Tehran, Asharq Al-Awsat- With respect to Lebanon, the Iranian public is divided between two distinctive symbols: Hezbollah and Lebanese pop stars like Nancy Ajram and Haifa Wahbi. One of the three names is bound to be brought up when Iranians talk to a Lebanese.
Devout Muslims appreciate Hezbollah to a great degree whilst others search for music videos featuring Lebanese beauties. Opposite the Khomeini tomb, which lies on the outskirts of the Iranian capital, even the Iranian bus driver watches these music videos on a small television as he rests while his passengers visit the tomb.
As some Iranians dream of obtaining a smuggled version of Nancy Ajram’s latest music video, others dream of going to Lebanon to become martyrs. Hussein, an Arabic-Persian translator, says he dreams of joining Hezbollah, fighting the Israelis and becoming a martyr. He hopes that one day the party would expand and admit non-Lebanese volunteers so that he would be able to carry out his duty. Hussein openly expressed his admiration for Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and stated that he listens to “resistance” songs, the lyrics to which he does not understand fully, however, he feels glory and dignity as he plays them.
Despite that Hezbollah emerged from the 1978 Iranian Revolution, the 25-year-old organization has become a “beacon” for many Iranian politicians who race to portray good relations with it, according to a former Iranian official in a private gathering held recently in Tehran. He complained that some Iranian figures visit Lebanon and request to meet Hassan Nasrallah then use it to display influence in Tehran.
A number of Iranian groups blame the current leadership for its extravagant support of Hezbollah at the expense of the Iranian treasury and relations with Arab states and Lebanese parties. Sheikh Muhammad Shariati, the political advisor to former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, believes that Iran has “cornered itself in relation to Lebanon because of the party [Hezbollah].” “The Iranian opposition has no problem backing Hezbollah as a resistance movement. This is essential. However, Iran needs to establish relations with all parties.” “During the Lebanese Civil War, Iran had established ties with all parties but today Iranian diplomacy is poking its nose in Lebanon. Relations have to be set up with everyone. This is lacking in Lebanon,” he told Asharq Al Awsat. Sheikh Shariati asked, “A year ago, this [Lebanese] government was acceptable to all parties, so how did it become a traitor with connections abroad overnight?” He referred to the presence of “parties that reject the president and do not recognize his legitimacy. Iran cannot break its relations with the head of the state. Some boycott the prime minister and call him illegitimate and that is their right, they are Lebanese. However, as diplomats, we need to maintain balanced relations with everyone.”
There are many illustrations of Iran’s association with Hezbollah, and these heighten in misfortune. During last summer’s war with Israel, pictures of Hassan Nasrallah could be seen from the airport to the center of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Any visitor to the presidential headquarters can see Nasrallah’s photo conspicuously placed in the office of President Ahmadinejad’s bodyguards as well as in the guards’ office of the Khomeini house in Tehran. Ahmadinejad even broke protocol by rushing down the stairs of his presidential headquarters to receive Nasrallah and would have opened the car door himself were it not for the bodyguards who opened it. The special status that Nasrallah enjoys with Khamenei is also evident. Sheikh Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, a key co-founder of the party, emphasized that there is a special bond between Nasrallah and Sayyed Khamenei and such appreciation was manifest in Khamenei’s message to Nasrallah during the Israeli war. It was remarkable that he described Nasrallah as a “brave Arab leader.”
The head of the state and government in Iran does not have a considerable effect upon Hezbollah. The support that it receives is non-governmental and neither did it diminish during both terms of reformist President Mohammad Khatami nor increase under Ahmadinejad, except due to having to make up for the damages incurred by war.
Hezbollah gains its [financial] support through “legitimate money” paid through Iranian taxes, namely, Zakat and Khums, a 20 percent of the annual net income, the spending of which is the responsibility of the office of the Supreme Guide. Similarly, Nasrallah is his legitimate representative to Lebanon and is entitled to receive and collect the legitimate funding. This includes $300 US million that the party received and paid in compensation for damages resulting from the Israeli aggression on the south of Beirut, southern Lebanon and Bekaa Valley immediately after the war. Hezbollah maintains good relations with Iranian military institutions and it was the Revolutionary Guard that had overseen the training of Hezbollah guerilla fighters. In order to acquire new technology or to become acquainted with new weaponry, trainers only need travel to Tehran.
Thousands of youngsters travel to Tehran every year to visit Shia holy shrines that are well promoted for by the Iranians. One Iranian diplomat even said that it was difficult to travel between Beirut and Tehran onboard the scheduled weekly flights on Saturdays and Wednesdays, which indicates a complex relation that is a mix of political, religious and ideological elements and is refined by regional events.