Tehran, Asharq Al-Awsat- Two fathers created the Lebanese Hezbollah Party. They were Ali Muhtashimi, the “godfather,” former Iranian ambassador to Syria who came up with the idea and nurtured it in 1980s; and, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, the ‘operational father,” the Iranian ambassador to Syria for the past 14 years, until last January.
Akhtari took the new idea of a “Hezbollah party” and transformed it over the years of his service as ambassador into a reality that has considerably changed the balance of power in the region.
Akhtari, twice ambassador to Syria, (1986 – 1997) and (2005 – January 2008), was the most influential diplomat in Syria. He was not an ordinary ambassador. In addition to being the “operational father” of Hezbollah, he was engineer of “the special relations” between Syria and Iran, coordinator of Iran’s relations with Palestinian organizations in Damascus, and founder of the Palestinian-Iranian Friendship Society, which includes representatives from all Palestinian organizations in Damascus.
The purpose of this was “bringing the Palestinian and Iranian people closer together.” He is also president of “Ahil al-Bayt World Assembly” for preaching and spreading the Shia doctrine and bringing Islamic sects closer together. Ever since he returned to Tehran (January 2008), he has been working as adviser to the Supreme Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, a position he used to occupy before being posted again as ambassador to Damascus. During his time as ambassador, the Iranian Embassy in Damascus became the most important Iranian embassy in the world. It represented something akin to a “regional centre” for Iran’s diplomatic activities that extended from Damascus to Beirut and the Palestinian territories and became privy to files on several matters, chief of which was Iran’s relations with Syria, Hezbollah, the Palestinian organizations and Shia scholarly religious circles in the world known in Arabic as “Al-Hawzat al-Ilmiyah.” Akhtari’s most important achievement was the building of Hezbollah from a mere idea to an establishment with political, economic, military, and social independence in the region.
He supervised the building of Hezbollah, especially its military structure that was built by Iranian Revolutionary Guards specifically sent to Lebanon for this purpose by orders from the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Another no less important achievement was the building of a network of “special relationships” between Syria and Iran, without which Iran would not have been able to move as smoothly in Lebanon or with the Palestinian organizations. He succeeded in weaving all these threads together – Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian organizations and formed what some have called an “Iranian carpet of complex and intertwined relations.” Akhtari talks about the years of his work in Damascus and the missions he carried out in two capacities, as an ambassador and as a man of religion. Akhtari did not regard his work in Damascus and the missions with which he was entrusted from the very first day, as merely political activities, but as part of his role as a man of religion. He left his work as the imam at Samnan Mosque in northern Iran to become a diplomat with a religious mission, as he described himself in this extensive interview with Asharq-Al-Awsat in Tehran, the first of its kind with an Arab or foreign newspaper.
His diplomatic language is a mixture of religious fiqh [jurisprudence] and political language. He did not study diplomatic and political sciences; he studied fiqh at a religious school in Qom and worked as a man of religion and a mosque imam. President of the Iranian Republic Ali Khamenei chose him to be Iran’s ambassador in Damascus, at a time which Akhtari was described as “sensitive and difficult.” Iran was at the time involved in the “war imposed by Iraq” as he put it. Syria was one of three Arab states that stood by Iran; two of which – Libya and Algeria, withdrew their support later on, while Syria alone remained with Iran. It was then Akhtari’s job to ensure that this coalition, unlike the rapprochement with Libya and Algeria would not end. Because Iran did not have an ambassador in Beirut at the time and only had a chargé d’affairs, Akhtari was put in charge of the Lebanese file. And, because the Palestinian organizations in Damascus, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were making Damascus a base, Akhtari became responsible for Iran’s relations with the Palestinian organizations.
