Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Hezbollah and Iran: Who pays the price? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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For years, the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah has celebrated its “victory against the Zionist enemy.” Festivities marking the occasion were held last week in parts of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah.

What was new was an account given by a senior Hezbollah leader of how the conflict was triggered and who was in charge of the group’s operations.

The man in question is Sayyed Hashem Safieddin, The Head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, described by the Iranian newspaper Kayhan as the party’s second-in-command. Lebanese sources tell me that Safieddin, a mullah in his 40s, is regarded as Nasrallah’s heir-apparent.

In its issue dated 31 May, Kayhan reported a meeting between Safieddin and a delegation of the Baseej, the Iranian paramilitary set up to protect the Khomeinist regime. The group had gone to Lebanon to participate in celebrations.

According to Kayhan, Safieddin told the Iranian paramilitaries that all credit for the “victory” in question went to Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.

“Without the direct, minute by minute, command and supervision of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Hezbollah would not have achieved its great victory against Zionism and America, “Safieddin was quoted as saying.

The Hezbollah leader went on to say: “For us, Ayatollah Khamenei is not a simple leader. He is our model for life, a symbol of steadfastness, and our master.”

Safieddin insisted that, from start to finish, the conflict had taken place under Khomeini’s “direct command and supervision”.

This means that Khamenei also gave the order for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers that triggered the conflict.

Khomeinist leaders in Tehran have always used kidnapping and hostage-taking as a method for pursuing political aims at home and abroad.

Safieddin’s flattery towards Khamenei is neither new nor surprising. Nasrallah himself has praised the Iranian mullah to the skies, running out of superlatives.

Safieddin’s account recalls what many have known for long, that Hezbollah is, in fact, a branch of the Khomeinist regime in Lebanon.

Hezbollah was founded in Tehran in 1975, four years before the mullahs seized power in Iran. Two mullahs, Hadi Ghaffari and Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pour, and two bazaar “tough guys” Abbas Douzdouzani and Abbas Zamani were among its founders.

After the mullahs had come to power, they decided to open its branches outside Iran.

In 1982, Mohtashami-Pour, appointed Khomeini’s Ambassador to Damascus, was ordered to open Hezbollah branches in Syria and Lebanon.

President Hafez al-Assad made it clear that he would not tolerate a Hezbollah branch in Syria. However, he promised to help Iran set up one in Lebanon.

From 1984, the Iranian government budget has included an item for “promoting revolutions abroad”, in other words for financing Hezbollah branches in 17 countries alongside other foreign groups working for Tehran. Until 1998, the Iranian Foreign Ministry had an office, headed by a Director-General, for “exporting the Islamic Revolution.”

What is new is Safieddin’s claim that Khamenei exercised “minute-by-minute” control over Hezbollah, at least during the conflict with Israel.

This means that the leader of a foreign country was able to plunge Lebanon into war, with all the dangers that it entailed, without any consultation with Lebanon’s legal government.

The Lebanese mullah’s account gives credence to those who claim that the 2006 conflict was, in fact, a proxy war launched by Iran against Israel. Lebanon was used as an operational base, although its people ended up paying the price in blood and treasure.

Lebanon’s history is full of examples of political parties whose umbilical cord was linked to foreign powers. Egypt under Nasser, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, and, of course, Israel and Syria are among many foreign powers that have had proxies in Lebanon.

However, in none of those cases was the proxy under “direct, minute-by-minute control” of a foreign power.

For years, Iran under the Shah exercised influence in Lebanon through the Shiite community. A charismatic mullah, Imam Moussa Sadr was dispatched by the Shah’s government to organize the Shiite community, stem the tide of the Left sweeping the under – privileged community, and help it resist pressure from Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat.

However, at no time was Sadr, or Harekat al-Mahroomin (Movement of the Dispossessed), the organization he created, under Tehran’s direct control. Once he had established himself, Sadr even stopped submitting reports to Tehran. Later, he ended up as an opponent of the Shah and formed an alliance with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi- an alliance that ended in Sadr’s tragic assassination by the Libyans.

Lebanon “experts” claim that it is inevitable that Lebanese political parties seek powerful foreign backers. They add that, as a small, weak and vulnerable country surrounded by hostile powers, Lebanon does not have an identity of its own. As a result its “communities” owe their survival to the support of their religious kith-and-kin in larger countries.

I reject that definition.

I have known Lebanon and followed its developments since 1969 when I first interviewed some of its leaders including Moussa Sadr, Charles Hellou, Omar Karame, Pierre Gemayel, Takieddin Solh, Kamal Junblatt and Camille Chamoun.

I was convinced then that a Lebanese identity does exist, and have become more convinced of it since.

My impression is that a majority of Lebanese Shi’ites know that Hezbollah is more reflective of Iran’s interests than those of the community, let alone Lebanon as a whole.

The Shiite community accepts Hezbollah for three reasons.

First, Hezbollah has enough guns and money to impose itself and prevent the emergence of alternatives within the Shiite community.

Secondly, channeling funds from Iran, Hezbollah is providing services that the Lebanese government cannot offer.

Finally, Lebanese Shiites have always regarded Iran as the ultimate guarantor of their safety and do not wish to burn their bridges with Tehran, regardless of who is in power there.

Paradoxically, Safieddin may be telling the Lebanese that, if they suffered more than 2000 deaths and billions of dollars of losses for nothing, that was not Hezbollah’s fault but a result of Khamenehi’s adventurist strategy.