Brother of Lebanon’s Hariri envisions eventual peace with Israel

Bahaa Hariri, whose younger brother Saad is PM-designate, wants the border disputes between the countries solved; says including Hezbollah in government would be ‘big mistake’

Bahaa Hariri, right, and Saad Hariri, sons of slain Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, visit the scene where their father was assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon, February 19, 2005. (AP)
Bahaa Hariri, right, and Saad Hariri, sons of slain Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, visit the scene where their father was assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon, February 19, 2005. (AP)

The elder brother of Lebanese prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, said Israel and Lebanon should settle their border disputes as part of steps toward a peace agreement.

Israel and Lebanon launched US- and UN-mediated talks last month to resolve their disputed maritime border, which could allow both countries to explore and develop new gas fields in the Mediterranean following a number of big finds in recent years.

“This is a positive thing for Lebanon, but we have to make sure it doesn’t give Hezbollah any breathing space,” Bahaa Hariri said in an interview with the Axios news site published Tuesday, referring to the Iran-backed terror group.

While acknowledging the deep-seated disputes between Israel and Lebanon, Hariri said they needed to be resolved to achieve peace.

“I want my children to live in peace not war,” he said.

UN military vehicles of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) enter the southern Lebanese border town of Naqura where the second round of of talks started on October 28, 2020 between Lebanon and Israel at a UN base on the demarcation of the maritime frontier between the two countries (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

He also called for resolving differences between the countries over their land border, particularly the Shebaa Farms.

“The land border is like an open wound that gives Hezbollah room to maneuver,” he said.

The Shebaa Farms, known in Hebrew as Mount Dov, and the adjacent Kfar Chouba hills are small patches of land captured by Israel from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and kept under Israel’s control since. Lebanon maintains that the strip of land is its territory, though it was under Syrian control from the 1950s until it was captured in 1967 along with the Golan Heights.

Following the announcement of the maritime border talks, which came on the heels of Israel’s agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish diplomatic ties, Hezbollah denied the negotiations were aimed at normalization or a peace deal with the Jewish state.

In August, however, Lebanese President Michel Aoun hinted peace talks with Israel were possible, but said there were issues between the countries that must be resolved first. His daughter Claudine Aoun, a well-known Lebanese public figure in her own right, later said she was also open to peace with Israel, but stressed certain conditions must be met first.

In this picture taken on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, a Lebanese shepherd, bottom center, herds his flock under a giant poster that shows Sunni and Shiite leading sheikhs gather in front of an image of the al-Aqsa Mosque with the Arabic words reading: “Jerusalem unite us,” near the barbed wire that separates Lebanon and Shebaa farms, southeast Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

In a portion of the interview published Monday, Hariri he warned his brother not to form a government with the Hezbollah terror group, saying such a move would hamper regional and international support for his country as it tries pull itself out of an economic and political crisis.

“To me it is clear that anyone who forms a government which is under the control of Hezbollah is not doing the right thing,” Hari said.

“I think forming a government with Hezbollah is… a big mistake,” he said.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hariri said, should be declared a terrorist organization.

Saad Hariri resigned the premiership a year ago amid nationwide protests by a public angered by widespread corruption, mismanagement of resources and a flunking economy. In the year since, Lebanon’s currency sank, losing nearly 80 percent of its value, while prices, unemployment and inflation soared. Lebanese have been unable to access their savings, as banks imposed informal capital controls fearing a run on deposits.

Two weeks ago Aoun asked Hariri to come back and reform a government. The powerful Shiite group Hezbollah, which together with its allies control a majority of seats in parliament, implicitly supports Hariri being named to the post.

Bahaa Hariri, a billionaire businessman who has lived outside of Lebanon for several years, has stayed out of politics in the past but more recently has been backing civil rights groups demanding reforms to Lebanon’s political system, Axios reported.

Riot policemen beat anti-government protesters during a protest near Parliament Square, in Beirut, Lebanon, September 1, 2020. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

“Hezbollah and the warlords and all those who support them reached a point of failure that is of no return and they have to step aside and let people who have clean history,” Hariri said.

“Hezbollah have caused a lot of damage to Lebanon internally and externally,” he added. “They managed in 15 years to break Lebanon. Hezbollah and their cronies manage to bring down an empire. Their failure is huge.”

Hariri warned that a government that includes Hezbollah would not get support from Gulf states or the wider international community, limiting its ability to bring the country out of is economic and political rut.

The Hariri brothers have a deadly history with Hezbollah — their father, Rafik Hariri, who was also once prime minister, was assassinated in 2005 several months after stepping down from office. In August an international tribunal ruled that Hezbollah was behind the killing.

“The situation now has become so critical for the country and the people of Lebanon, and for Rafik Hariri’s legacy,” Bahaa Hariri said, in explaining his recent public activities concerning Lebanese politics. “At my age I can’t just sit and do nothing about it.”

“It has reached a point where we are in the abyss and what happened in Beirut just compelled me more to do everything I can to help,” he said, referring to a huge port blast in August. “I love my brother and I care about him, but the political differences between us are stark and very big.”

In this Aug. 9, 2020 photo, political graffiti is visible in front of the scene of the August 4 explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Saad Hariri’s successor — a technocrat supported by the Hezbollah group — stepped down after the massive August 4 explosion in Beirut’s port, caused by thousands of potentially explosive chemicals that had been stored in a warehouse there for years. The blast defaced the capital, killing nearly 200 people, and injured over 6,000. The explosion is seen as further proof of an incompetent political class in charge of governing the small country since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990.

Hariri called on the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden to push for implementation of the 1989 Raif agreement that ended the country’s civil war and, among other things, called for the disbanding and disarming of all of the country’s militias, including Hezbollah.

Earlier this week Lebanon’s former foreign minister Gebran Bassil said the United States had urged him to sever ties with Hezbollah before targeting him with sanctions over alleged corruption. The punitive measures announced by Washington Friday were the first against a senior Christian ally of Hezbollah, long targeted by US sanctions and blacklisted as a terrorist organization.

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