Asharq Al-Awsat is publishing a series of articles about those decisive and fateful years of the 1980s that shaped relations in the region from that time to the present day. Hezbollah was established in those years, the special relationship between Iran and Syria was forged, as well as the relations between Tehran and the Palestinian organizations. The series includes testimonials from present and former public officials who were in the decision making circles at the time in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Some of these testimonials will be published for the first time. It also includes eye witness accounts, from present and former Syrian and US public officials and Palestinian leaders in Damascus. The first part of the series is with Mohammed Hassan Akhtari, the “godfather” of Hezbollah, and former Iranian ambassador in Damascus. He talked about the three main files that dominated his 14 years in Damascus as ambassador. They were: building Hezbollah and the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; the war between the Amal Movement and the Palestinian organizations; and then between Amal and Hezbollah. He also talked about the building of relations with Palestinian organizations; the relations between Syria and Iran, and the Ahil al-Bayt World Assembly, of which he has been secretary general for the past four years which he said, performs religious activities. The underlying philosophy that guided him through all these issues, he said, was based on the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini. He revealed that between 1968 and 1972 he was instructed to perform religious activities in the Syrian cities of Homs and Aleppo, as well as Lebanon, implying that he was in contact with these countries for the past 40 years.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You returned to Iran early this year after 14 years as ambassador in Syria, could you tell us about your experiment in building Syrian-Iranian relations all those years?
[Akhtari] First of all, I thank you for coming and for this meeting. I hope that through your paper, we will always continue to consolidate fraternal relations between Muslims, and between Arab and Islamic states. I feel very strongly about these relationships. I believe in, and am convinced of the need to unify the power and resources and realize the unity of the Islamic nation, and establish the defenses against the evil conspiracies plotted against the Arab and Islamic nations. It is probably due to this feeling of responsibility and belief that I succeeded in my work as ambassador to Syria to further consolidate the strong relations between Syria and Iran. I was twice ambassador to Syria. One period lasted about 12 years; the other was seven years later and lasted over two years. It is unusual for an ambassador to remain in one country for such a length of time, not in Syria or Iran anyway. Very few ambassadors in the world spend more than ten years in one country. We have heard of some, but they very seldom stay for 14 years. Continuity and length of time are evidence that I was doing well. I was posted to Syria at politically complex and difficult times on the regional and international level. My first appointment as ambassador was in 1986 during Saddam’s imposed war on Iran and after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. There were also some important Lebanese issues. I can say the circumstances in Lebanon were particularly hot. It was under such circumstances that I was entrusted with the Lebanese file. I never worked as a government employee before my appointment as ambassador, I was new and so were most of the people in government in general.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where were you before your appointment as ambassador to Syria?
[Akhtari] I was a Friday prayer imam, and from there I came to a seat of political responsibility and diplomatic relations. My background was a good pointer for achievement. In addition, I arrived in Damascus on 5 Ramadan 1986, and started work next day. That was a blessing for me at the start of my work. But that month also, perhaps the 19th or 20th of Ramadan of that year, confrontations between the Palestinians and Amal Movement took place in Lebanon. The Islamic revolution did not have an ambassador in Lebanon. There was only a chargé d’affairs, so, I was entrusted with the Lebanese file as well. In my early days as ambassador, I was entrusted with all these issues, partly because of the importance of the file, partly because Syria had a military and security presence in Lebanon, and partly because all Palestinian organizations and their central commands were in Damascus. I was wholeheartedly involved in these matters. We started working toward a ceasefire in order to create the environment to reconcile the two Muslim factions, the Palestinians and the Amal Movement. There was at the time an attempt to provoke sectarian sedition like the war imposed on Iran by Saddam, in order to portray the issue as a sectarian matter between Shia and Sunni. The conspiracy that we see today has been continuing ever since. There were poisonous and hateful attempts to provoke sectarian conflict. I turned all my attention to this problem because I am a believer in Islamic unity and rapprochement among Muslims in general. I strived earnestly, to prevent this issue from having adverse effects on Lebanon or anywhere else, and from being portrayed as a Sunni/Shia issue. There were Palestinians forcibly driven from their homeland and they came to Lebanon, and there were Lebanese groups who had complaints. And so the problem started. Although infighting was sparked off, our first concern was to prevent it spreading and secondly, prevent the issue from being presented as a sectarian issue between Sunni and Shia. We succeeded in this matter. There were some brothers who assembled Muslim scholars (ulema) in Lebanon at the time. They played an important role in this matter. We used to meet frequently and they used to issue statements calling for calm and explaining that the differences were factional and had no religious or sectarian roots. Thank God, we succeeded in this matter. I can state that Lebanon has refused to regard this as a sectarian matter and, from the beginning we were active in the field to extinguish the fire of sedition and confront it. At the same time, we started building the substance of relations between Iran and Syria, and between Iran and Palestine, amicably, brotherly, surely and with confidence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] We need to stop here for some detail. What exactly were the differences between the Amal Movement and the Palestinian organizations, and what were your proposals to solve the problem?
