Thursday, May 24, 2007
With Amy Goodman
"......The Lebanese government accuses Fatah al-Islam of having ties with al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. But there's another theory of who is backing the militant group - the Lebanese government itself, along with the United States. Last March, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that the U.S. and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy against Iran and growing Shia influence. Seymour Hersh joins us now on the line from Washington DC.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, very simply -- this is over the winter -- the government made -- I think the article is called “The Redirection.” There was a major change of policy by the United States government, essentially, which was that we were going to -- the American government would join with the Brits and other Western allies and with what we call the moderate Sunni governments -- that is, the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- and join with them and with Israel to fight the Shia.
One of the major goals for America, of course, was the obsession the Bush White House has with Iran, and the other obsession they have is, of course -- is in fear -- is of Hezbollah, the Party of God, that is so dominant in -- the Shia Party of God that’s so dominant in southern Lebanon that once -- and whose leader Hassan Nasrallah wants to play a bigger political role and is doing quite a bit to get there and is in direct confrontation with Siniora.
And so, you have a situation where the Sunni government, pretty much in control now, the American-supported Sunni government headed by Fouad Siniora, who was a deputy or an aide to Rafik Hariri, the slain leader of Lebanon, that government has -- we know, the International Crisis Group reported a couple years ago that the son Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, who’s now a major player in the parliament of Lebanon, he put up $40,000 bail to free four Sunni fundamentalists, Jihadist-Salafists -- which you will -- who were tied directly to -- you know, this word “al-Qaeda” is sort of ridiculous -- they were tied to jihadist groups. And God knows, al-Qaeda, in terms of Osama bin Laden, doesn’t have much to do with what we’re talking about. These are independently, more or less, you can call them, fanatical jihadists.
And so, the goal -- part of the goal in Lebanon, part of the way this policy played out, was, with Saudi help, Prince Bandar -- if you remember him -- we remember Prince Bandar, the Saudi prince, as a major player in Iran-Contra and also in the American effort two decades ago -- if you remember, we supported Osama bin Laden and other jihadists in Afghanistan against the Russians, and that didn’t work out so well. Well, we run right back to the well again, and we began supporting some of these jihadist groups, and particularly -- in the article, I did name Fatah al-Islam.
The idea was to provide them with some arms and some money and some basic equipment so -- these are small units, a couple hundred people. There were three or four around the country given the same help covertly, the goal being they would be potential enemies of Hezbollah in case of warfare; in case Nasrallah decided to do something physical, get kinetic, in Lebanon, the Sunni Siniora government would have some very tough guys on its side, period. That’s the policy......
You know, rational people don’t like being mistreated. And in any case, so what you have is, what seems to me, just a series -- the word you could use is “unintended consequences.” I don’t think anybody in the Siniora government anticipated that the people they were covertly supporting to some degree -- I got an email the other day, and I have not checked this out, from somebody who was in the community, in the intelligence community and still consults with the community, he says, “Why don’t we ask more about the American arms that the fighters of Fatah al-Islam have, are brandishing?” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I did get that email. And so, that could be true. Both Saudi money and American money, not directly, but indirectly, was fed into these groups......
So I can’t -- I can tell you that -- you know, the thing that’s amazing about this government, the thing that’s really spectacular, is even now how they can get their way mostly with a lot of the American press. For example, I do know -- and, you know, you have to take it on face value. If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know a lot of the things I write are true or come out to be more or less true. I do know that within the last month, maybe four, four-and-a-half weeks ago, they made a decision that because of the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, we go back to the al-Qaeda card, and we start talking about al-Qaeda. And the next thing you know, right after that, Bush went to the Southern Command -- this was a month ago -- and talked, mentioned al-Qaeda twenty-seven times in his speech. He did so just the other day this week -- al-Qaeda this, al-Qaeda that. All of a sudden, the poor Iraqi Sunnis, I mean, they can’t do anything without al-Qaeda. It’s only al-Qaeda that’s dropping the bombs and causing mayhem......"