'Each Sunni country or region serves as a potential field of intervention for Turkey'

İslam Özkan writes: Lebanon's prominent Turkey expert Muhammed Nureddin provides us with a Lebanese perspective on the recent incidents that occurred in Beirut. According to Muhammed Nurettin, each Sunni country or region in the Arab world serves as a potential field of intervention for Turkey.

İslam Özkan

Muhammed Nureddin - a Turkey expert who has long been writing for the Arab press about Turkey’s foreign policy – says that the French-Turkish clash has intensified in every field and points to a recent example in Lebanon. "In a meeting with the leaders of the Lebanese political block, Macron pointed out the danger of Turkey’s intervention in North Lebanon. It was interesting and surprising that Macron mentioned Turkey at a time when such a huge explosion had taken place," Nurettin said.

According to Muhammed Nureddin, each Sunni country or region in the Arab world serves as a potential field of intervention for Turkey.

My interview with Muhammed Nureddin provides a genuine approach to analyze the political implications and long term effects of the explosion in Beirut.

Q: How long will it take and why is it so difficult to clearly determine whether the explosion in the port of Beirut was an accident or a sabotage operation? 

A: According to military and scientific experts, the analysis of these kinds of explosions last long. So the Lebanese government’s target of completing the investigation within five days is illogical and no more than a political goal. It seeks to dampen the rage of the public and confer the responsibility of the blast onto the port personnel rather than onto the actual culprits: politicians. As an example, it took four years to complete an investigation following an explosion in the French city of Toulouse in 2001 in a factory that contained ammonium nitrate. Thus, the investigation of the Beirut explosion may take longer than the Toulouse investigation as the Beirut blast is more complicated and multi-dimensional. 

One of these dimensions is Israel, which makes the issue ever more complicated. Any investigation regarding the incident requires the technical aid of the international community to attain a truth which may never be revealed. 

Q: How come there was such negligence? Has it got anything to do with the Lebanese political system? 

A: Lebanon is a country that is open to all winds. The central government is very weak and divided. Thus, it is easy to penetrate, exploit and manipulate it. Corruption undermines the Lebanese state apparatus on many levels. That’s the real source of this negligence regarding the stocking of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate in the Warehouse 12 of the port of Beirut. Corruption runs rife. Corruption plagues the port of Beirut, Beirut Airport, waste collection, electricity, water, telecommunications, education, the environment and almost every sector in this country. 

This negligence has to do with the weak structure of the state and the lack of political unity as well as the tribal system that regards the trials of people involved in corruption as a trial against the identity of that person. That’s a fatal mistake. In that sense, fighting against corruption is virtually impossible. The political elite and all religious and sectarian communities would be ready to start another civil war in Lebanon to prevent the sentencing of these people. 

Q: Some say the state has collapsed in Lebanon…  

A: The Lebanese state has long collapsed. What prevails instead is corruption and sectarian statelets. The recent financial collapse in Lebanon demonstrated that the collapse of the state has reached another low. 

Q: As a Lebanese citizen, do you believe that those responsible for the incident will be held accountable in court? 

A: Past experiences in Lebanon show that the principle of accountability does not prevail here. Corruption has spread to everyone including politicians, banks and the governor of the Lebanese central bank. The judiciary itself, which should hold them accountable, is corrupt. All the judges that currently serve in the judiciary system have obtained their positions thanks to the leaders of their respective clans and tribes. Therefore, one cannot talk of “judicial independence” in Lebanon. Though everyone is aware of the endemic corruption here, one cannot find a single person who has been tried for corruption and sent to jail for it. In recent times, young workers have been turned into scapegoats and handed sentences. Yet truly corrupt people remain under the full protection of the judiciary. 

Q: If we consider the claim that Israel might have organized the attack, do you think Israel would dare carry out such a malign plan that would cost hundreds of civilian lives? Wouldn’t it fear retaliation from the Lebanese army or Hezbollah? 

A: All possibilities should be considered in an investigation, including that of Israeli involvement. In fact, the explosion benefits Israel in several ways: 

- The port of Beirut could have been hit to further promote the port of Haifa

- It is to Israel’s advantage that infrastructure in Lebanon is weakened

- Israel may want to provoke the Lebanese people against Hezbollah by claiming there are weapons in the port of Beirut 

Israel does not care about the number of civilian or non-civilian losses. The Zionists
have attacked Lebanon dozens of times and have destroyed its infrastructure
several times. In 1982, Beirut was totally ruined. In 2006, several buildings
in the neighbourhood of Dahieh and hundreds of villages in South Lebanon were destroyed. Israel’s role and function in the region is to attack countries, split them and
destroy their wealth along with their prominent structures. Israel is a massacre and destruction machine that was designed with the full support of U.S. imperialism.

Israel always fears retaliation from Hezbollah, but that issue has complicated things. If it weren’t for Hezbollah’s deterrence power, the attacks Israel sporadically conducts against Lebanon would have caused a lot more destruction than they already have.

The Lebanese army is very weak and largely serves as a gendarmerie. It only has light weapons at its disposal. It does not possess advanced tanks, planes and missiles. For the sake of Israel and with US support, efforts are being led to disarm the Lebanese army. 

Q: Fuat Oktay, Turkey’s Deputy President, visited Beirut last week. How do you interpret Turkey’s interest in Lebanon?

