BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned Friday that Hezbollah was endangering Lebanon by fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in Syria, urging the party to hand over its weapons and back the formation of a neutral Cabinet in Lebanon.
“Hezbollah has taken the decision to enter Syria militarily and fight alongside regime forces, under the assumption that the regime will remain forever,” Hariri said in a televised speech aired during a number of Future Movement-organized iftars.
“What will the party tell the families of the victims who were killed by the dozens in Syria [if Assad falls]? ... Hezbollah took a step into the unknown,” he added.
Hariri said Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria disregarded the interests of Lebanon as a whole but particularly the people of south Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and the southern suburb of Beirut, all strongholds of the resistance group.
The Future Movement leader also said Hezbollah had turned its weapons on the Syrian people instead of the group’s avowed enemy, Israel.
He argued that the Lebanese state could not co-exist with Hezbollah’s arms.
“Lebanon will not live, and will not have the elements of safety in a forest of weapons expanding at the expense of the state ... amid reckless policies that drag the country in foreign wars,” said Hariri, who accused Hezbollah of carrying out an Iranian plan to prevent the fall of Assad.
Hariri, who has been outside Lebanon for almost three years due to security reasons, also said the presence of illegitimate weapons had led to the crippling of the state, with the postponement of parliamentary elections, repeated failures to convene Parliament and inability to form the next Cabinet.
“They [Hezbollah] even want [the state] to be incapable of electing a president nine months from now,” he added.
“The charged [atmosphere] did not arise suddenly or due to events in Syria but it has come about as a result of a series of policies that has transformed the state into the weakest link, in the presence of arms that only showcases [Hezbollah’s] hegemonic power on a daily basis,” he said.
During the speech, Hariri also dismissed a recent announcement to resume National Dialogue by Hezbollah but said his party was nonetheless ready to take part in the all-party talks in order to address the thorny issue of the resistance group’s arms.
President Michel Sleiman has called for the resumption of National Dialogue to discuss his own national defense strategy that would gradually incorporate Hezbollah’s weapons into the military but under the full command of the Lebanese Army.
Hariri questioned the motive behind Nasrallah’s readiness to discuss a defense strategy, saying the resistance group could be seeking a cover for its involvement in the war next door.
“I’m not sure whether the purpose of a defense strategy is to face the Israeli enemy or the Syrian people,” Hariri said, adding that Hezbollah’s readiness for National Dialogue was “mere talk for local consumption.”
“Despite all of that, this is an occasion to affirm our commitment to the logic of Dialogue as an indispensable means to limit sectarian tensions because we have never carried arms,” Hariri said.
He also said Hezbollah’s logic of resistance against Israel was no longer valid, particularly after the party turned its weapons into tools of pressure and intimidation in Lebanon’s political life and its involvement in Syria.
The group’s arsenal, he added, had also contributed to the proliferation of arms in the Lebanon.
He reiterated his party’s position that only the Lebanese state should have a monopoly over arms and decision of war and peace.
Hariri also touched on the stalled Cabinet formation process under Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, urging Hezbollah to mirror the Future Movement’s plans not to take part in the next government.
He also responded to calls by Speaker Nabih Berri for him to return to Lebanon and possibly head the next government.
“There is a prime minister-designate, who has our trust. He is Tammam Salam, who is capable of leading a new government that prevails over all partisan interests,” Hariri said.
“And whoever wants to help form a government should cooperate with Salam and allow for the formation of an executive branch that will manage the affairs of the country and help create an opening in the deadlock,” he added.
Hariri warned any future Cabinet with political representation would be paralyzed over the issue of Hezbollah’s arms and neglect the pressing needs of the Lebanese.
"Leave such a problem that will [paralyze] the government and prevent it from addressing the people's everyday needs to the Dialogue table," he said.
Addressing Hezbollah, Hariri said: “Why don’t you make a sacrifice, if only for once ... and say that you are better than us, and that you are ready not to participate in the government.”
Hariri and his allies in the March 14 coalition have called for the formation of a neutral government while Hezbollah and the March 8 group have demanded a national unity Cabinet based on each party’s parliamentary weight.
During his speech, Hariri said a neutral Cabinet line-up that would resolve outstanding socio-economic issues would also pave the way for a National Dialogue session to address Hezbollah’s arsenal.
“We are not refusing to participate in a government with Hezbollah but we are proposing to Hezbollah that both of us make a sacrifice for the Lebanese,” Hariri said.
He also urged his supporters to back the Lebanese Army regardless of possible mistakes it may have committed against them and said the military should have the sole right to defend the country.
“We want the Army to be a real haven for national stability and the exclusive tool for a strategy to defend the sovereignty, borders and national wealth of Lebanon," he said.
He also called on his supporters to maintain the party’s policy of moderation.
“The difference between moderation and extremism is that instead of calling on the Lebanese to fight each other in Syria, we call on them to reconcile in Lebanon,” he said, referring to Nasrallah’s call for his rivals to fight Hezbollah in Syria and keep Lebanon out of the conflict there.