January 15, 2014 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Foreign Minister Pays Respects to Hezbollah’s Terror Master

January 15, 2014 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Foreign Minister Pays Respects to Hezbollah’s Terror Master

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif laid a wreath on the grave of Imad Mughniyeh on Monday. Hezbollah's infamous military commander, Mughniyeh was responsible for a litany of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.  

Zarif, a key player in negotiating the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) between Iran and the P5+1, embarrassed the Obama administration with this visit to Mughniyeh's grave. The visit came as the president labors to convince a skeptical congress that Zarif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani represent a new, moderate Iran that is eager to improve relations with the West. Even amidst its efforts to win over legislators, the White House felt compelled to issue a condemnation. “The decision to commemorate an individual who has participated in such vicious acts,” National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said, “sends the wrong message and will only exacerbate tensions in the region.” 

The statement, however, drew a subtle distinction between Iran and Hezbollah's Mughniyeh. It noted that Mughniyeh was “responsible for heinous acts of terrorism,” and that Hezbollah “continues to actively support terrorism worldwide.” However, it confined Iran's role to offering financial and material backing for Hezbollah, implying that the Lebanese terror group acted independently “in the region,” where it perpetrates “inhumane violence” (the word “terrorism” was omitted). 

But this distinction does not reflect reality. Yesterday’s wreath-laying emphasizes Hezbollah's inseparability from Iran. From its inception, Hezbollah has been a direct extension of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Mughniyeh himself was recruited at an early age into the Iranian revolutionary cadres operating in Lebanon in the mid-1970's. Those cadres went on to become founding members of the IRGC and then to create Hezbollah.

Over the course of the next three decades, Mughniyeh became a critical asset for the Iranian regime and worked intimately with the highest echelons of the leadership in Tehran. When Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus in 2008, Khamenei sent an official delegation to his funeral headed by one his closest advisors, Ali Akbar Velayati. A symbolic tombstone for Mughniyeh has even been placed at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in Tehran.  

Another senior official, appointed by President Rouhani to serve in his cabinet, has a direct connection to Imad Mughniyeh. The 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which Mughniyeh organized, was coordinated by Minister of Defense Hossein Dehghan, who was then commander of the IRGC force in Lebanon.

Thus, when Javad Zarif placed a wreath at Mughniyeh's grave on Monday, he was not simply paying respects to a like-minded Shia' organization that has received some assistance from Tehran.  He was recognizing Mughniyeh's place in the hierarchy of power in Tehran. He was also underscoring the continuity of the Iranian regime and its policy — a continuity exemplified by Mughniyeh's old friend, Dehghan. Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, represented now by the “moderate” president Rouhani, are two parts of an organic whole.

Tony Badran is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Hezbollah Iran Lebanon