CNN's Blitzer Treats Anti-Israel Charge by Hezbollah as Credible
On Sunday's "Late Edition," CNN's Wolf Blitzer aired a pre-recorded interview in which the CNN anchor asked one of the most irrational questions of the weekend, as he seemed to treat as credible accusations by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that Israel was behind the recent assassinations of anti-Syria politicians in Lebanon. As Blitzer interviewed Walid Jumblatt, a member of the Lebanese parliament who is a "harsh critic" of Syria, the CNN host read a quote from the Hezbollah leader charging that "the hand that is killing is Israel's," and that Israel "has a sure interest in the assassinations." After Jumblatt scoffed that "that's the biggest joke that I've ever heard," Blitzer responded: "So you reject what Hassan Nasrallah is saying, that Israel is responsible for all of this?" (Transcript follows)
Blitzer had set up the interview with Jumblatt: "It's an extremely dangerous time for politicians in Lebanon. There have been a series of high-profile political assassinations, with many Lebanese blaming Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and his regime in Damascus. Walid Jumblatt is a leading member of the Lebanese parliament. He's a very harsh critic of Syria. I spoke with him here in Washington this week."
Jumblatt, who is in America seeking international assistance to ensure fair elections, expressed his fears that anti-Syrian members of parliament, who make up a slight majority, are being assassinated so they will no longer be in the majority when the time comes for the parliament to select the next president. Jumblatt made clear whom he blamed: "I think Syria and its allies, Hezbollah. ... I have no doubt." He also expressed his hope that a tribunal would some day "bring the murderers, bring Bashar al-Assad to trial."
Blitzer then read a statement from Assad denying involvement, and which claimed that the killings were "not in our [Syria's] interest." Blitzer queried: "Do you believe him when he denies any Syrian involvement in these assassinations?"
After Jumblatt contended that the Syrians "have quite a record in killing opponents," and blamed Assad's father for the death of Jumblatt's father, Blitzer then brought up the absurd statement of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah. Blitzer: "Hassan Nasrallah, who's the leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, he blames Israel for all of these problems. He says: 'The hand that is killing is Israel's. Israel has a sure interest in the assassinations because it is the prime beneficiary of any internal strife in Lebanon.'"
Jumblatt responded: "That's the biggest joke that I've ever heard. It seems the Israelis are killing in Lebanon the anti-Syrian people or personalities, as if the Syrians are hiring the Israelis to kill us. It's really a joke. I mean, we opposed Syrian domination. We oppose Syrian occupation. I don't see why the Israelis should kill us."
As if there were any doubt, Blitzer responded: "So you reject what Hassan Nasrallah is saying, that Israel is responsible for all of this?"
Below is a complete transcript of the interview from the Sunday October 21 "Late Edition" on CNN, with critical portions in bold:
WOLF BLITZER: It's an extremely dangerous time for politicians in Lebanon. There have been a series of high-profile political assassinations, with many Lebanese blaming Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and his regime in Damascus. Walid Jumblatt is a leading member of the Lebanese parliament. He's a very harsh critic of Syria. I spoke with him here in Washington this week. Walid Jumblatt, thanks very much for coming in. Welcome to the United States.
WALID JUMBLATT, Lebanese Parliament Member: Thank you.
BLITZER: Will there be free and fair elections in Lebanon coming up?
JUMBLATT: I hope so. But free and fair, that's not the word because we are ahead of a crucial three weeks, and our opponents, although they are members of parliament, they have other methods to deal with us.
BLITZER: You're referring to the assassinations.
JUMBLATT: The assassinations.
BLITZER: The whole series over the past two years. Let me get this question out before we even move on and talk about the politics. How worried are you about you? Because you've been outspoken, as our viewers around the world know.
JUMBLATT: Three weeks ago, we lost a partner from the parliament. A member of parliament was killed. And we were 69 as a majority. We are now 68. So we, they can kill four more of us, and we'll be reduced as a majority. We won't be able to vote for a free president, a president that will abide by international law and resolutions.
BLITZER: So you obviously have good security.
JUMBLATT: Good security, it's impossible to have it in Lebanon. We are hiding in our homes. The members of parliament, most of them now are in an annex of a hotel, Hotel Phoenicia. They're not even able to open the windows because of possible sniping. But we have to go along.
BLITZER: Who's behind these assassinations?
JUMBLATT: I think Syria and its allies, Hezbollah.
BLITZER: You have no doubt about it?
JUMBLATT: I have no doubt. But the problem is, I mean, how to fix up the tribunal. We're waiting for the tribunal, which has been fixed up for the assassinations, the late Prime Minister Hariri and others. The tribunal is an international. It will give its verdict maybe next year. I hope so. But until next year, it's quite a long time. So anything can happen.
BLITZER: So you're here in Washington. You've been seeking, what, U.S., international, United Nations support for these elections in Lebanon and for a future of Lebanon that's at peace?
JUMBLATT: Yes. But at the same time I'm telling the people here and everywhere as long as Bashar al-Assad in Syria feels-
BLITZER: He's the president.
JUMBLATT: Yes. Feels secure, as long as there are no sanctions, effective sanctions against him, military sanctions or economic sanctions, well, he will just go along in Lebanon killing us one by one.
BLITZER: The president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, said this the other day, and it seemed to be criticism of U.S., any U.S. role, U.S. help for you and others in Lebanon: "Interference by international parties," he said, "could instigate hatred and increase tension on the Lebanese scene, a thing which not only might have negative repercussions on upcoming presidential elections, but on the safety of the Lebanese as well." You reject that criticism from President Lahoud.
