After the political wing of Hamas won the Palestinian elections last year, new political or even military conflicts between the Jewish state and the new Palestinian government, considered by some Jewish officials to be terrorist, were taken into account. But it was Lebanon rather than Hamas who was in battle with Israel from July 12 to the half of August 2006 – in particular the radical Hezbollah movement whose political wing is also a representastive of the Lebanese government. Mainly present tensions between Iran – the major supporter and ally of Hezbollah – and Israel, or the West, among the experts prompted a question on the Iranian interests in the conflict. It is clear from the official information provided by the Iranian governement that they do not take concrete steps in the case of the Lebanese-Iranian conflict. According to the Foreign Ministry, Iran gives only moral support to Hezbollah, its help is political and human. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that (the Iranian government) “did not and will not send any force to Lebanon”. They proclaim their determination not to interfere as they send the pugnacious Iranians on the borders back to their homeland. The Iranian steps are understandable. Though President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his hateful and pompous remarks disturbs Israel and the international community, his official practical steps are not as radical. Iran is aware that especially today, in its ongoing dispute with the international community over its nuclear program, it is more suitable not to hamper its – even now tricky – situation by interfering to the conflict. Reactions of politicians and analylists to this – externally neutral – position are cautious. They explain it by ideological alliance of the Hezbollah movement or its historic links with Iran (especially during the life of Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini), various prooofs or indications of military and/or economic cooperation between these two subjects in the 90’s as well as on the present, and – last but not least – clear geopolitical Iranian interests in that region.
Hezbollah – the child of the Iranian revolution – from the origin of the movement to Khomeini’s death.
The origin of Hezbollah in 1982 is closely related with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and with its spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The analysts (e.g. Hajjar, Sick) regard the revolution alongside with the Israeli occupation of Lebanon as the main reasons for the birth of the movement. Hezbollah originated three years after the revolution and sought support especially from the Shiite Moslims in the Beqaa Valley region in Southern Lebanon. The Iranian influence proves several facts
Two years after the revolution, Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini formed the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in the world, whose aim was to found islamic states beyond the Iranian borders. And Hezbollah (Party of God), originally bound not only to the area of Lebanon, as it is sometimes mentiod in the media, but acting also in Saudi Arabia or even in the United States, for example, was the movement created just for this purpose. The priority was to fight against Israel and the United States – having been called a great devil. These ideas enjoyed widespread support among the people in Lebanon, because – contrary to most of the Moslim countries – a number of Shiite population (32 per cent) lives in this region. Moreover, they gained some sympathy also for social services (hospitals, schools and culture) which the movement provided for poor and by the central government’s disadvantages Shiites, and for their hardline position against Israel. As regards espacially its radicalism, this stand differs from the attitude of other Shiite groups, as the Amal movement, which prefered rather a peaceful solution of the conflict. The founders of Hezbollah originated just from the radical wing of this movement and splitted at the moment when they found a background for the implementation of their more radical aims in the shape of the Shiite groups (such as Al Dawa) and universal Iranian help. Reversely, the representatives of moderate Amal admitted the help from Iran only if the independence of the movement was preserved. But this was not the aim of the Iranian side and so creating a new movement was no surprise. The help to the faction consisted in diplomatic support from the Iranian embassy in Syrian Damask. The name of envoy Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, known as “a midwife of Hezbollah”, is especially mentioned in this conneection. The Iranian embassy in Damask was just the place where ten radical Shiite leaders (such as Hezbollah’s spirituasl advisor Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah or Islamic Amal’s leader Abbas Al Musawi) met to pledge loyalty to Iran and to progressively participate in creating the Shiite Hezbollah movement. Beyond diplomatic support, Iran subsequently sent to the Beqaa region around 111 200 Pasdaran soldiers (Islamic revolution Guards Corps), members of the regular Iranian army, governed by spiritual leader Khomeini’s office. Theese troops, according to the intelligence information, help to train members of Hezbollah in the Southern Lebanon Baalbek region. In this connection, especially the Al Quds Brigades are mentioned. They operate under the supervision of the Islamic Revoultion Guards Corps. Iran, of course, denies operating these troops and Pasdaran in the region. The other argument connecting Iran and Hezbollah through the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is the very logo of Hezbollah, markedly similar to that used by the army itself. In both cases, the predominant sign of these logos is a raised arm, the logos differ from each