Iran’s Role in Lebanon’s Equation: Signs and Implications


In last three parts (1-4)(2-4)(3-4), we reviewed conditions of Iraq, Syria and Yemen after Iran’s interventions and endless conflicts triggered by Iran—conflicts that not only did not create a “new Iraq”, “modern Syria” and “Happy Yemen”, but ended up in fragmented, worn- out countries that have become fields of sectarian conflicts and wars, and safe haven for terrorist groups. Since these countries (Iraq, Syria, and Yemen) along with Lebanon are occupied countries in Iran’s strategy, it is not likely that Iran would allow other influential countries of the region to try their luck in Iraq. In the fourth and last part, we will review conditions of Lebanon after Iran’s interventions in its domestic affairs, as well as its regional relationship. Has Lebanon –like other countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen that are inflicted by Iran’s intervention—become a fragmented country, particularly now that Lebanon’s presidential crisis has come to an end after two and a half years? On October 31, 2016, Michel Aoun became the president of this country with winning 83 out 127 votes. Also, what will be the future of Lebanon in the light of a new president who is considered as an ally of Hezbollah in Lebanon—a party that is supported by Iran?

Part 4 (4-4): Complex scene of Lebanon until the first half of 2016
The historical relationship between southern Lebanese Shias and Persian Shias goes back to the foundation of Safavid government by Shah Ismail I in 1501. Shah Ismail, who wanted to make Twelver Shia in Iranian minds more acceptable, had brought some Shia scholars—who had knowledge of Shia doctrines, its sources, and its precepts— from Jabal Amel region in Lebanon to Iran. Besides, to realize this goal, Shah Ismail also invited Shia scholars from Syria, Iraq, and Bahrain to Iran. As such, hundreds of Shia jurisprudents immigrated from southern Lebanon to the Safavid capital, Tabriz, and started to teach in seminaries, and legitimize the Safavid kings and their rights in expanding their authorities and power to combat other Sunni political forces.
According to what was said before, Iran in its Islamic history was not a Shia country before the Safavids, and most of its provinces were Sunni. However, it was the Safavids who turned Iran into an extremist sectarian state, which rejects any other non-Persian ethnicities including the Arabs. German scholar in Islamic Studies at Tubingen University in Germany, Professor Heinz Halm, in his book called The Shiites (which was published in Baghdad by Alwaraq publishing house in 2011) writes, “There were no Shia scholars in Iran to promote Shiism. Therefore, Safavid kings, particularly Shah Ismail and Shah Tahmasb, had to ask for help from Arab countries– especially southern Lebanon and southern Iraq. As a result, many Shia scholars came to Iran from those regions, and with Safavid kings’ orders, started to promote and establish Shia doctrine.”
Iranian clerics– led by Khomeini before the “Iranian Revolution” and while preparing to topple down Shah’s regime, which continued for more than 40 years (1941-1979)—had an eye on Lebanon and its southern region. After the victory of the revolution, they focused on two strategic areas: Iraq and Lebanon. During his exile years abroad, Khomeini stayed in Najaf, while some of those who were close to him went to Lebanon, out of their fear of being killed by Shah’s agents. Because of Sadam Hossein powerful regime, it was very difficult to have any influences in Iraq. Nevertheless, in Lebanon, it was possible to do so, because there was no strong regime in power to stop realization of Iran’s goals. To this, we should add the close relationship of Iranian clerics and their Lebanese counterparts such as Imam Moussa Sadr. In 1975, he founded Shia “Amal” movement. The Amal movement started its activities as the military arm of Movement of the Deprived that had been founded by Sadr in 1974.
As soon as Iranian revolution took place in 1979, Iran played a significant role in the birth and development of Hezbollah as a new institute in Lebanon in 1982. This party was founded by its spiritual father, Mohammad Hossein Fazlolah– also known as “Lebanon’s Khomeini” — some clerics in Amal movement and those educated in Najaf seminaries. That was in line with exporting revolution, particularly after Khomeini’s relationship with Sadr grew cold. Sadr had taken some actions that made Khomeini suspicious of him. First, in the late 1970s, he met with Iran’s Shah and asked him to pardon a few clerics who were sentenced to death. Second, Sadr established a relationship with liberal movement “Freedom for Iran,” whose thoughts and ideas were not in agreement with those of Iranian revolution leader.
On February 16, 1985, Hezbollah published a manifesto at the time of its foundation. Hezbollah addressed the oppressed in Lebanon and the world in this manifesto called “Who are we and what is our identity?” By looking at this manifesto, statements of Hezbollah’s leaders, pictures of Iranian leaders, and Iran’s flag over Hezbollah’s building and its activities, it will not be an exaggeration to say that Lebanese Hezbollah is an Iranian party. At the beginning of this manifesto, it is said: “…we are the sons of Muslim community – the party of God, the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran. There the vanguard succeeded to lay down the basis of a Muslim state, which plays the central role in the world. We obey the orders of one leader, wise and just, that of our tutor and the “Islamic jurist” who fulfills all the necessary conditions: Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini. God save him!”
All Hezbollah leaders– from the beginning up to its current secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah—have pledged their allegiance with the Jurist Leader as authorized agent of Iran. That is evident in Fazlollah’s words: “There has been an old relationship with Iran’s leader, and my views are in line with Iran’s thoughts and policies.” Also, Hezbollah spokesperson Ibrahim Alamin said in 1987: “We do not say that we are a part of Iran, we are Iran in Lebanon, and Lebanon in Iran.” When pictures of Hassan Nasrallah while kissing Khamenei’s hand were released, he said: “We see Iran as a country that supports Muslims and Arabs, we have co-operations with Iranian regime, we have friendly relationship with them, and also religious authority in Iran provides us a religious and sharia cover for our fights.”
Iran’s support did not stop after founding of Hezbollah but continued on political, propaganda, institutional and military grounds —to the extent that now Iran is one of the key players that cannot be ignored in Lebanon equation.

