The war in Syria directly affects Lebanon. The two countries have a long-standing relationship, throughout which Syria has been eager to exercise control over Lebanon. In particular, the Syrian Baath regime sees Lebanon as a small city of its own nation, and the internal conflicts in Tripoli are linked to the developments in Syria.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), is seen as key in the delicate political balance between the two nations; his actions in relation to the subject have triggered serious discussion.
He believes that Lebanon is in a state of despair, and that the ongoing Syrian crisis will lead to the emergence of new political entities in the region. But he dismisses any possibility that the tiny country could be divided. Detailing Druze support for the uprising against the 12-year rule of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, he says Druze members of the Syrian regime are slowly abandoning the sinking ship.
On Israel, he claims, it will receive the greatest benefit from the crisis. He believes the violence in Syria could be a golden opportunity for Israel to expel Palestinians from Gaza to Jordan, clearing Israel of Arabs while strengthening the foothold of Palestinians in Jordan.
We spoke with Jumblatt at his house in the Mukhtara region of the Druze Mountains. Jumblatt makes occasional statements through the March 18 Movement, which supports the opposition groups.
Based on the clashes in Tripoli, we could say that Lebanon is moving back towards the old days. Why is that?
The Syrian regime has its partners in the north of Lebanon. One of them is Ali Eid, leader of the Alawites. He has Sunni and Shiite partners as well. The people, on the other hand, extend support to the resistance and uprising in Syria. Some people and parties want to make the north of Lebanon involved in the ongoing controversy. We have to be alert to make sure that we do not give them this pretext. By the clashes in the north of Lebanon, we would justify an intervention by the [Bashar al] Assad regime in the domestic affairs of Lebanon on the grounds of protecting his Alawite supporters -- it is wise to refer to “some” of the Alawites, because the majority of the Alawites do not support him. Lebanon has to be careful about this.
Do you think the Assad regime will successfully protect its supporters?
The regime interferes with internal affairs, arguing that its supporters in Lebanon are in great danger. Everybody is now aware how insane Assad is. We all see what he has done in Aleppo, Hama and other parts of Syria. There are 1.5 million homeless people in the country. The neighboring countries host 500,000 Syrian refugees. Why should we give him a reason for intervention in the domestic affairs of Lebanon?
Hezbollah says it is backing the Assad regime. Does this lead to any problems in your relations with them?
We are not political partners; we are in the same government. This was a necessary coalition due to the conditions in 2011. Back then, there was no uprising in Syria. This is the subject matter that we cannot agree on with Hezbollah. They support the Assad regime, but we are opposed to it. That we are in the same government does not necessarily mean that we have political agreement. We were forced to make a coalition government to address potential internal problems in Lebanon.
Some claim that the West aims at dividing Lebanon into cantons. Do you think that this is possible?
Lebanon will not be divided; it is not like Bosnia or other similar countries. It is a tiny country. Religions and sects live together in this country. Some right-wing groups sought to divide Lebanon in 1975 and 1976, but they failed. The war lasted 17 years, but in the end there was no partition.
What will happen to the Druze in Syria?
Things were bad for them at the beginning, but it is better now. The Druze support the popular uprising in Syria. Nearly 10 high-level military officers have left the army so far -- I cannot give any names due to security concerns. The Druze are also active in Jordan, Paris and the Syrian National Council [SNC]. Of course, more should be done, but we are trying to do our best. Recently, a predominantly Druze city near Damascus was bombed. This is tough, but the future of the Druze in Syria will be shared with the Muslims and Arabs. There are 400,000 Druze in Syria and 170,000 in Lebanon. We are a minority; there are 23 million people in Syria.
Do you support the Druze rebels in Syria?
I do not see the developments from a sectarian perspective. We are in dialogue with all parties that are opposed to the Assad regime. We supported the military officers in their decisions to leave the army. Some of them are now in Turkey and some others will travel there.
Some reports claim that partition of Syria was discussed in a summit in Shanghai chaired by Russia, which the US also attended. Can you confirm this?
It is true. Under the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, France wanted to partition Syria to create an Alawite state in İskenderun, a Damascus state, a Druze state and an Aleppo state. The Druze people opposed this project and they prevented partition of the country. Now we are in 2012 and it is like we are back in 1916. The same scenario is being repeated; it is like they have taken us back 100 years.
Today, Russia is playing increasingly big role in the region amid escalating tensions in the region. What’s your take on that?
Russia is trying to recapture the glory of the Russia of the tsar era. Russia, the US and Israel are making plans for the partition of Syria, and maybe Turkey is included in this dangerous game. In addition to Russia, Iran is also a rising power in the region. It tries to protect the Assad regime, but once it realizes Assad will be gone it will be part of the partition of Syria. Iran is supplying material aid and arms to the Assad regime. It appears that Iran is in favor of the creation of an Alawite state. And there is also an oil pipeline project between Basra and Tartus. In addition, there are arms deals between Russia, Iran and [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki. All these plans and games are against the Syrian people.
How to you assess a possible Russia, Iran, Syria and maybe China axis?
True. This is happening because of the power vacuum after the American withdrawal from the region. The US has withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. For this reason, Russia and Iran are trying to fill the void.