JUMBLATT: Well, we've got, thanks to the American help and international help, we've got international resolutions. Our opponents, our so-called partners in parliament, they have private army in Lebanon. They have private security. They have weapons provided by the Syrian regime and from the, from Tehran. So this is the slight difference between us and them. We have international resolutions. We are not asking for military help. We are not asking for military bases in Lebanon. They have already a base in Lebanon, Iranian-Syrian base. And they are behind assassinations, so-
BLITZER: And you believe that President Lahoud is part of that Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah alliance?
JUMBLATT: When we dared in 2004 to say no to the renewal of the mandate of Lahoud, started the killings. It was in 2004. And 2005 was the major killing, the killing assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. So he's just a puppet of the Syrians and the Iranians.
BLITZER: You are referring to the prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated. His son, Saad Hariri, a member of the Lebanese parliament, said this the other day: "There is a killing machine that has started killing the majority, and it has not stopped. We believe that somehow that the Syrian regime will stop the elections from happening." Do you agree with him?
JUMBLATT: Yes, I do agree. This is why we've got to stay alive, survive the next few weeks. And then if we are still a majority, still a majority, we can elect one of us, a president that will abide by international law and also abide by the international tribunal of justice, that will one day, I hope, bring the murderers, bring Bashar al-Assad to trial.
BLITZER: The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, denies that Syria had anything to do with any of these assassinations, including the October 2nd. He says this: "Of course we have influence. This is normal. But having influence is different from committing crimes in Lebanon. This is not in our interest. What did we get from killing those people? That's the question that we have to ask." Do you believe him when he denies any Syrian involvement in these assassinations?
JUMBLATT: Bashar al-Assad is the son of Hafez al-Assad, the one who killed my father. So they have quite a, have records, the Syrians, in killing opponents. My father was killed in 1977. Unfortunately, at that time, Lebanon was divided. I was obliged to fix a deal with the devil, with Hafez al-Assad, because Lebanon was divided. So I know the family. I know the regime. So he cannot deny having nothing to do with crimes in Lebanon.
BLITZER: So you made a deal with Hafez al-Assad even though you believe he was responsible for killing your father?
JUMBLATT: I was obliged. I was obliged because Lebanon was divided. Now Lebanon is united, but the allies of Syria are not with us. They are supporting the regime of Syria, supporting the regime of murderers. We can do nothing.
BLITZER: Hassan Nasrallah, who's the leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, he blames Israel for all of these problems. He says: "The hand that is killing is Israel's. Israel has a sure interest in the assassinations because it is the prime beneficiary of any internal strife in Lebanon."
JUMBLATT: That's the biggest joke that I've ever heard. It seems the Israelis are killing in Lebanon the anti-Syrian people or personalities, as if the Syrians are hiring the Israelis to kill us. It's really a joke. I mean, we opposed Syrian domination. We oppose Syrian occupation. I don't see why the Israelis should kill us.
BLITZER: So you reject what Hassan Nasrallah is saying-
JUMBLATT: Of course.
BLITZER: -that Israel is responsible for all of this?
JUMBLATT: Of course not.
BLITZER: Hezbollah is making a comeback after the war last summer. This is from an Associated Press report from Beirut: "More than a year later, Hezbollah appears to again be solidly entrenched across Lebanon's south, looking, in fact, as if its fighters never really left, but merely went underground. The Shiite militia's banners hang everywhere, boasting of the divine victory over Israel, and thanking its chief sponsor, Shiite majority Iran, for helping with post-war reconstruction. Villagets report the militia's recruitment of young men is booming, and its popularity is firm." How popular, how significant is Hezbollah in Lebanon right now?
JUMBLATT: They are popular. They are getting a lot of help from Iran through the Syrian regime, a lot of money, a lot of weapons. We want Lebanon to be independent. We want Lebanon to be out of the Israeli-Arab conflict. This is why the Lebanese-Syrian border should be secured by the army, our army, and by international observers. Without that, Lebanon will be just a base to launch more hostilities against Israel and reprisals from the Israelis.
BLITZER: Under pressure, though, the Syrians did withdraw their military forces from Lebanon. They had been there for decades. But they did pull those out. Are they completely out or are there still Syrian military and/or intelligence officials in Lebanon?
JUMBLATT: They don't need to have Syrian military or intelligence. Maybe they have intelligence. But they have there their unofficial brigade in Lebanon, or division, which is the Hezbollah, part of the Revolutionary Guards of Tehran. So this alliance between Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, Hezbollah, is an indirect occupation of Lebanon.
BLITZER: There's been a lot of speculation about this Israeli air strike on some sort of facility in Syria in September. The New York Times reported this week, "Israel's air attack on Syria last month was directed against the site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judge was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel." What do you know about this?
JUMBLATT: We've heard nothing. I mean, the Israelis deny it and the Syrians deny it. I have no idea. I just have no idea. But it is possible that, well, somewhere the Syrians, through the Iranians, are trying to buy or to acquire some, let's say, nuclear technology or nuclear devices. Everything is possible.
BLITZER: What is the most important thing that you would like to see the United States do to help Lebanon?
JUMBLATT: Look, as long as we have this tyrant, this butcher in Damascus alive, we won't be able to have a democracy, a stable democracy in Lebanon. We won't be able to have an independent and free Lebanon. So this is where I am asking and have asked for effective sanctions against this guy, this regime in Damascus.
BLITZER: What kind of sanctions? What more do you want the U.S. to do?
JUMBLATT: Up until now, nothing has been done. It has been, of course, U.S. provided us with international resolutions and helped us with the tribunal. But this guy was afraid in 2005 when President Bush and Jacques Chirac and the international community ordered him out of Lebanon. Now he's no more afraid. Now he should be afraid again by sanctions. What kind of sanctions? I don't know. I think people here know what kind of sanctions.
BLITZER: Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese parliamentarian, good luck to you. Good luck to all of the people in Lebanon. Be careful over there.
JUMBLATT: Thank you.