Saad Hariri: "We Will Rebuild Every Bridge"

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A year and a half ago, Lebanon responded to a tragic political assassination with a show of people power so massive that it not only inspired advocates of democracy in the Middle East but eventually scared away the Syrian forces that had occupied and controlled the country for two decades. The Lebanese politician whose death conjured up the demonstrations was Rafic Hariri, the billionaire former Prime Minister, who had engineered the country's economic renaissance after a ferocious and debilitating civil war. Lebanon appeared poised to join the ranks of modern, democratizing states. Then the current war started. Rafic Hariri's son and political heir, Saad, found himself outside of Lebanon when the hostilities started. As a member of the Lebanese parliament and the head of his father's Future Party, he has been shuttling around the Middle East and Europe trying to rally support for his country. On Friday he spoke to TIME Cairo Bureau Chief Scott MacLeod about the escalating crisis:

TIME: What is happening to Lebanon?

Hariri: Israel has launched a major attack pinpointing infrastructure like bridges, highways, airports. The worst part is the number of deaths. There are certain areas where the Red Cross cannot reach because Israel cut off the roads and bombs every truck. There are a half million displaced people, creating a huge humanitarian problem. To look at Lebanon as it was 12 days ago and how Lebanon is today, it is a living nightmare.

TIME: What are your feelings right now?

Hariri: Very sad and very angry. Lebanon shouldn't pay the price. Maybe the kidnapping [of the two Israeli soldiers by Hizballah] was wrong, but two wrongs don't make a right. Israel is crippling Lebanon, taking it back 10, 15 years. Israel has no right to do this. No right. You don't bomb a whole country, punish a whole population of 4 million people [for Hizballah's actions].

TIME: Is your father's work undone?

Hariri: Part of it. The economy was growing at 5% to 6%. Lebanon is a moderate democracy in this part of the world, but it is fought by everyone, by Israel and by [Arab] neighbors. Now it is being destroyed by a war we never wanted. The government was clear that it had no idea about the kidnapping. The next thing, we see one of the most massive attacks in Israeli history, with atrocities involving children, women and men.

TIME: Why didn't the government disarm Hizballah as mandated by U.N. Resolution 1559?

Hariri: We never expected that even Hizballah would do such an action. We opened a national dialogue [of all Lebanese factions] trying to discuss and find a way of resolving this issue. We wanted to convince Hizballah that the only way is to build a strong central government to defend Lebanon. Meanwhile, Hizballah decided to do this operation. I was completely shocked. Things were moving in the right direction. We were supposed to have another session [of the national dialogue] in two days. We all know, they know, the world knows, that the core problem of this issue is not Hizballah or Lebanon, but countries that finance these people, like Syria. Nobody does anything about them.

TIME: Lebanon can't solve the problem by itself?

Hariri: If you want to resolve the issue, you have to resolve whole problem of Lebanon. We still have territory occupied [by Israel], we still have Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, we still have Israel intruding into our territory, airspace and waters even before this conflict. A global solution would make the government stronger and give us a reason to move forward on a lot of issues. But if there is only half a solution, then it won't resolve anything.

TIME:Is there a danger that anger among some Lebanese with Hizballah will trigger a new civil war?

Hariri: No, we are very aware of that. All the political parties agreed to stand united against the Israeli aggression. Although some of us think differently about what triggered this, the last thing we need is internal division.

TIME: Can Hizballah, working as a state within a state, be trusted?

Hariri: Through dialogue you eventually come to terms. The thing now is to end the conflict so it will not happen again. In the future, things will be a little bit different. It can't happen again. We would not accept it. Lebanon is being destroyed, left, right and center.

TIME: What should the world be doing now?

Hariri: Stopping the war, pressuring Israel to stop the war. Who draws the line here? Where is the international community?

TIME: Can the Lebanese survive another crisis?

Hariri: We'll get through this. We are a strong people and we will come out of this stronger. Maybe we will have learned a lesson. We will rebuild our country, we will rebuild our democracy, we will rebuild every bridge that Israel destroyed.