My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Labour Friends of Israel and the chair of the APPG for Kurds in Iran. I have also recently been to Syria, to the Kurdish side, to witness its fight against Daesh, or ISIS. Last year, I mentioned in the House the terrible betrayal of the Kurds that the Government have participated in, in acquiescing to the Turkish demand to invade and occupy Afrin.
I have huge respect for all who have spoken, but I dispute the claim by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, that Hezbollah has not changed. There has been a remarkable journey over the last 20 years: it has joined the political and democratic process; it is the largest single party in Lebanon and got 300,000 votes, which is 100,000 more than any other party; and it has played a key role in brokering a broad-based coalition Government there. It has not been mentioned today, but Hezbollah played a significant role in restoring the synagogue in Beirut. Unfortunately, the number of Jews in Beirut is smaller than the number of Peers here, but none the less it has restored the synagogue to pristine condition, and that is something we should hear.
I found it very odd to hear the Minister say that Hezbollah was prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people. I say to the Minister that it is Daesh, or ISIS, that is prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people. It is a remarkable thing to describe a group that resisted Daesh and fought against ISIS—our principal enemy and genuinely a terrorist organisation—as prolonging that suffering. In a small way, we should all feel some gratitude for that. We can all understand in our historical consciousness—beginning with the Israeli invasion in 1982 and the occupation that lasted for somewhere between 12 and 18 years—why there might be some resistance to that and some feeling that it was wrong. Hezbollah essentially began as Khomeini’s shock troops in the Bekaa valley and the Jabal Amel, but it transferred its allegiance from Khomeini and Khamenei to Sistani in Najaf. There has been a very significant shift in its religious allegiances.
Palmerston said that our interests are eternal and our allies are temporary. I subscribe to that view of foreign policy. In Iraq, as well as in Lebanon, the Arab Shia have tried to underwrite some form of democratic Government. They are to be distinguished very much from Iran, which is Persian. Our Foreign Office used to have an understanding of that but has somehow lost it; it should retain some historical understanding. We should develop some form of independent foreign policy that does not just follow the United States, which is extremely pro-Saudi and pro-Sunni, and therefore hostile to Hezbollah.
We need to recognise that Hezbollah has made this journey towards democracy and towards preserving the territorial integrity of the Lebanese state. As the Minister mentioned, Hezbollah represents the Shia community—but not just the Shia community; it also has votes from the Sunni community and from the Christians. I am not suggesting to the House that Hezbollah is like the Lib Dems; it is obviously more successful and slightly more significant than that. I do not doubt that there are very bad people in its midst, but it is a political party that represents the largest plurality in Lebanese politics and has committed itself to democracy and pluralism in its deeds. We should always look at the deeds rather than focus exclusively on incendiary words. I ask the House to reflect that maybe it would be foolish to block conversation and possible negotiation with Hezbollah.