February 20, 2013 | Quote
Analysis: Hezbollah is Acting Just As It Always Has
Hezbollah and Iran are coordinating closely to keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.
Hezbollah fighters continue to die in the Syrian civil war as the Syrian opposition claimed on Monday that 43 were killed in recent battles, according to a report on the Lebanese Now website. An official in the opposition also claimed that Hezbollah members were being treated in the Al-Amal hospital in Hermel, Lebanon.
This follows the statements made late last week by Iranian cleric Mehdi Taeb, the head of the pro-Khamenei Ammar Base think tank, as reported in Asharq al-Awsat, “If we lose Syria we cannot maintain Tehran.”
He went on to say, “The Syrian regime has an army, but it lacks the ability to conduct a war in Syrian cities. Therefore the Iranian government proposed to formulate an urban warfare force, consisting of 60,000 combat troops, to take over the war on the streets from the Syrian army.”
Hezbollah was created by Iran and is loyal to its leadership.
The movement emerged during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and has grown since, now controlling the Lebanese government.
It was Hezbollah that inspired the use of self-martyrdom operations (suicide bombings) by other Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Hamas. Its mother movement in Iran, however, was the first to sanction self-martyrdom attacks in its 1980-1988 war with Iraq when its leader, Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, sent youthful members of his Basij force, as young as 12 years old, in human waves toward Iraqi forces. They would blow up minefields to open up the way for Iranian tanks to pass through. The children wore plastic keys around their necks, which Khomeini issued to symbolize their entry into paradise.
In March 1983, the movement carried out a pair of self-martyrdom attacks against the US Embassy and later the US and French barracks in Beirut.
The two missions killed more than 300 people. Nevertheless, it has been the adoption of the idea of nationalism that has become a central aspect of its strategy in pursuing its regional ambitions in a more sophisticated way.
Hezbollah’s 1985 Manifesto called for concentrating “on the struggle with Israel and the transformation of Lebanon into an Islamic republic,” Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, wrote in an article called “Hizballah in Lebanon: Between Tehran and Beirut, Between the Struggle with Israel, and the Struggle for Lebanon.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Zisser emphasized that Hezbollah is made of Shia and thus see things “from a Shia perspective. They don’t think like a small terror group but as a regional movement with regional ambitions.”
The original 1985 Manifesto spelled out the goal to repeat the Iranian revolution in Lebanon on its way to the creation of a pan-Islamic state, which eventually would control the entire Islamic world.
However, the updated 2009 version downplays the group’s Islamic, Shia identity, and Iran’s role in directing the organization, and instead promotes itself as a Lebanese national liberation movement.
This shift was demonstrated by Hezbollah’s participation in the 1992 Lebanese elections and many experts believed that this signified Hezbollah’s transformation from an Iranian group with regional ambitions to a more moderate national movement, defending the country from Israeli aggression.
It is this view that saw the movement as becoming separate from Iran.
However, the civil war in Syria has demonstrated that the movement remains much closer to its goals as stated in its original Manifesto. As its leader Hassan Nasrallah stated in a Kuwaiti paper in 2005, “For 23 years we have been committed to this principle of wilayat alfaqih [rule of the jurisprudent as represented by Iran’s leader Imam Ali Khamenei], and we also implement it.”
Hence, the shift in projecting its image as a Lebanese national movement seemed to be an intelligent tactic meant to appeal to a broader public.
Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tells the Post that the assessment that Hezbollah was becoming a Lebanese movement separated from Iran was wrong. Hezbollah must be understood as a result of an intra-Iranian power struggle, he says.
In an article explaining this in The Washington Post, Badran wrote, “The struggle was between two factions of the anti-shah opposition: the Islamic Republic Party and the Liberation Movement of Iran. After the shah was ousted these two groups fought for control and both had men who had been operating and training out of Lebanon in the mid- 1970s.”
The Islamic Republic Party was associated with Ayatollah Khomeini, who eventually took control in Iran. His followers in Lebanon viewed the Islamic Republic Party and the Liberation Movement of Iran, associated with Shi’ite cleric Musa Sadr, “as a threat and used the Office of Liberation Movements – the predecessor of the infamous Quds Force, a special unit in the Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for overseas operations – cloned their structures in Lebanon as a means to counter Sadr and the LMI [Liberation Movement of Iran] and extend their own influence. They called themselves Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah’s loyalty to Iran was never in doubt, it simply played the Lebanese political game.
There have been numerous reports of Hezbollah and Iran’s involvement in the war in Syria, as they fear an Assad loss would hurt their regional influence.
Both see the world through a Shi’te lens, and everywhere they look, they see the Shia being killed and persecuted.
Whether it is Sunni bombings against Shia in Iraq or in Pakistan, they feel that their position is under siege.
Joel Parker, a Phd candidate at the Moshe Dayan Center, tells the Post that “this fits the Iranian-Syria narrative that there is a grand conspiracy that combines Riyadh, Washington and Tel Aviv.” He points out that in a recent article in the Iranian-backed Arabic news channel Al-Alam, the rhetoric avoids attacking all Sunnis, but directs its ire against the Saudi regime.
This is because it is important for them not to make all Sunnis the enemy as they try to find common ground with the new Islamist regimes in the region, such as Egypt. The article in Al-Alam blamed the Saudis for supposedly funding violence against Muslims in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
Badran also said, “The birth of Hezbollah is thoroughly an Iranian affair, not a Lebanese one.” He adds that you cannot even call it a “proxy” since it is more like an “organic extension” of Iran and their people who are responsible for exporting the revolution.
He says that Hezbollah men originally were involved in sniper operations, targeting Syrian protesters, and later involvement increased as they moved to cover the flanks of Syrian forces near the Syrian-Lebanon border.
The recent assassination in Syria of Iranian Gen. Hassan Shateri demonstrates that Iran and Hezbollah are working feverishly, and in a coordinated manner, to keep Assad in power. Shateri was the highest-ranking Iranian official killed outside Iran and was responsible for the build-up of Hezbollah’s military network since the end of the 2006 war in Lebanon. His death sent a worrying signal to the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, that the Assad regime is in serious peril, but it is quite likely that they will double down – pushing even harder to keep their man in power in Damascus.