Some argue that Russia and China will replace traditional major powers in the upcoming decade. Do you agree with this prediction?
I do not want to think this big. What I know is what is happening right now. Getting back to history, the Ottoman state made a lot of war with Iran. Back then, the Turks were in Basra. Today, the Persian Empire [Iran] is on the shores of Lebanon and within Lebanon; it is also in Syria. This is the difference today.
It appears that the incidents in Syria will have reflections and repercussions in Lebanon as well.
We are making efforts to ensure that the developments do not affect Lebanon. We tell all the parties that we are all against the Syrian regime and Assad, but that the fall of Assad cannot be performed in Tripoli. We should not give him reason to interfere with the domestic affairs of our country.
But how will you prevent this?
Who will fight against whom? Hezbollah is the greatest military power in Lebanon. Nobody could fight against it. We wish for this power to be acquired by the state someday. Lebanon is in a state of despair on this matter right now.
What kind of map could be made of this region?
Due to the Russian and Iranian policies, as well as failure to supply heavy weaponry to the rebels, the unity of Syria is in danger. We are against direct intervention of the West in Syria, but we want arms supplied to the rebels. Sadly, no step has been taken on this matter. Meetings of the Friends of Syria have been held in Tunisia, Istanbul and Paris, but none of them was successful. It is like the West is doing nothing in regards to the ongoing massacre in Syria. They criticize Turkey, arguing that it is not taking action to intervene. Turkey will not be able to do so unless a decision is taken in the West. So far, the decision of the US has been in favor of reluctance and indifference.
Why do you think the US has not been active on the Syrian issue, considering that it tends to be active in every other matter?
There is only one reason: to make sure that subsequent developments do not pose any danger vis-à-vis Israel. The only concern is to protect Israel and its security. I am not sure of the Iranian policy on this matter; there are some question marks. But Putin paid a visit to Israel. The second most influential Jewish lobby is in Moscow. Putin must have assured Israel that the recent developments in the region would not affect its interests.
Will a greater Israeli state emerge out of this turmoil?
It seems remote for now. The only concern of the world now is to protect Israel from chemical attacks and missiles. For this reason, there are CIA officers in Jordan and special teams of Russia in Tartous. But this will inevitably happen. Israel may tell its Arab citizens to go to their other homeland, namely Jordan.
So you are saying that a Palestinian state will be established in place of Jordan?
We are not in a position to make a decision on this matter. Today, there is an extreme right party in power in Israel. And the attempts to create two separate states have so far failed. For this reason, we should not ignore the potential insane acts of the Israeli extremists. They may want to send the Palestinians to Jordan. The population of the Palestinians has been on the rise and this is creating a lot of pressure among the Jews in Israel. For this reason, they may try this move.
A huge number of Palestinian refugees migrated from Syria to Jordan, and 60 percent of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin. Does this not automatically ‘Palestinize’ Jordan?
You are right. But it is necessary that all this happens now. Israel may take lessons from what happens in Syria. What is happening in Syria now? 1.5 million people are homeless in Syria and 500,000 Syrians are refugees. Israel may learn lessons from this and send the Palestinians in Gaza to Jordan. This is consistent with the old and new projects of Israel anyway. And that project is creation of a non-Arab Israeli state.
How do you see the power struggle between Turkey and Iran?
Turkey needs to be careful about this. The foreign policy of Russia and Iran poses danger for Syria and Turkey. The greatest issue in Turkey is the Kurdish problem. This problem should be addressed within the unity of Turkey. Otherwise, it will remain a bleeding wound.
Could Turkey stand against Iran, if it resolves its Kurdish issue?
I do not think a conventional war will break out between the two countries. If you are referring to a cold war, I have no idea about it. I believe that there is a cold war in economic interests. In fact, the only issue that needs to be resolved is the Kurdish issue, because Syria and Iran use the Kurdish card against Turkey. I do not want to say that they are using the Kurds; but Turkey needs to resolve its Kurdish issue.
The relations between Turkey and President of the Iraqi Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani are firm; could this be influential?
This is a positive development and it will help. But one problem remains, and this is the PKK issue. This needs to be resolved. I believe that Turkey should take measures to recognize the social, cultural and ethnic rights of the Kurds in Turkey. Some still approach the Kurdish issue from a Kemalist perspective. And this is wrong because there is plurality in Turkey and it is an asset for the country.
What is the size of the Druze population in the Middle East? Do you have contact with all of them?
I am an Arab, and I told you I support the Syrian people. There are Druze people who support the Syrian regime; on the other hand, there are Druze people in Israel, but we have no connection with them. At the same time, there are Druze people against the Jews in Israel. We are in touch with them and we support them. This is not about the Druze people; it is about homeland.
Walid Jumblatt is a Lebanese politician and the current leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). He is the most prominent leader of Lebanon’s Druze community. Walid Jumblatt graduated from the American University of Beirut in Political Science. He was a supporter of Syria after the Lebanese Civil War but, since the death of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in 2000, he has campaigned for Damascus to relinquish control. On Jan. 21, 2011, Jumblatt said he supported the stance of Hezbollah and Syria. With the onset of the Syrian uprising, Jumblatt and the PSP moved towards an anti-Assad camp.