Friday, 23 January 2015

Iran and Hezbollah - an explosive combination

There is no disputing the fact that Hezbollah is entirely a creature of post-revolutionary Iran its stooge, if you will.  Over its thirty-year life Hezbollah has not only acted in concert with its sponsor in initiating and carrying out multiple acts of terror across the world, but it has also infiltrated itself into the political life of Lebanon.  It is the unstable nature of Lebanon’s constitution that has allowed this foreign-dominated organization to acquire a commanding position in the government of the country, and exercise so much influence on its affairs.

Hezbollah, aka “The Party of God", was born about halfway through Lebanon's fifteen-year civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. Founded by religious clerics of the Shi’ite persuasion, its ideology and doctrines deliberately mirrored those of the Iranian ayatollahs. Towards the end of 1982 the nascent movement obtained critical financial support and training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.  That connection has been maintained ever since.

In its founding manifesto, issued in 1985, Hezbollah pledged loyalty to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, urged the establishment of a Shi’ite Islamic regime in Lebanon, demanded the expulsion of Western peace-keeping forces from Lebanese territory, and called for the destruction of Israel. Its struggle against Israel, it declares, “will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated."

From its foundation Hezbollah, following the Iranian pattern, endorsed the use of terror as a means of achieving its political goals. In October 1983 suicide attacks on the US embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut resulted in the deaths of 258 Americans.  Over the 1980s and 1990s the group conducted kidnappings and airplane hijackings, two bombings in Buenos Aires, several in Paris and an attempted bombing in Bangkok. In 1996 it assisted in the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 Americans an operation that resulted in Hezbollah being added to the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Syria’s civil war has both strengthened and complicated the Iranian-Hezbollah connection. 

That the Iranian regime is wholly in support of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and wholly opposed to the Sunni Islamic State (IS) that is seeking to overthrow him, is not in doubt.  Syria is a vital link in Iran’s so-called “Shia Crescent” the chain of allied interests that supports its influence in the region, and is the counterweight to IS’s ambition to establish a Sunni caliphate across the Middle East and beyond. 

Iran, however, is engaged in protracted talks with world powers about its nuclear ambitions, during which it hopes for a lifting of the sanctions that have been crippling its economy. The US has ruled out any possibility of an easier deal on the nuclear issue in exchange for Iran’s direct aid in combatting IS.  Accordingly Iran  will not allow itself to be seen to collaborate with the “Great Satan” and join President Obama’s anti-IS alliance.  Back in December, it vehemently denied that it had carried out airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq, despite Pentagon reports to the contrary. 

But there is ample evidence that Iran, both directly and under cover of its puppet, Hezbollah, has been providing massive support for the Assad regime in terms of men, material and money. Starting in 2012 Hezbollah fighters, backed by Tehran and probably augmented by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have been directly engaged in combat.  By December 2013 Iran was thought to have approximately 10,000 operatives in Syria. In 2014 Iran stepped up support for Assad and, according to Syria’s Minister of Finance and Economy, "the Iranian regime has given more than 15 billion dollars" to Syria. The fact that Assad is still in power in Syria, and has made some important strategic advances against IS, is undoubtedly due to the Iranian-Hezbollah input.

Meanwhile Hezbollah, by responding so enthusiastically to Iran’s demands, has been facing difficulties at home in Lebanon.  Although its appeal within the Shi’te community remains strong, many have questioned the rationality of involving thousands of fighters in a conflict which seems to run counter to its declared purposes.  Fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria has no connection to Lebanon’s internal problems, or to the eternal struggle against Israel.  Moreover more than 600 young Lebanese have lost their lives in the conflict, and despite Hezbollah’s generous financial grants to the families who suffer bereavement, these deaths  require some sort of justification. Accordingly, Hezbollah Secretary-General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, issues somewhat unconvincing statements from time to time reiterating that the movement’s involvement in Syria represents a fight against  the US, Israel, and Takfirism the fundamentalist Sunni movement which is anathema to Muslims who espouse the Shi’ite tradition.

        Now Nasrallah has been relieved of the necessity to make excuses to his own constituency. According to foreign media sources, Israel is responsible for a helicopter attack on January 18 in the Syrian province of Quneitra. The target was a military vehicle containing an explosive combination of Iranian and Hezbollah officials.  Eleven were killed including Jihad Mughniyeh,
described by Western intelligence sources as a “relentless terrorist” plotting a series of cross-border terrorist attacks against Israel from Syria.  Other fatal casualties included Muhammad Issa, the head of Hezbollah’s operation in Syria and Iraq, and Iranian Colonel Ali Reza al-Tabatabai, commander of the Radwan force, a special operations unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon responsible for planning attacks against Israel.

        But also killed was Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Muhammad Allahdadi.  Now, killing an Iranian general is no small matter.  According to Debkafile, an independent internet website specialising in strategic analysis, Israel subsequently used Western and Arab media outlets to “clarify” the purpose of its air strike over the Golan, asserting that General Allahdadi and his staff of five were not known to be traveling in the Hezbollah convoy, and were not the target.

 “We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence,” a senior security official in Tel Aviv informed the media. “We went on the alert, we spotted the vehicle, identified it as an enemy vehicle and took the shot.”

This semi-apology, according to Debkafile, was intended to mollify Tehran, and was almost certainly made at the instigation of Washington with one eye on the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. The Obama administration doubtless feared that the airstrike might snowball into a full-scale military confrontation, leading to the breakdown of the negotiations.

Will Iran accept Israel’s excuse for the death of a senior general? Retaliation is inevitable, emanating either directly from Iran, or more likely via its Hezbollah satrap, but the degree and consequences of any reprisal hang in the balance.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 26 January 2015:
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/Iran-and-Hezbollah-an-explosive-combination-389000 

Published in the Eurasia Review, 23 January 2015:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/23012015-iran-hezbollah-explosive-combination-oped/

No comments:

Post a comment