other only by color or surrounding precincts of this predominant sign. The liaison between Iran and Hezbollah could be clarified also by analysis of its key document which may uncover the ideological orientation of the movement. It is the official Hezbollah program declared in 1985 – the open letter of Hezbollah to all oppressed in Lebanon and across the world (Nass al-Risala al-Maftuha allati wajahaha Hizballah ila-l-Mustad’afin fi Lubnan wa-l-Alam). In this document, Hezbollah endorses an ideology against the US, according to the model of Khomeini. According to the program itself, Khomeini is assumed to be the supreme Shiite Faqih (an expert of Islamic law, lawyer) or the supreme spiritual leader who, by means of the Islamic revolution, installs the Panislamic state – so he also disposes political power. They pay obedience to him calling him “unmistakable leader”. Even in the organizational order of the movement, there is a possibility to delibarate the policy of the movement with the Iranian spiritual leader, which is necessary to consider also as cooperation of the movement with one of the highest public officials of Iran. The analysts say that this opportunity is practically used in some cases. Mixed marriages between the Iranians and the Lebaneses, Iranian flags, portraits of Khomeini in the streets of Southern Lebanon and annual pilgrimages of the Lebeneses to the Khomeini’s tomb near Tehran are treated by some sources as a demonstration of unity and friendship of the Iranese people and the members of Hezbollah. Without prejudice, it is necessary to underline that the position of the Lebanese Hezbollah’s leadership to Iran has changed over the years. And already Sheikh Sobhi Tufaili, Hezbollah’s first secretary general, was not much inclinable to the Pasdaran’s directions and proclaimed rather Lebanese independency in spirit of the Amal party’s policy. Some analysts say that therefore he was politically isolated. But the breaking moment was the death of Khomeini in 1989, who was replaced by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He, though, had not such personal authority as his predecessor, which – besides the fact that he accepted only the title of Rahbar (not Vali-Faqih) – documents that the Shiite community outside Iran took a more reticent position to him. Even this was one of the reasons why in the early 90’s, a process of so called Lebanonization – freeing (especially ideological or political) from Iran and accepting the Lebanese origin of the movement’s members – inside Hezbollah had begun.
Relations between Iran and Hezbollah from the nineties of the 20th century.
Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of the Lebenese Hezbollah, was the key person in these changes, who critisized the
Iran’s wilayat al-faqih doctrine (rule by the islamic clergy) and gained a majority over the followers of the radical or Iranian way in the movement. It is interesting that the current secretary general of Hezbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (a student of Ayatollah Khomeini), was also a sympathizer of the Iranian wing. Once, he said that Hezbollah is “a Lebanese movement whose members are the Lebaneses, which has a Lebanese leadership, and whose verdicts are Lebanese – accepted by the Lebanese government”. Also, this is why Nizar Hamzeh, an expert on Hezbollah, says that although Iran influenced the movement’s decisions, it was not an exclusive control of the movement. This influence continues, albeit under somewhat changed conditions. As it was mentioned above, over the years, Hezbollah became adapted to the conditions in Lebanon or responded to the changes in Iran. The death of Khomeini and the political reality in Lebanon (namely the end of the civil war between religious factions) urged the movement to become gradually more Lebenese (not Iranian or Islamic) political movement. So, on the one hand it accepted the legitimacy of the Lebenese polical system (they take part in the elections, for example), and measurably relinquished some terrorist and illegal acts (primarilly suicide attacks outside Lebanon) which could weaken their reputation gained after Southern Lebanon was liberated from Israeli troops. From 1992, Hezbollah takes part in the elections, and now, it even has ministries in the Lebanese government. Though it gets political independence from Iran and its religious fundamentalism (it does not, for instance, insists neither on creating an Islamic state in Lebanon, nor on the ban of alcohol in the cities under the control of Hezbollah), the cooperation between these two political bodies involved henceforth continued in the last years. The most kown example of cooperation between Iran and Hezbollah are attacks against the Israeli embassy in 1992 and against the Jewish Humanitarian Center in Argentina in 1994. In 2003, an Argentine court confirmed that “the Iranian embassy offered indirect help to Hezbollah at the attack against the Jewish community Center (AMIA) in 1994.” The names of Emad Mugnhniyeh, belonging to the terrorists searched by FBI and responsible for Hezbollah’s special operations, and Muhsin Rabbani, that time the chief of the Iranian Culture Office at the Iranian embassy, are especially mentioned in this case. According to some analysts (e.g. Levitt), also the Iranian intelligence services participated in these acts. It is said that even Khamenei himself had an interest in this attack. The intelligence sources also say about mutual transactions between Iran and Hezbollah. Hezbollah takes interst in the Middle East or provides implementation of certain Iran’s demands – in past it were, for instance, hijacks or assasinations. In return, Hezbollah gets financial, military and strategic help. It is assumed that Iran offers 500 million dollars from its annual budget for the support of Islamic groups as Hamas or