Political support: Iran announced its support for this party in liberating occupied lands of Lebanon in 1982. This support continued to the end of occupation in 2000. Iran also helped this party in the wake of repeated attacks by Israel against Lebanon, last of which was in 2006. However, in fact, Iran’s goal in offering this political help to Hezbollah was strengthening its influence. That is evident in Jurist Leader’s words. He openly admitted Iran’s political support, saying: “Supporting and endorsing Hezbollah is a religious and revolutionary duty.” In words of Hassan Nasrallah, Iran paid compensation to those who suffered after Israel’s attacks against Lebanon.

Propaganda support: Iran did not stop at propaganda support for Hezbollah, but forced Lebanese government to establish a media organization for this party. Iranian former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a phone conversation with his Syrian counterpart Hafez Assad in early 1990s, asked him to mediate with the Lebanese government to create a media outlet for Hezbollah. As a result, Al-Manar television network and other media such Al-Nour radio station and Al-Intighad newspaper were established.
Institutional support: Iran helped Hezbollah in establishing some institutes such as Veterans Foundation, Construction Foundation, Martyrs Foundation, Loan Institute, and “Niya Hassanah” Charity Foundation. Institutes with similar names and functions exist in Iran. Iran also paid the construction budget for schools that used Iranian educational methods, such as Imam Khomeini Educational Complex, Imam Mahdi Educational Complex, and Shahid Educational Complex. Iran has also contributed to the construction of private banks, hospitals, publishing houses, nursing and technical schools.