[Akhtari] First, as I pointed out, the differences were a conspiracy. The Palestinians were made homeless and they came to Lebanon as guests, especially as far as the Amal Movement was concerned. Second, the founder of the Amal Movement, Imam Musa al-Sadr, was the first to receive the Palestinians. They were not rejecting the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and they knew about the Palestinian question. Moreover, they regarded the Palestine question as their own. So, they played hosts to the Palestinians, and generosity to the guest is one of our religious principles. Imam Musa al-Sadr was among those who welcomed the Palestinians, he always insisted on confronting Israel and supporting the Palestinians. He has a long history in this matter. Third, the two sides have relations with Syria, who was taking care of both the Amal Movement and Palestinian organizations. This provides evidence that it was not an issue of Lebanese Shia and Palestinian Sunnis. It was not like that. Fourth, the two sides had strong new relations with Iran. After the victory of the revolution and declaring the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini received the late martyr Yasser Arafat and the Islamic Republic transformed the embassy of Israel to the Embassy of Palestine. Amal too had relations with the Islamic Republic. They all had relations with the Islamic Republic. Consequently, I can state that the problem was in one backyard, not two, and that Israel was behind it. We have evidence of that. We used to meet in Damascus to follow up the issues. Sheikh Sheikh al-Islam, an assistant to the minister of foreign affairs and later on ambassador to Syria after me, came to Damascus and stayed there. Abdul Salam Jallud, the second man in the Libyan regime who resigned from official work after Lockerbie and kept away from all official activities in May 1993, also came at that time from Libya to Syria. In addition to the three of us, there were Syrian officials. We used to convene tri-partite meetings in the presence of leaders from Amal and the Palestinian organizations. We would meet at night, reach agreement, and in the morning issue a statement. Yet, even before circulating the statement or the decision to be announced, we used to hear about violations somewhere in the South, North, or Beirut. We used to try to discover the reason, and it always appeared that some people were enlisted to sabotage any agreement. The beneficiary in all this was Israel and its supporters. We know that after reconciliation the Palestinians remained where they were. That was a serious problem, caused by mercenaries from outside. Israel was behind it as well as its beneficiary. (Note by Asharq Al-Awsat: Musa al-Sadr, who founded the Lebanese movement Amal, was born in Iran, in the city of Qom on 15 April, 1928. He specialized in Islamic religious studies after obtaining two university degrees from the University of Tehran; one in Islamic studies, and one in political sciences. He went from Qom to Al-Najaf for higher studies under the supervision of Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim al-Tabtabai and Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei. In 1960, he went to stay in the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, where Iranians used to go to escape political problems in Iran. In 1974, he founded the Lebanese resistance brigades that became known as the Amal Movement, and before that in 1969, he established the Supreme Shia Islamic Council. This was the first time a formal sectarian separation was made between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon. His presidency of the Council coincided with the beginnings of Israel’s intervention in southern Lebanon. He was naturalized as a Lebanese citizen later on, but not many people know that he was born in Iran, not in Lebanon. Musa al-Sadr vanished during a visit to Libya on 25 August, 1978. Libya continues to be very secretive about the circumstances of his disappearance and his fate is still unknown.)
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You also intervened to contain the conflict between Hezbollah and Amal, could you tell us about your experience with this case.
[Akhtari] I should say first that the issue between Amal and the Palestinians lasted for an entire year before we reached a solution reconciling the parties. After that a new problem arose between Amal and Hezbollah, which began as one party. It can be said that they all were the sons of Musa al-Sadr. After the victory of the Islamic revolution, they had a covenant with the Islamic Republic. They visited Ayatollah Khomeini at the time and began relations like all other Muslims. The problem between Hezbollah and Amal occurred after they split into two groups; some stayed with Amal, others formed Hezbollah. But they started as a united front against Israel to drive it out of Lebanon, or shall we say, from Beirut to the security belt, as it was called at the time. Within a few months, the Lebanese resistance in general, and members of Hezbollah and Amal from southern Lebanon in particular, were able to wage war against Israel. The confrontation between Amal and Hezbollah was very bad and had many negative results. It annoyed us very much. That’s why we did all we could to end the problem.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What exactly was the reason, and was it ideological or political?