the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah pulls about 200 million through this amount, which is a significant part of the 500 million movement’s budget. This is also why, according to some governments, Iran is the best example of state terrorism. Besides the coffers from the Iranian government or various Iranian charities (as Al-Shaheed or Imdad Al-Imam), Hezbollah also obtains military equipment or specialists from Iran who train the Hezbollah militants. For example, in 2002, in this way the movement gained as many as 10 000 Katyusha rockets with whom the Hezbollah militants bombarded Israeli towns even in the recent conflict. Some intelligence sources say that, during the last battle with Israel, Hezbollah had asked for uninterrupted supplies of weapons from Iran, for which they got a positive response from the Iranian officials. According to the same sources, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (namely the Quds Force), which even take control of some special weapons used against Israel (as radar-guided C-802 missiles or Zalzal rockets), operate in the region up to the present day. They also participate in trainings, carried out for militants of various anti-Israeli groups either in special camps in the Beqaa Valley or in some parts of Iran. As it was mentioned in the preface, Iran denies all these accusations and so they are just in the state of doubt and results of intelligence agencies’ findings. Undoubted reasons of the Iranian support of Hezbollah are geopolitical interests of Iran in the Middle East. First, Iran as a theocratic system with a strong Islamic influence on decisions of top politicians tries in some ways to expand ideas of a pro-Islamic state in the region (including the area of Lebanon and Israel), or at least to put the region back under the control of the Moslims (especially Jerusalem as the holiest city of Islam), because, according to the Moslims, this territory belongs to them and Israel invaded and annexed it. Likewise, it is not convenient to the political situation in Lebanon where due to a defective confession system (its inequitableness is caused by dated statistics of religious preferences not reflecting current reality) – the state is headed by a Christian, and, according to Iran, the Shiites are politically and economically disadvanteged. Such Iranian policy is possible thanks just to its political system in which the Iranian clergy has a decisive word in the development of the country. Second, the Iranian élite and the society see another enemy in Israel – the United States. US are the nearest military, political and financial ally of the Jewish state, and so, besides the direct Palestinian-Israeli or Lebanese-Israeli conflict, fighting between Iran or Syria on one hand and the US on the other hand is under way behind the scenes. Iran, naturally, does not want to allow for the duo of the US and Israel to dominate in this region, and therefore it uses the influential Hezbollah movement as well as other terrorist or national liberation groups who destabilize the borders of Israel with surrounding states or the Palestinian Authority. Also through Hezbollah, it restrains to sign up truce deals, which would de facto mean recognizing Israel as a state and thus its winning over some radical Moslims and Iran. Third, Iran gains supporters among the people and some political parties with its anti-Israeli and anti-American policy in the Middle East. Now, its allies and recipients of help are at the governments of the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon and also in outlying Venezuela (especially in the person of President Hugo Chavez), by which he gains support not only in the issue of the Middle East but also in other spheres such as their nuclear program these days.
The close alliance between Iran and Hezbollah lasts since the birth of the movement in 1982. Though it has had various periods since then, in which these subjects were either brought near (during the life of Ayatollah Khomeini) or taken away from each other (the process of the “Lebanonization”, their cooperation was always on a high level and never broken off. Their alliance was mutually convenient: Hezbollah gained military, financial, political and strategic help from strong Iran, and the movement, in return, performed illegal activities according to the Iranian demands (assasinations, hijacks, military trainings). The political and ideological unanimity of these two subjects is also convenient. This is what allows them such succesfull cooperation and to fight against Israel or the United States by various means. In future, this alliance could be jeopardized only by even more significant moderation of Hezbollah, which would gave up its radical islamic policy, inspired by the model of Iran and aimed against Israel and the United States in behalf of gaining stronger support in Lebanon, or by a change of the political system in Iran. Though the islamic clergy in the person of Ayatollah Khamenei has a decisive word in the country, the charismatic president however could gain support of the people and start changes also in this region, and thus avoid Iran leading a radical policy in the Middle East or against the US. But these secenarios are at least optimistic as Hezballah has no reason to conduct a more moderate policy, for it gains support amongst the people in less and less troubled Middle East region just due to its hardline policy. And its policy would not change without a change of the situation in the region. A change of the political system in Iran is also improbable because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the last elections. He ranks among the most conservative political leaders in Iran and there is no tension between his office and the clergy as it was before (during the presidency of Khatami, for example), but rather a commensalism.