•  Military support: Iran has always used Syrian gates to send arms and weapons for Hezbollah that would cost millions of dollars. Iran is after changing Hezbollah to a significant power — a tool that can be used to put pressure on the Lebanese government. Iran thus makes Lebanese government give in to its demands. Iran also provides military training to Hezbollah’s men both in Lebanon and in Iran.
In return, Iran benefits from establishing Hezbollah. With claims of defending Arabian lands against Israel, Iran could gain popularity among some Sunni groups. The picture of Iran that Hezbollah offers is that of a country confronting Tel Aviv and Washington. Moreover, Iran’s support for Hezbollah helped Iran’s plan for promoting Shiism in the region. In addition, Hezbollah has become a winning card in Iran’s hand to put pressure on America and Israel in realizing its goals whenever it wants. For example, Hezbollah’s goal in abducting two Israeli soldiers in 2006, which was the primary cause of Israel’s attack on Lebanon, was alleviating the pressure on Iran due to its nuclear plans. It could draw the attention of people of the world to what was happening in Lebanon. Iran was also sending a message to Washington, saying that we, meaning Iran, can transfer the war from Iran and the Arab Gulf to Israel and Lebanon.
Even though Hezbollah’s founding manifesto includes a few clear goals such as confronting Israel and liberating occupied lands of Lebanon and Palestine, its actual goal is preparing the ground for Iran’s interferences to realize its ambitious projects in Lebanon and other countries – whenever and however Iran wants. That shows that Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel is, first of all, a political move. The reason for this can be seen in the agreements between Hezbollah and Israel in 2000 and 2006. For example, according to the agreement that was reached in 2000, Israel allowed Hezbollah forces to be present between the “Red Zone” or “Security Zone” and Lebanese borders with Israel – the same region in which southern Lebanon Army was present before. With this measure, Israel was after several goals: Hezbollah’s preventing the dominance of other Palestinian organizations that were enemies of Israel over this region; preventing launching missiles to northern Israel; preventing penetration into Israel; and detention of those who threatened the security of northern borders of Israel. In return, Israel promised not to target Hezbollah’s members and its affiliated organizations.
Whenever Tehran needs a foreign card to alleviate pressure, Hezbollah turns to hostile approaches towards Israel. Nevertheless, Hezbollah is the best option for Israel security. Destroying Hezbollah is not to the benefit of Israel because this means the destruction of the Security Zone that is created by Hezbollah between Israel and other regions in Lebanon. Removal of this belt means geographical conjunction again between Israel and resistance areas. Due to the removal of Security Zone, Israel had to occupy southern Lebanon and create southern Lebanese army. This army predominantly consisted of Christians, and could not protect Lebanon’s northern parts well enough against operations of Lebanese and Palestinian resistant groups. These groups were active before the establishment of Hezbollah, but, after Hezbollah, all their activities stopped.
As Iran’s arm, Hezbollah tried to obtain political achievements for Iran’s plan, thus becoming a factor in Lebanon equation. After Israel attack against Lebanon, Hezbollah sought to create a balanced relationship with Israel. As such, this party signed an agreement with Tel Aviv for exchanging prisoners in 2008. Following this, Hezbollah became more popular in the Arab world. After Arab Spring sparked in 2011, Hezbollah announced that along with Bashar Assad’s forces, Syrian president and its closest ally in the region, they would fight Syrian Free Army. Hezbollah’s actions led to the killing of millions of people, while millions of others were disappeared, injured, and displaced. Iran is doing all it has in its power to prevent the toppling of Bashar Assad’s regime. Therefore, Syria helps Iran’s extended strategy in the region since it is a vital bridge between Iran and Hezbollah. On the one hand, Syria protects passages for sending arms and weapons to Hezbollah. On the contrary, it prevents the Arab axis from stopping Iran’s increasing geopolitical power in the region. Shocking statements of Mahdi Taeb, head of Ammar Strategic Base, about Syria’s significance for Iran’s policies, are the best testimony to this idea. In 2014, he said, “If the enemy attacks us to capture either Syria or Khuzestan, our priority is to keep Syria. Because if we keep Syria, we can take Khuzestan back. But if we lose Syria, we will not be able to keep Tehran either.”

Lebanon’s conditions after Iran’s interventions
It is obvious that Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah is called “special relationship with religious policy” in political science. Such a relationship is considered the maximum codependency between two international institutes, or a country and a non-governmental player. Under such a relationship, two institutes have the highest level of coordination in foreign and domestic affairs. Both sides can take and announce their stance in each other’s name towards different issues, the formation of unified policies, and create powerful alliances. Iran expresses views on behalf of Hezbollah about regional and international affairs, and supports them; in return, Hezbollah carries out Iran’s orders. Even though presidential crisis ended with the election of Michel Aoun, Iran and Hezbollah’s approach has led to the creation of a Lebanon that is politically fragmented, involved in sectarian conflicts, and under Iran’s influence.

