TitleThe nature of a connection

Hezbollah, master or slave?

11 Mar 2010

■ Ali Mohtadi
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After the last presidential election in Iran and the events following it, there has been a new development in the Iranian attitude toward Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It all started after a few men – who were later said to be members of Hezbollah – were photographed using violence against protesters. It ended up in the controversial slogan, ‘Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I’ll give my life for Iran’ chanted by the protestors.
The general public, who before only knew Hezbollah through national television and radio, was brought into a discussion about this Lebanese organization, many arguments coming from people’s half-knowledge about it.

What is Hezbollah? What is its organic connection to Iran? What role has it played in the recent events? What is the kind of bond it has with the Iranian regime? Answering such questions might give a better understanding of the nature of this organization and its relation to Iran.

Iran as the master

Hezbollah was established in 1982, originating from the Amal Movement, a Shi’a political movement founded by Musa al-Sadr. Ali-Akbar Mohtashamipour – then the Iranian ambassador in Damascus – could be called its godfather. Although Hezbollah’s activities were in the beginning limited and more directed towards Israel, its role has changed from a national Lebanese party to an independent semi-government with interests, strategies, military force and financial resources.

Not long after its establishment, the financial and logistical help of the Iranian regime to this group caused a division between Hezbollah and the Shiites who did not want to depend on Iran. With the appearance of Imam Musa al-Sadr in the 1970s and after years of oppression, the Lebanese Shiites were given an opportunity to come out of their seclusion and be involved socially and politically in Lebanon. Musa al-Sadr, who moved to Lebanon from Iran in the 1960s, was able to become of one of Lebanon’s most loved public figures and his charisma and activities brought about many privileges to the deprived Lebanese Shiite. The establishment of the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council, the first official Shiite organization, was the first of these benefits. However, Musa al-Sadr’s disappearance (just before the Islamic Revolution in Iran) and later the Iranian’s regime strategy to attach as many Shiites as possible to itself resulted in a different fate for Lebanon. Amal Movement, which was established by Musa al-Sadr, had been the most important Lebanese party contributing to the Shiite uprising. It was thought that the formation of Hezbollah would strengthen the Shiite groups even more, an end that was fulfilled with Hezbollah’s confiscation of all power and becoming a despotic group.

The Islamic Republic – which thought of itself not only as the leader of the Shiites, but all the Muslims in the world – was pursuing two things in helping Hezbollah: first establishing another Islamic republic in Lebanon and second the control over a country so close to Israel. For that reason, it only gave support in exchange for unquestioned and complete commitment to its Velayat-e-Faghih (Guardianship of the Jurisconsult) principle. Amal Movement’s opposition to this condition cut off the Islamic regime’s support from the group and ended up in a bloody battle between Amal and Hezbollah.

The Supreme Leader is the main decision-maker when it comes to three things: first the relations with the US and second the nuclear program. The third is Lebanon. He personally sets Iran’s policies towards the country and he lets Hezbollah make all the decisions

A change in the balance of power

Hezbollah’s real rise to power happened after the Lebanese civil war in 1990s. After the war, almost all of the fighting Lebanese groups were officially disarmed and become a part of the Lebanese political system, except Hezbollah, who with the support of the Iranian regime and Syria managed to keep its arms for fighting against Israel under the name of ‘Lebanon’s Resistance’. It is obvious that with its huge arsenal, unprecedented support from the Iranian regime and its new extensive Shiite recruits, Hezbollah became a state within the Lebanese government. As they say, ‘power lies with whom that has arms and riches and the key to the dungeons.’

Lebanon, with its history of wars and the continuous assaults from Israel, was the perfect ground for the formation of a fighting and resistance culture. Meanwhile, the fight with Israel and Lebanon constantly in danger of being attacked were the perfect excuse allowing Hezbollah to extend its presence everywhere in Lebanon (even in northern regions – with no Shiite population and no border with Israel), using its special phone network and becoming allies with its former competitive and opposing groups. At the same time, the one financially supporting Hezbollah’s programs in Lebanon was Iran, for example in paying millions of dollars to Michel Aoun (Hezbollah’s Christian ally) to start a big satellite network called Orange TV, and other massive assistance to similar groups.

What happened at this stage was a change of relation between father and son. If Hezbollah’s policies were decided in Tehran before and the group was a mere executioner, now the page had turned and it was Hezbollah that made all the decisions. Contrary to common beliefs, all the decisions are now made in Beirut and it is always Hezbollah that has the final word, Iran being only a financial and logistical support. The group’s connection to Iran is predefined at all levels and starts with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader. That means if there would a problem between Hezbollah and Iranian institutions and organizations, it would be the Supreme Leader’s office that will facilitate and take care of everything.

Therefore, Lebanon clearly is an exception in Iranian foreign policies. It is not the Iranian foreign ministry who makes decisions when it comes to Lebanon, but Iran’s relation (as an independent state) to the country is being dictated by a Lebanese party/organization, Hezbollah. Whenever it comes to sending off an Iranian ambassador to Beirut, it is the group that has to confirm and approve of the choice. The Iranian ambassador to Lebanon is officially a member of Hezbollah and the Lebanese ambassador in Tehran is also officially a member of Hezbollah. In the same way, the Iranian ambassador (being the official representative of the Iranian president) is not even a part of Hezbollah’s central and deciding core, but is merely a member of their political office.

The Supreme Leader is the main decision-maker when it comes to three things: first the relations with the US and second the nuclear program. The third is Lebanon. He personally sets Iran’s policies towards the country and he lets Hezbollah make all the decisions. The fact that Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah (the Secretary General of the group) is ayatollah Khamenei’s official representative in Lebanon can help understanding the kind of relation between Hezobllah and Iran.

Another example shows this kind of strange relationship. During Hezbollah’s conflicts with the Lebanese government in 2009 (which resulted in a sit-in of the group in central Beirut from October 2006 to June 2008 and the eventual seize of the capital), Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki was sent to Beirut. This trip was very important because there were talks of ending the conflict and on the other hand there was the possibility of Lebanon’s nomination to become a member of the United Nation’s Security Council. The Iranian embassy in Beirut made the announcement in a rush, but then Hezbollah showed disapproval of this journey, because the foreign minister was bound to have a meeting with Fouad Siniora, and such a meeting wasn’t in the interests of the group in that time. Iran became a laughing stock in Lebanese media, needing permission from Hezbollah for its foreign minister to travel to Lebanon.

How Hezbollah’s decisions are dictated to Iran, who makes up the body of this organization and the kind of Iranian financial aid to the group are some other important aspects in better understanding this party-government that will follow in future articles.

Tehran Review
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