[Akhtari] I do not believe the reason was ideological. They all have one ideology and belong to the same sect. Nor was the reason political. The two parties had strong relations with Syria and Iran. Moreover, they did not have any particular ambition in Lebanon. So, one cannot really say the differences were political. They did not even have different or conflicting objectives.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true then that Amal was more secular, while Hezbollah was more religious and that sparked off the differences?
[Akhtari] Religiosity, as we all know, is what you do. It is one’s practical commitment and conduct. One may say that the brothers in Hezbollah were more active and more committed, while Amal had different strata; with some performing their religious duties in the same way as Hezbollah while others did not. But that is normal among youths. The main reason was not religion, sectarianism, beliefs, politics or ideology. They all believed in the need to confront Israel, and believed in the resistance. As I said, they all come from the same house. Sometimes an internal problem arises for a reason, and sometimes for no reason at all. Sometimes, after the event, one may not know what caused it. Two brothers from the same family and the same sect fight each other. This problem took us a long time. I was entrusted with the mission of reconciling the parties by the president of the Iranian Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei. I was Iran’s representative, and Ghazi Kanaan, [Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon from 1982 to 2001 and later, minister of the interior from October 2003 to his suicide in 2005] was representative of the late president Hafiz al-Assad. In addition we had representatives from Amal and Hezbollah. We held long meetings and it took us months to achieve reconciliation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What were the conditions for reconciliation between Amal and Hezbollah?
[Akhtari] The conditions were the return of things to where they were before, release of detainees by both sides, and abiding by the ceasefire. These were the main points and both parties abided by them. Political and religious figures in Lebanon also helped in solving this problem. Reconciliation between Amal and Hezbollah proceeded until the situation reverted to where it was before. The two parties performed their religious rites together, and they appeared at celebrations together. I can state that the two parties became closer to each other day after day, until they were like one stratum, as we see them today in Lebanon. The reconciliation was the basis for the unity, harmony, and collegiality that we see today between the two parties. Hassan Nasrallah is leading the spiritual and religious leadership, and Nabih Berri is leading the political movement in Lebanon. Both are doing well and we believe the reconciliation has gone well and formed the basis for trust between Iran and Syria more than ever before. Syria stood by Iran from the very first day. The late President Hafiz al-Assad trusted Ayatollah Khomeini and respected him. He was one of those who believed that any opposition to the Islamic Republic in any shape or form and under whatever pretext amounted to treason to the Arab, Islamic, and Palestinian causes. All President al-Assad’s speeches at forums of Arab and Islamic states pointed in this direction. President Al-Assad’s stand against Saddam was not personal. To him, the Islamic Republic and Ayatollah Khomeini took Iran out of the Western coalition and the coalition with America and Israel and put it in the coalition of Arab and Muslim states. Moreover, Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic regarded the Palestinian cause as theirs and called for commemorating Jerusalem’s universal day in the month of Ramadan each year, in support of the Palestinian cause. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were formed after the Islamic revolution and were inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini and the resistance he formed. The Palestinian Islamic resistance became a fact, first in Lebanon and then in Palestine. Therefore, the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance are legitimate sons of the Islamic Republic, morally and spiritually.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Abdul Halim Khaddam, former Syrian vice-president, claimed that Iran strengthened Hezbollah after the confrontation at Amal’s expense. Was this true?
[Akhtari] No, it is not true. Iran had the same relations at the same time with both parties, yet even then some people or some circles tried to give the impression that Iran favors or supports Hezbollah at Amal’s expense. In reality, Iran’s relations were with both of them. Amal’s president and members had very good relations with Iran as did Hezbollah and they used to visit Iran. Also, Iranian officials used to meet with the president of Amal and his aides. When the conflict broke out between them, Iran tried to solve the problem; but some people were intent on sabotaging all these attempts and solutions. It took us a long time to reach a solution. What you have attributed to Khaddam might have been his personal impression, but as a matter of fact it was not true. Iran assisted them in developing close and strong relations with Syria and Iran. There was complete trust and interdependence between the two countries. Some groups and political analysts thought that Syrian-Iranian relations would be confined to the war years with Iraq, but we have seen that the relations became wider and deeper and thank God, this is still the case.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You played a big role in building Hezbollah in Lebanon. What were the difficulties that you faced in building Hezbollah, how long did it take, how was it planned, and how did you help?