1. Politically fragmented: Presidential crisis ended, and Michel Aoun became Lebanon’s president on October 31, 2016. However, due to Hezbollah’s dominance over political, economic and even military organizations in Lebanon with Iran’s support, Lebanon has always suffered from political fragmentation in “political alignments and divisions.” To the extent that Hezbollah, in addition to its military position and achieving the guaranteed third [10+1 votes necessary to veto decisions in Lebanese legislation], has appeared as the first representative of Shiite’s political and religious culture. That has led to the expansion of Iran’s influence – especially in Shiite regions in southern Lebanon and Bekaa and Dahiyeh in the south of Beirut. Iran abused Lebanese government’s weakness and its inability to expand its dominance over Lebanese territory. As such, southern Lebanon has turned into a battlefield, for which the whole Lebanon is paying the price. And that is precisely what happened in Lebanese war in 2006. In the light of alliance between Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, there is nothing to stop the repetition of the same condition. Michel Aoun has lost the final decision in political affairs and decision-making in foreign affairs.
Also, there are still many problems ahead, including some political groups’ willingness to pass new laws for elections, Syrian refugees’ problem, army’s independence, and disarming of armed groups.
Hezbollah militia has become a weapon for threatening a government which is supposed to be the lonely one with a national army. And this army is the only institute legally allowed to have heavy weapons. There is no doubt that Hezbollah is more loyal to Iran than Lebanon, and it would not be exaggerating to say that Dahiyeh in southern Beirut has become one of Iran’s provinces. Hezbollah is more of an Iranian party than a Lebanese one. As all these have led to the legal crisis before– it can be predicted that this crisis will continue with Aoun-Nasrallah’s alliance. The legislative process in Lebanon is going to face new challenges and uncertainties, due to Hezbollah’s negative role. March 8 Alliance and forces (Hezbollah, Amal Movement, El Marada Movement, Lebanese Democratic Party, Tawhid Party, and Democratic Party) that have 68 out or 128 seats in the Parliament, played a negative role by not taking part in parliament sessions. Lebanese Parliament’s term which was extended for one year once in 2013 ended in 2014. For the second time, the parliament term was extended for two years and seven months and will be completed in 2017.
What happened was that president’s office in Lebanon was empty for 2 and a half years, after Michel Suleiman’s presidency came to an end in 2014. That was because of the division in Maronite Christian clan– from whom Lebanon’s president was going to be elected– as well differences between March 8 Alliance and March 14 Alliance (Future Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb Party, National Liberal Party, Democratic Party, and National Party). While March 8 Alliance supported Michel Aoun, the leader of National Liberal Party, March 14 Alliance supported Samir Frangieh, the representative of El Marada Movement. Both of them are Maronite Christians. In Lebanese political tradition, it is customary for the president to be from Maronite Christian clan, for the prime minister to be Sunnite, and for speaker of the Parliament to be Shiite.
But after two and a half years, March 8 Alliance gained more power. When suddenly Future Movement headed by Saad Al-Hariri and its Gulf allies withdrew on behalf Michel Aoun (in spite of the fact that Aoun supported Iran’s role in the region), it helped Hezbollah to find a new source of strength in Lebanon. Michel Aoun is one of Hezbollah’s allies on March 8 Alliance, in which Hezbollah is the key player. Aoun’s election apparently testifies to Tehran’s growing influence in Lebanon and the region. Particularly with the lifting of international sanctions in the wake of the nuclear deal, this will have positive outcomes for Iran and its allies in the region –on top of which is Hezbollah. From the beginning of its establishment, Hezbollah has been directly supported by Iran for three decades. Iran’s achievements reached Baghdad and Damascus, just as Iran-backed Shia militia became more powerful and influential than Iraq’s national army. They took over the war against the terrorist group ISIL, just as Iran entered the battle to save Assad’s regime. Iran supports Houthis in Yemen, which is against the security of all Arabian Gulf countries.

2. Expansion of ISIL: Lebanon like other Arab countries persecuted by Iran has become a haven for ISIL. ISIL has taken control of some regions around Lebanon and Syrian border. This region, particularly Arsal and Brital, have witnessed bloody wars between this group and the Lebanese army. ISIL still abducts Lebanese soldiers and carries out its terrorist activities in Lebanon. The last case was in a village called Al Qaa in June 2016. A large group of Lebanese people sees Hezbollah’s war and weapons in Syria as the primary cause of ISIL’s danger reaching their country. That has led to more bombings and terrorist activities in Lebanon, forcing Lebanese government to engage in war with radical groups and paying additional prices. Nowadays, Lebanese people keep saying: “If Nasrallah hadn’t gone to Syria, we would have never seen ISIL in Lebanon.”

3. Post-Sectarian dominance: The problem is not that Lebanon consists of several groups (Sunnis, Shias, Druze, and Christians). The great disaster is “politicizing” these groups and their political bodies. Iran is very masterful in this. It has shown the same mastery in manipulation not only in Lebanon but Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Iran has turned to expanding Shia and creating tribal institutions—which will lead to sectarian and civil wars like Lebanese wars in 1999 and social fragmentations and exhaustion of countries resources. All these will benefit a group which tries to expand its dominance over political and economic equations in the state to carry out its supporter’s orders. And this is what Hezbollah is doing in Lebanon now.

4. Full-fledged security anarchy: Expanding weapons is one of the most dangerous issues that threatens the safety of countries—an issue that afflicts countries with insecurity and creates security anarchy. In spite of the fact that there is a government in Lebanon which is in charge of administering the country’s affairs and defending its borders, and there is an army, Hezbollah does not agree to hand over its weapons. It is more dangerous when these weapons are used against those inside the country. Compass of Hezbollah’s weapons turned toward inside the country, while previously its duty was only to fight Israel. That was evident in events of Beirut and some regions of Jabal that took place on May 7, 2008, between March 8 and March 14. These events are considered as the most dangerous and violent conflicts since the end of civil war in 1990.

In conclusion, even though the presidential crisis has ended, all facts show that Iran is not going to change its policies regarding Lebanon and Arab countries. Iran will not stop its efforts for geopolitical and strategic shifts in all Arab region to its benefit and will try to increase its ideological and security and militia influence in all countries of this vital region. “Iranian” Hezbollah has transformed into the biggest player in Lebanese equation. This party has become so influential that in 2016, Lebanon Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, with Hezbollah’s order, did not vote for Arab countries’ statement against Iran’s intervention in Arab countries’ affairs. It is predicted that Lebanon’s crisis will continue—with the presidency of someone in Lebanon who is an ally of Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Assad in Syrian; someone who supports Houthis in Yemen and Iraq’s militia forces against Sunnis.

Editorial Team