprised by the fact that Israel discovered these tunnels?
Hassan Nasrallah: First, all my remarks on the issue of tunnels – and I will speak in detail and as much as you wish, because the Israelis expect it, and I will satisfy their craving, and our friends also expect this. But everything I say will rest on this basis: I am under no obligation to confirm or deny the fact that I or Hezbollah would be those who dug the tunnels. I speak regardless of the question of who dug these tunnels, got it? Because (in these matters), we continue to favor to “leave some uncertainty,” as they say. It is not necessary that we work for the Israelis and provide them with information for free.
So far, the Israeli side claims that it is such party (Hezbollah) who dug the tunnels, but so far they did not provide any real proof. I have no reason to solve this problem for them. Anyway, I am not required to say what it would be unwise to say, and the fact that we conduct our battle with frankness and sincerity does not mean that we should always reveal everything candidly (and with transparency). All we say is true (but some things must remain secret or uncertain).
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: But there are tunnels, right?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, of course, there are tunnels that have been discovered, it is an (undeniable) fact. Let us start from the situation as it appears to be, and comment on these facts. Yes, there were many tunnels in southern Lebanon, regardless of whether they were old or new, whether they were drilled before UNSC Resolution 1701 or after, that is to say before the 2006 war or later (I will not answer this question). Regardless of the question of who dug them, how many there are, what is their (strategic) importance and value (I will not say anything about these issues), yes, there are tunnels.
Israel, after many years, discovered a number of these tunnels, and there was nothing surprising in this. What is really surprising is that these tunnels have remained (secret) for so long, to be discovered only now by the Israelis. Because as you know, our border is very different from the border of Gaza. Our border is rocky terrain, mountainous, etc., and any party tunneling or even anyone using a hammer on the border can not do it easily (in secret) and can be heard by many people. I want to say here that it did not surprise us because it natural (predictable) that such a thing occurs at the border, because Israel, especially since my speech in which I spoke (of the “Promise of Galilee”)… Because I have to remind this fact, which has a strong link with the issue of “Operation Northern Shield” and what happens in the North (of occupied Palestine).
Several years ago, when Ehud Barak was Defense Minister in the Netanyahu government – not the time when Barak was Prime Minister –, (so when Barak was) War Minister in the Netanyahu government, he was acting tough, and he came to the northern border, the border between northern Palestine and southern Lebanon, and made a speech to the Israeli military in which he said: “Get ready for the day when your government will order you to invade southern Lebanon.” The following day (16 February 2011), I had a scheduled speech, and I said: “O soldiers of the Islamic Resistance, get ready for the day when the leadership of the Resistance may ask you to take Galilee.” Ever since this speech and to date, there is an issue named “Galilee”, the “Hezbollah and Galilee” file, and it has a strong link with what happened during the last weeks.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: But one comment, Eminent Sayed, with your permission. You just indicated that the tunnels could be ancient or recent. According to your information, are there ancient tunnels dating before UN Resolution 1701 (12 August 2006)?
Hassan Nasrallah: Naturally. And it confirms …
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Naturally there are?
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, of course, and this confirms the failure of the Israeli intelligence. This is also what I wanted to emphasize this evening. According to my information, at least one of the tunnels that has been discovered in recent weeks dated from 13 or 14 years. It was dug well inside the land of occupied Palestine. This means that the Israeli intelligence, the IDF, the Israeli security services and all the Israeli technology, for 14 years, have been unable to discover the existence of the tunnel in their own territory. And some Israeli media reported that one of these tunnels was estimated to be 13 years old, and this is an accurate estimate, very close to the truth. I confirm that some of these tunnels predate the July War (2006) and Resolution 1701, and it confirms a failure of Israeli intelligence for 13 full years.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: According to your information, were all the existing tunnels discovered?
Hassan Nasrallah: This point should remain uncertain (for the enemy). And I want to ask a real question… Of course, I can continue to answer your questions, and if I have something to say on this subject on which you will not have questioned me, I’ll say it by myself [Laughs]. Among the important points in this case is that the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army and former Defense Minister [Moshe] Ya’alon…
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: (In position) two years ago.
Hassan Nasrallah: He said during Operation “Northern Shield”, as they call it, he told the Northern settlers: “We knew the existence of these tunnels for two years…” For the settlers themselves have said that they had been reporting to the army for two years that there were signs of tunneling operations at the border or within the North (of occupied Palestine), and the army has denied this categorically. What did Ya’alon tell them? He said: “Yes, there were tunnels and tunneling, but we lied to settlers in order to deceive the enemy.” My question to all settlers in the North of occupied Palestine is as follows: Today, how do you know if Netanyahu, Eizenkot and the new Chief of Staff are lying to you or telling the truth when they say that there are no more tunnels in the North? You must make sure of this.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: All these events, do they mean that your threat to seize Galilee has been defeated and is no longer relevant? For when Netanyahu announced the end of the Operation which he named “Northern Shield” – and you surprise us today by informing us that in reality, the Operation is not over, and that research continues…
Hassan Nasrallah: They continue to search for tunnels, yes.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: So the Operation is still ongoing. Despite this, Netanyahu held a press conference where he was elated and boasting, stating that they had ended all (threats) and basically dismissed this danger. Does this mean that the threat to the Galilee has been definitively ruled out?