[Akhtari] In my capacity as representative of the Islamic Republic, I played a role in supporting, widening and deepening the resistance. But it is important to stress that the resistance was launched in Lebanon with Lebanese spirit, Lebanese faith, and Lebanese men. They felt the need to establish the resistance, and found and organize its base. Imam Musa al-Sadr first founded the movement of the oppressed, which later became Amal. When Israel invaded Lebanon, the Lebanese felt the need to resist. At the same time, although we were at war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini agreed to send delegations from the Revolutionary Guards to support the resistance. We stood by them, supporting, assisting and encouraging, but the foundation was theirs. The land, capabilities and the faith were all Lebanese. They wanted to establish a wide deep-rooted resistance, and they did. We stood by them, helped them and supported them in this matter. They followed it up and we supported them morally and materially, and thus they got to where they are now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can we go back to the early days of founding Hezbollah? You have been repeatedly described as the ‘operational father of Hezbollah, while Ali Muhtashimi was described as the ‘godfather’. How was your relationship with Muhtashimi, and how did the idea of supporting Hezbollah occur to Iran?
[Akhtari] Ali Muhtashimi was in charge in the beginning, but later on when I became ambassador, I performed this supporting role to the resistance. My relationship with Ali Muhtashimi was good. We have been friends for more than forty years. Our friendship predates the Islamic revolution, and still stands. The reason Hezbollah was established and Iran entered the field of Lebanon was Israel’s occupation of Lebanon [sic]. When Israel occupied Lebanon, the Islamic Republic deemed it necessary to support Lebanon in facing up to the Israeli occupation. Iran came to Lebanon and stood by the resistance in 1982. There was the Amal Movement and other Lebanese movements in the resistance, including Christians. The Islamic Republic stood by all political shades of the Lebanese resistance. Even the secular groups, Christian and Muslim, had relations with the Islamic Republic. The group of socialist and communist parties, as well as other groups had relations with the Islamic republic and they still do. The Islamic Republic has stood by the resistance. This group and those men wanted to resist, so they founded their organization and the Islamic Republic assisted them in organizing it. [ Asharq Al-Awsat note on founding Hezbollah: Ali Muhtashimi, Iran’s ambassador to Syria from 1982 – 1985, who is considered the ‘godfather’ of Hezbollah, said in an interview with the Iranian newspaper Sharq, on 3 August, 2008, that Hezbollah fought side by side with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Iran-Iraq war. Muhtashimi said: “Hezbollah’s experience was partly gained in fighting and partly in training. Hezbollah gained high combat experience during the Iran-Iraq war. Hezbollah party members fought directly alongside our forces.” He added: “After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini changed his mind about sending large forces to Syria and Lebanon. In other words, after the fifth Iranian plane carrying units from the guards, the Baseege and Dhul-Faqir Brigades (used to be called Khalidoon or the immortals in the shah’s days), Ayatollah Khomeini objected to the idea of sending more forces. I was then Iran’s ambassador to Syria, and I was really worried about Syria and Lebanon. I went to Teheran and met with Ayatollah Khomeini. As I was worried about Lebanon and enthusiastic about the idea of sending forces to Syria and Lebanon, I started talking about our responsibilities and what was going on in Lebanon. The imam cooled me down and said that the forces we send to Syria and Lebanon would need huge logistical support. Reinforcement and support would need to go through Turkey and Iraq. We are in a fierce war with Iraq. As for Turkey, it is a NATO member and an ally of the United States. The only remaining way is to train the Shia men there, and so Hezbollah was born.” According to Muhtashimi, more than 100,000 men have received combat training, in batches of 300 men, since the party was founded in Lebanon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding Khomeini’s decision to send the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to support Hezbollah, what exactly was the mission of those forces and how long did they stay in Lebanon?
