Tea with Hezbollah's No. 2
By Robin Wright
By Robin Wright
Naim Qassem, a cleric who wears a white turban and has a trim beard to match, is Hezbollah’s second-in-command. From Hezbollah’s public-relations office, two fighters drove me, in a black Chevrolet S.U.V. with draperies on the windows, to meet Qassem in Beirut’s poor southern suburbs, the movement’s stronghold. The flags of Hezbollah and Lebanon were in a corner of the meeting room; a plate of dates and almonds was on a table. Attendants brought in rotating trays of tea, juice, and water as we talked. I asked Qassem if the intervention was worth the increasing costs, human and political.
“Since in the West you like to use metaphors and examples, I will give you one,” he said. “You have a house, and in this house there is a fighter, his wife, and children, and there is an enemy attacking this house. You have a garden and a wall, and a hundred metres away you have an olive grove. Is it better to protect the olive trees or the house? Near the olive grove the fighter will die. But if they get to the house, the house will be destroyed and everyone will die. We went to Syria, near the olive trees.” Qassem added, “We believe that as important as the losses or the sacrifices in Syria are, they are much less than if Syria had disintegrated.”
Founded, trained, and armed by Iran after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has been transformed by three tactical decisions. Each has been a progressively bolder gamble; with each, Hezbollah’s impact has grown, even as the costs have soared and its popularity has fluctuated.