Hassan Nasrallah: The achievement he presented to his people was false and misleading. When he promised that the threat was over, he was deceiving them. I will discuss this point precisely. When he organized the (first) press conference, with Eizenkot at his side, he said they would begin an Operation in the North and find the tunnels, stating that one of the roles and objectives of these tunnels was to prepare the Operation (to Liberate) Galilee, as promised by Hezbollah. First, from the media point of view, he did us a great favor, and it’s one of the reasons for our silence.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Netanyahu?
Hassan Nasrallah: Netanyahu, yes.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: How?
Hassan Nasrallah: I’ll explain. I said that we would talk about this point in detail. First, Netanyahu, Eizenkot and their team, in general, always behave with Arab threats, Arab countries and the Arab armies, and even with the Arab Resistance movements, by taking them lightly and denigrating them. But with this statement, Netanyahu said to the Israeli society that what Hezbollah said about the Operation (to Liberate) Galilee was a serious and truthful thing, and that Israel considers the matter with the utmost seriousness, and made plans on this basis (considering that Hezbollah is serious and able to seize Galilee). And they announced “Operation Northern Shield” to defeat this project of ours.
And I tell you more than that. Everything we see today (on the Israeli-Lebanese border), the building of walls and placement of huge cement blocks, and even the transformation of the geography (by colossal excavation works conducted since 2015), even the disputes with Lebanon about the sovereignty over certain hills, the real reason for all this is Israel’s fear about the suspected Liberation of Galilee. For I have only said that it was a possibility. I said, “It is possible that…”, and they are frightened to this extent. What would it have been if we had said it was a certainty, huh? We have not yet reached the stage where we say it’s a certainty. The time has not yet come – it will come (later), with the grace of God.
All measures taken (by Israel) at the border confirmed that they consider Lebanon with confidence (in the seriousness of our threats). (They say): “If Hezbollah said that during the next war, they could invade Galilee, it means that they are able to do so.” They did not say it was (merely) hype, psychological warfare, (vain) pretensions from our part, the kind of (thunderous but worthless) speeches that some Arabs would make, and so there would be no importance to it. That’s why all this money is being spent on the border – as I said, for the construction of walls, (safety) measures, changing the very geography (flattening hills, erecting mounds, digging trenches, etc.).
Moreover, the largest military drills throughout Israel’s history took place late 2017, and this drill that lasted for a week was entirely defensive. A full week in defense of Galilee and the North! This is excellent from our point of view. If, for my part, I wanted to convince the Israelis, the Israeli society and the IDF that if some day we took the decision to enter Galilee, we really would do it, it would surely require hard work from me. But Netanyahu spared me these efforts, he and Eisenkot. Of course, he did it for personal (electoral) reasons, not to oblige us.
Second, the other favor he did us is that he brought fear and even terror in the heart of all North settlers. (He did us this huge favor) free of charge! And some Israeli (figures), some of his opponents, said so. And on foreign TV channels, I saw Israeli settlers say that before Operation “Northern Shield”, they were reassured, convinced that there were no tunnels, and that all they feared was missiles falling on their heads in case of war, and so they built fortified underground shelters (to cope with this threat). But if they do not know from where (the Hezbollah fighters) will emerge, where can they hide? That’s what they said.
Netanyahu, also for his personal objectives, to which I will return in a moment, by the enormous hype he did around the Operation “Northern Shield”, which in truth did not require such a fuss, also did us a great favor in psychological warfare, by bringing terror, a feeling of helplessness and panic into the heart of all settlers in the North of occupied Palestine. You must be confident, Professor Ghassan, that from the day Operation “Northern Shield” started, every time a settler in the northern colonies will hear someone use a small hammer – in Lebanon, it is called “shakouch” [Laughs] -, he’ll call the Israeli Army and tell them he heard the sound of a hammer. All that is a gift from Netanyahu.
This is why we stayed silent. We said, “Okay, he does us all these huge favors, why should we stop him? May he keep talking!” That’s the second or third point. But the most important is the last point (which I will mention now).
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Incidentally, I fear that you just gave a secret watchword to your supporters in south Lebanon, asking them all to use their hammers (often in order to terrorize the Israeli settlers).
Hassan Nasrallah: [Laughs] They will answer this call, with the grace of God.
And the third or fourth point is that Netanyahu and Eizenkot – I’ll discuss a new point, let me explain it in detail – deceived the Israeli people. When they say that Operation “Northern Shield” is over because they have discovered and destroyed or closed (all) tunnels, it is… (a blatant lie) [Laughs]. Netanyahu is not a general, but Eizenkot considers himself a general, a leading thinker on strategic issues, a visionary, and we would expect valuable expertise from him. If he is a general, well-versed in military actions, could he consider as plausible that in a vast border area – around a hundred kilometers -, if Hezbollah wants to invade Galilee, we would limit ourselves to 4 or 5 tunnels in which we’d cram thousands of fighters to bring them into Galilee and capture this territory? It’s completely insane militarily speaking.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: How are you going to take Galilee?