[Akhtari] I do not remember exactly how long the Iranian Revolutionary Guards stayed in Lebanon, but as I said, the circumstances were those of occupation in Lebanon and the Revolutionary Guards went there to support the Lebanese at that particular time. When it ended, after a year or two, and the resistance produced the desired results, they went back and the presence of the Iranian guards in Lebanon was brought to an end.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was the Guards’ mission? Did they take a direct part in military operations or were they confined to training Hezbollah’s forces?
[Akhtari] They supported Hezbollah in the matter of training and special instructions. I have no knowledge of any of them taking part in direct combat.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have talked about supporting Hezbollah and coordination with it. How was the coordination done? Did Hezbollah fighters and activists come to Damascus, or did you go to Beirut, and with whom did the coordination take place?
[Akhtari] We used to meet and they would show us what they had. They would tell us what decisions they had made, what commitments they had and what they were doing. They would tell us and submit some reports that in turn we sent to the brothers in the Islamic Republic. But the decision was always theirs. The relations with Palestinian organizations were conducted in the same way, and the officials in the Islamic Republic would give them advice if they had any. But here again, the decision was absolutely theirs. They had a shura council that was responsible for decision-making, and later on, had the power to elect the secretary general, who was also a shura council member. Executive decisions or major decisions were in the hands of the shura council and the secretary general; and this continues to be the case. We have stated repeatedly that the Lebanese question can only be solved by consensus. No solution can be imposed from outside by dictates or orders. We in Iran have never dealt with any of the parties who have ties with the Islamic Republic by issuing orders. This is how we have been dealing with our brothers in Afghanistan, in Iraq, with their different strata, Sunni, Shia, Kurds or others. The same is the case with the Lebanese and Palestinians. We meet with them, we talk, they send us reports, brief us on matters of concern and consult with us on some issues and we offer advice if we have any. The choice and decision-making is and remains in their hands. It is up to them to agree or disagree and to decide and act as they choose. In our view, the only way to deal with the Lebanese situation is by consensus among the spiritual and political leaders in Lebanon. It is one of the characteristics of Lebanon that the political leadership cannot impose its opinion on all the Lebanese. It is essential that the political and religious leaders reach agreement on this matter. Anyone who knows Lebanon and the events of Lebanon knows that Lebanese-Syrian relations at that time were excellent. All Lebanese groups were in contact with us in Syria. Whenever I went to Lebanon, I met with various parties ranging from the Hezbollah and Amal Movement to other Islamic and secular groups. The relations and contacts varied according to the requirements of the prevailing circumstances. At times of sedition and troubles, communications used to be continuous with a view to reaching a solution. When stability returned to Lebanon, naturally, the balance changed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did the balance change?
[Akhtari] What happened is that stability returned to Lebanon. Like all ambassadors sent to Syria, when we used to go to Lebanon, we went in an official capacity and our meetings were official meetings, as is customary in the diplomatic field.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did Iranian and Hezbollah leaders differ on any matter during your work and experience in Damascus?
[Akhtari] Do you mean the Lebanese and the Islamic Republic?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] No, I mean Iran and Hezbollah. The choices open to the resistance those days were difficult choices. There were strategic decisions to be made. Was there any disagreement between you and Hezbollah?
[Akhtari] This issue is difficult to explain. The issue of having different points of view is perennial among the various strata and officials in the Islamic Republic. This was and continues to be the case. I differ with my assistant, and the president of the republic differs with his ministers. There is always this and that view. In government and organizations, the decision is made by consultation [shura] and the decision made by the majority becomes binding. A 100 % agreement in points of view cannot be a fact. However, differences of opinion do not mean differences and do not mean opposition. As we stated earlier, Lebanese affairs are for the Lebanese. One may criticize the way a matter is dealt with, or may suggest a different way. But as far as we and Hezbollah are concerned, we are all of one religion and one faith. We and Hezbollah regard the United States as an enemy of Islam and Muslims. We regard Israel as a cancer in the body of the region and that the policy of confrontation and resistance is fundamental. As for the modes of implementation, Hezbollah may have its ways and means and different forms of expression. This may happen. As far as fundamentals, roots, and objectives are concerned, there are no differences between us.