A: Turkey’s interest in Lebanon is anything but new. The Arab and Muslim worlds were among the fields Ankara sought to enter within the framework of its “zero problem with neighbors” foreign policy and the promotion of “neo-Ottomanism.” Each Sunni country or region in the Arab world serves as a potential field of intervention for Turkey. 

Top level officials (Deputy President Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu came to Lebanon with humanitarian aid. 

I believe this visit was conducted within the following framework:

a) In recent times, the French-Turkish clash has intensified in every field. I evaluate this visit as a reaction to French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit in Beirut. One should remember the visit Sarkozy paid in the summer of 2011, one day before Erdoğan visited Tripoli. In a meeting with the leaders of the Lebanese political block last Thursday evening, Macron pointed out the danger of Turkey’s intervention in North Lebanon. It was interesting and surprising that Macron mentioned Turkey at a time when such a huge explosion had taken place. 

b) The visit came right after the Sunni Interior Minister Muhammed Fehmi delivered a press statement on the Turkish role behind armed groups in the Sunni regions of Lebanon. It also came right after official security reports.  Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of Maronite President Michel Aoun, as the leader of the largest block in parliament, accused Turkey of providing resources to Lebanese groups and arming them as well as participating in anti-government demonstrations. Thus, this visit gave an opportunity to Turkey to present its stance to Lebanese officials regarding these reports. Besides, providing humanitarian aid is also an opportunity for Turkey to show its “humanitarian face.”   

c) Visits to Beirut from the top-level officials of countries in the region that are at odds with Turkey, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have decreased. So it can be assessed as opportunity for Turkey to bolster its influence in Lebanon. 

In any case, after the horrific explosion Beirut experienced, any help to Lebanon no matter where it comes from (except for Israel) is beneficial and welcomed in Lebanon. 

Muhammed Nurettin

Q: French President Macron said, “If France doesn’t play its role, Iranians, Turks and Saudis will.” How should these words be interpreted? As the reappearance of France’s colonial desires or as a historic closeness and interest expressed with good will?

A: Historically-speaking, France is Lebanon’s closest foreign country. The majority of Lebanese people, especially Christians, feel a religious and cultural connection with France. The French cultural presence in Lebanon is appreciated and supported by the majority of the Lebanese people, both Christians and Muslims. I don’t think France has neo-colonial ambitions in Lebanon. It has more to do with protecting a Francophone country. Of course, France is not the “compassionate mother” as some Lebanese people claim. I don’t believe France is in any competition or conflict with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Iran. Still, preventing Lebanon from becoming a Turkish zone of influence is in the interest of France. This was what Macron was pointing out: “Lebanon is an arena where the policies of France and the U.S. differ slightly.”

Q: How do you interpret Hassan Nasrallah’s last speech regarding the explosion? By responding to those who blame Hezbollah, didn’t Nasrallah actually carry these accusations to the public domain?

A: Hassan Nasrallah’s speech was moderate. It was noteworthy that he supported the French President’s call to form a national unity government, welcoming aid coming from foreign countries and supporting the Lebanese army’s forming of a committee to investigate the explosion. Had he not responded, he would have confirmed the accusations, so he had to respond.

Q: How would you respond to those who say “How come Hezbollah does not know of the explosive material over there?”

A: Israel, the US and certain Gulf countries frequently organize widespread media campaigns against Hezbollah’s arms because Hezbollah is the only power that protects Lebanon from Israel’s attacks. Lebanon is facing a slander campaign that claims that Hezbollah has seized its state. 

Unfortunately, experienced writers in the Turkish press write articles that reveal their ignorance on Lebanon and Hezbollah as well as their ill will. I would like to congratulate Gazete Duvar here for conveying the developments in Lebanon in a objective and professional manner. 

Claims that Hezbollah has taken over the Lebanese state are erroneous. Those putting forward these claims are obviously ignorant of the reality of Lebanon. If the state were in the hands of Hezbollah, the Lebanese economy wouldn’t have collapsed, the Lebanese pound wouldn’t have plummeted and corruption wouldn’t run wife within the state. Hezbollah’s priority is to protect Lebanon and the region from Israel and terror organizations such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. Had Hezbollah changed its stance against the US and Israel, Washington would have become its first supporter. 

Q: Is it true that the explosion will have long-term effects? 

A: These blasts usually generate much gossip. According to competent scientists and experts, the effect of ammonium nitrate does not stay long. We do not have precise knowledge on whether there will be long-lasting effects. Its negative health effets might have even ceased by now. 

Q: The Lebanese government has resigned. What lies ahead for Lebanon? 

A: The situation in Lebanon was already complex and difficult. After the resignation of the government, it got even more complicated. There are a few options ahead for Lebanon: The first option is the national unity government as Macron suggested. This is no easy feat. The second is what the opposition wants: A technocratic government without Hezbollah. This would never be possible. The third is void, chaos and disorder. This process may take long. In other words, a political crisis looms in Lebanon. We cannot carry on with the current system. A new national pact is necessary. Yet many sectarian obstacles are in the way. In sum, one can say Lebanon has entered a long and dark tunnel.  

Who is Muhammed Nureddin?

Muhammed Nureddin is a Turkish History and Language professor at Lebanon University. He was the former director of the Beirut Strategic Research Center and is currently the advisor of the Lebanese Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee. A Turkey expert, Nureddin has published a lot on modern Turkey, including two books in Arabic entitled, “Centennial History of Modern Turkey (1920-2020)” and “Anxious Turkey.”