Hassan Nasrallah: [Laughs] Ask the enemy (Israel) to tell you! Their generals understand these issues – they understand them all, and I recognize the enemy’s ability to understand -, but sometimes their personal interests outweigh their intelligence, and they lie and even deny the truth. But Israeli generals, who understand this, declared that Hezbollah does not need tunnels to enter Galilee. The nature of our borders and the geography of the land, and even our demographics, are very different, and are factors that favor us. And it’s the same problem that Israel always had and spoke about since Yithzak Rabin, a historic military leader of that entity. To come into Galilee, no need for tunnels. Certainly, the tunnels can be an extra asset, in a partial and limited extent, but an operation of this magnitude, if we take this decision one day, will require the entire border: the hills, valleys, mountains, etc. And I tell them that they don’t know from where (we’ll emerge)…
And once again, I merely said “If we decide (to enter Galilee)”, it’s only a possibility. Because the decision to go to Galilee will be taken in the event of a war launched against Lebanon, and that’s when we’ll see if we enter Galilee or not; we are not talking of an action initiated by us, and I specify it to refute any accusation or illusion that would make some people say that the Sayyed (Nasrallah) wants to start a war, or threatens to go to war, no: this is a defensive perspective. They will not know from where we’ll come: from land, from the underground, from the skies, from the heights… Some time ago, a Lebanese TV analyzed the possibility of the use of motorcycles that can overcome obstacles of 2, 3 or 4 meters, and it is known that Hezbollah uses such bikes (to approach tanks and destroy them, etc.)… [Laughs]
Anyway, personally, I laughed when I heard Netanyahu and Eizenkot declare that the operation of (Liberation of) Galilee and the danger of such an operation were over because of the discovery of the tunnels. Firstly there is a fundamental flaw in this idea because the Operation (to Liberate) Galilee is not limited to the issue of tunnels, and there is also another flaw in this assessment, namely that they have no way of knowing that all tunnels were discovered.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Let us sum up your remarks. First, in your strategy, it is not necessary to enter Galilee and seize it, but you can be forced to do so if Israel attacks Lebanon and launches a broad offensive or any extensive war, and then your military plans might include to seize Galilee. And if you decide to seize Galilee, you say to the Israelis that this can be achieved in different ways: by tunnels, with motorbikes, thousands of fighters who could arrive from the skies, etc. But this long cement wall, Eminent Sayed, will it not cripple you? Especially that it is in a region – we’ll talk about it later – which is disputed. It is a Lebanese territory, but disputed between you and occupied Palestine (Israel).
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, such are our military plans. To defend our country, it is our right to take all possible defensive measures. This is our doctrine. Some (opponents in Lebanon) do not agree, but that’s their problem. Let somebody else first take all defensive measures to protect our country, and then we’ll withdraw. But as long as there is no alternative (to Hezbollah against Israel), which is the case to date, we consider ourselves responsible for the defense of our country. As Israel keeps threatening Lebanon of War, a War of destruction, massive displacement of the population and explosion – you heard the Israeli statements about it -, it is our right to use all our strength points.
One aspect of our plan, yes, we say it quite frankly, part of our written plan and of our field preparations, for which we train and we make drills, for which we are preparing and planning – we are already ready, our preparations have been completed –, yes, one aspect of our plan is to enter Galilee. But this plan will be triggered only during the war, according to its development. During the war, we will decide if we enter Galilee or not. I will not give categorical information to the Israeli enemy on this subject (I leave it in limbo), but I want to confirm that this is part of our operational plan, just as Israel has plans (to invade Lebanon).
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: So you are capable to enter Galilee.
Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, we are capable, with God’s grace, and this wall… The important thing is that we have the capacity (to seize Galilee). When this ability is in our hands, the decision to implement it or not depends on field data, circumstances and interests. Yes, we have this ability, no doubt about it. We had it for years. And after our experience in Syria, it became much easier for us than what we imagined or thought (before having implemented these capabilities in a real war).
As for the walls and fortifications they set, about which the Quran told us more than 1400 years ago, – “They will not fight you (even) together, except in fortified townships, or from behind walls.” (Quran, 59, 14). These cowards are hiding behind their walls, even these walls, we found them a parade with the grace of God.
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: What is it?
Hassan Nasrallah: I’m not going to tell you, of course. [Laughs]
Ghassan Ben Jeddou: Do not reveal your military plan, but how?
Hassan Nasrallah: There are many possibilities. Nothing is insurmountable. There is always a solution. They are able to think and so are we, but (in this field), our (intellectual) abilities are superior to theirs. The important thing is that we use our brains, that’s all it takes. […]