London, Asharq Al-Awsat- During the student uprising in July 1999 and the violent confrontations that followed between Arab residents of the Iranian city of Ahvaz and the security services, many student leaders and Arab officials in the city spoke about the presence of hundreds of Arab troops within the ranks of the Iranian security forces and the Revolutionary Guards units quelled the protests.
At the time, it was thought these Arab troops were members of the Badr Brigade, the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq . Yet, many who encountered these foreign soldiers commented on their Lebanese and Syrian accents.
The issue remained a mystery until this week, when Ali Akbar Mohatashemi, the former Iranian ambassador to Syria and the founding father of Hezbollah, revealed that members of the Party of God participated in the Iran-Iraq war side by side with the Revolutionary Guards. He described the relationship between Hezbollah and the Iranian regime as much more than the one linking a revolutionary regime with a foreign organization. Hezbollah, he indicated, is one of the institutions of the ruling regime in Tehran and a main element of its military.
Mohtashemi, one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s students, told the Iranian Sharq newspaper on Wednesday, in a discussion about the ongoing conflict in Lebanon, “Hezbollah has a huge arsenal of heavy artillery rockets and missiles, including Katyusha and Zelzal. Israel is 200km long which means that a Zelzal-1 missile, which has a range of 250km, is capable of targeting all of Israel.”
Hezbollah’s continued ability to inflict damage on the Israeli army and to fire its missiles on northern Israel can be attributed, Mohtashemi revealed, to its experience during the Iran-Iraq war. “Part of Hezbollah’s skill goes back to its experience fighting and training… soldiers from Hezbollah fought amongst our troops or separately.”
“After Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, I was very worried about the fate of Lebanon and Syria. At the time, I was the Iranian ambassador in Damascus. I traveled to Tehran and met with Ayatollah Khomeini. He said the only way to repel the Zionists was to mobilize young Lebanese men and train them. A new era started afterward, as Shiaa men underwent military training and Hezbollah was born. We witnessed the resistance kicking out the Israel from Lebanon, after eighteen years of occupation.”
In the last few years, Hezbollah “succeeded in strengthening its political and military presence in Lebanon and the region. It also developed its fighting capabilities and increased its military presence. Today, the areas where Hezbollah fighters and leaders used to live have been destroyed by Israeli warplanes. But, in spite of this, Hezbollah is still capable of firing one missile after another toward northern Israel.”
According to Mohtashemi, more than a 100,000 Shiaa men have undergone military training since Hezbollah’s inception, both in Lebanon and Iran.”
Hezbollah, the former Iranian diplomat said, “did not expect such a ferocious Israeli response. Its leadership expected small operations to hurt its capabilities but not an all-out war.”