London, Asharq Al-Awsat-After refusing to comment on the demonstrations that have taken place in Iran over the past five days, Hezbollah finally issued a statement on Wednesday in which Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that “Iran is under the authority of the Wali Al Faqih and will pass through this crisis.” However despite admitting the existence of the “crisis” that Iran is facing, Nasrallah was careful not to express support for one side or the other, and even attempted to claim that the two rival candidates, Ahmadinejad and Moussavi, are not too [politically] dissimilar.
Speaking about the March 14 Alliance, Nasrallah said “I advise them to leave the Iranian elections alone because they do not understand anything about it. It makes no sense for them to say that Ahmadinejad is the March 8 Alliance, and Mir Hossein Moussavi is the March 14 Alliance.”
Nasrallah failed to elaborate further on events in Iran.
The Hezbollah chief had sent congratulatory telegrams to Iran on the night that the election results were announced. Nasrallah sent a telegram to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in which he congratulated him on “the epic victory” saying that this had “put joy into the hearts of all the Mujahedeen, and strongly revived hopes from anew in this great republic [of Iran].” Nasrallah also sent a telegram to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, congratulating him on his re-election, and saying that this [electoral] victory represents “a great hope to all the Mujahedeen and Resistance who are fighting against the forces of oppression and occupation”
Other than the brief statement released on Wednesday, Hezbollah have remained silent on the protests that broke out throughout Tehran following the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s election victory. Hezbollah members would answer questions about the situation in Iran, and whether this would have an impact on Hezbollah, by merely saying that “this is an internal Iranian manner, and we have no comment.”
This position that was taken up by Hezbollah can be understood upon looking at the group’s relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran, as this is a direct relationship with the Supreme Leader of Iran [in his position as the Wali Al Faqih]. This relationship is not connected to the Iranian government. Hezbollah’s relationship to the Iranian Supreme Leader is not merely an ideological, religious and political relationship, but it is also a financial relationship as well. No Iranian official is fully aware of the annual budget allocated to Hezbollah, although this is estimated to range between 60 million and 100 million dollars per year. The financial assistance provided to Hezbollah by Iran comes via a special fund allocated to the Supreme Leader and comprised of revenue from oil resources and production organizations. This fund is no included in the public budget, and the Supreme Leader is solely in control of its distribution.
According to Qasim Qasir, a Lebanese journalist who specializes in Islamic Affairs, the direct link between [Supreme Leader of Iran] Ali Khamenei, and Hezbollah, gives the Lebanese party immunity from what is taking place in Iran. Qasir informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran takes place through the Supreme Leader, and not through the Iranian state itself, and that “this relationship has been ongoing since 1982 [when Hezbollah was established] regardless of who was President [of Iran].”
For example, [former Iranian President] Mohammad Khatami did not have as “ideal” a relationship with Hezbollah as Ahmadinejad. In 1997, Khatami visited Lebanon as part of his election campaign, he asked to meet with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, but Nasrallah refused. Khatami won the [presidential] elections, and the tensions that marred his relationship with Hezbollah had no effect on Hezbollah’s overall relationship with Iran. In fact some say that Hezbollah made considerable achievements during Khatami’s time in office, and one can recall that Israel’s armed forces withdrew from Southern Lebanon [in 2000] during this time.
Qasir also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “Khatami did not affect Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah, but he added something new [to this relationship] which was to strengthen Iran’s relation with Lebanon, especially with [former Prime Minister] Rafik al-Hariri.”
Even though the [Iranian] presidency does not affect Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran, the Lebanese movement was relieved at Ahmadinejad’s re-election, as according to sources close to the Iranian President, Hezbollah believes that his victory “strengthens the…resistance, and the confrontation of the Israeli, American, and Zionist projects in the region.” This was evident in Hassan Nasrallah’s [congratulatory] message to Ahmadinejad.
Observers also say that according to Khatami’s experience, had the reformist candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, who also has the support of the Iranian students been elected, this would not have affected any change in Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah. This is why Hezbollah is relatively unconcerned with the demonstrations that are taking place in Iran that are calling for Ahmadinejad’s dismissal. Qasir confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hezbollah would be relieved by an Ahmadinejad victory, for although Moussavi has the support of [some] Islamists, he has a slightly different point of view [from Ahmadinejad]. Ahmadinejad has helped Hezbollah by creating a revolutionary atmosphere.”
Despite the fact that Hezbollah’s relationship with Iran is conducted solely via the Supreme Leader, the demonstrations that are taking place in Iran can affect Hezbollah’s image.
Former US State Department adviser, Graham Bannerman, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “Nasrallah’s role in the region may change because he enjoys great popularity.” He added “if the situation in Iran deteriorates, and violence increases with Tehran becoming a Tiananmen Square, this will undoubtedly have a negative impact on Hezbollah.” Bannerman believes that “the more credibility that the Iranian regime loses, and the more that it resorts to violence, the more this [situation] will negatively impact upon Hezbollah.”
Graham Bannerman participated in the recent Lebanese elections as an international observer, where he was present in Southern Lebanon, which is a Hezbollah strong-hold. He informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah’s image in Lebanon will not change, and that Hezbollah and the Amal movement won 95 percent of the Shiite vote in Lebanon. Bannerman revealed that Hezbollah’s strength in Lebanon “is based upon their [external] relationships and their popularity with the Lebanese Shiites who view them as protectors of the Shiite community.”
There can be no doubt that the eyes of Hezbollah are on Iran, and that the movement is watching carefully the events that tare taking place in Iran, even if they are refusing to comment on them. This position is well-known and easy to understand, and Hezbollah are only concerned that something unforeseen may happen, or that these demonstrations may affect Khamenei’s position. Bannerman informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “Hezbollah can do very little to influence what is happening in Iran today, but of course they are closely monitoring the situation.”