Post-1920 political entities, post-1979 political Islam (Sunni and Shiite), the relationship between state and non-state militias and armed groups, and various types of liberation and revolutionary slogans are now all under scrutiny.
A few days ago, my colleague and friend Amir Taheri uncovered an important side of the problems afflicting the region, almost all of which revolve around the Iranian role throughout the Arab world.
I was around in 1982 when what became Hezbollah was created in the political “kitchen” of the Iranian Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus. The Iranian ambassador then was Ali Akbar Mohtashami, who later became interior minister. Damascus later became Hezbollah’s regional sponsor and nanny.
Taheri was absolutely right to remind those who do not remember, or who were witnesses to that period, that Hezbollah — which claims to embody “resistance” to Israel and the US — was nothing but a sectarian vehicle of Tehran’s mullahs, whose prime role was never to resist Israel but rather to confront Palestinian resistance against Israel.
During the early 1980s, a sizable section of the Shiite population of south Lebanon became critical of, even openly opposed to, Palestinian guerrilla operations launched from the area nicknamed Fatah Land, which the Lebanese government had relinquished to Palestinian resistance organizations. Israel kept retaliating against guerrilla operations across its borders by shelling Shiite villages, with the intention of turning the villagers against the Palestinians.
On the other hand, there were tacit and intersecting interests between the Israelis and Iranians in destroying the Lebanese leftist and nationalist parties fighting under the banner of the pro-Palestinian Lebanese National Movement (LNM). Shiite activists at the time constituted a sizeable percentage of the LNM’s rank and file.
Iran pre-1979 was unhappy about Lebanese Shiite intellectuals and youth joining Arab nationalist and leftist parties. Israeli and Iranian interests continued to intersect after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran under then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini chose to invest in and nourish Lebanon’s sectarianism. This was very much in Israel’s strategic interests, having always capitalized on and benefitted from religious and sectarian contradictions among its Arab neighbors, as the obvious prerequisite for division, conflict and a much-sought-after “coalition of minorities.”
Only one year after the 1967 war, many Lebanese were attracted to the Palestinian resistance against Israel. After the Israeli invasion and occupation of south Lebanon in 1982, it was the secular nationalist and leftist parties, including the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP), which launched the liberation campaign.
Young men and women led the campaign to liberate south Lebanon, and subsequently Palestine. They did not follow a regional non-Arab sectarian project, although many were Shiites, such as Sanaa Muheidly of the SSNP and Anwar Yassin of the LCP. Their liberation priority was different from that of the supreme leader in Tehran. They did not fight and sacrifice their lives in order to exchange one occupier for another.
The mission entrusted to Hezbollah and other sectarian militias — created, sponsored and commanded by Tehran in the Arab world — is nothing but the implementation of Iran’s regional project.
Eyad Abu Shakra
Tel Aviv and Washington know the truth when Iranian commanders threaten to “exterminate” Israel, and have their threats reverberate in Beirut’s Shiite southern suburbs, Yemen’s Sa’dah mountains, the camps of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Damascus regime’s media outlets.
Tel Aviv and Washington know that the forces that make up the PMU were the main beneficiary of the US invasion of Iraq, and that the Blue Line on the Lebanese-Israeli border is much closer to Hezbollah’s strongholds in south Lebanon than the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Albu Kamal and Deir Ezzor.
Still, Hezbollah seems to have forgotten the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, which were its justification to keeps its arms. It has also forgotten the Rafiq Hariri assassination’s “false witnesses,” who were its excuse to bring down the Cabinet of Saad Hariri in early 2011.
As for Hezbollah’s weapons, it was the only Lebanese party and militia that was allowed to remain armed after the Taif Accords of 1989, under the pretext that it was fighting to liberate south Lebanon. But it used its arms against its opponents in Lebanon in 2008, and later in Syria against the popular uprising. Hezbollah then expanded its explosive “services” to Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.
In that regard, in an unforgettable speech, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah candidly said his “most honorable, best and greatest achievement” of his life was his speech in which he defended Houthi militia on the second day of the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen.
Such talk undermines the credibility of what he claims is his priority: Resisting Israel and the US. It underlines the fact that the mission entrusted to Hezbollah and other sectarian militias created, sponsored and commanded by Tehran in the Arab world, is nothing but the implementation of Iran’s regional project.
From a strategic viewpoint, this project faces two possibilities. Either it succeeds initially, with Iran imposing its hegemony over a vast area where the majority population is non-Shiite and non-Persian; this would provoke strife and endless civil wars. Or it fails, pushing Iran to seek more destructive alternatives, unless its regime falls and its theo-militaristic chemistry disappears. In either case, the West and Israel cannot lose.
By inciting or sponsoring extremist Sunni groups, Tehran has created a global terrorist phenomenon that has ensured the rise of the extreme right throughout the West. As for “liberating Palestine,” Tehran’s active support of certain trends within Hamas, as well as Islamic Jihad, has destroyed Palestinian unity and strengthened Likud and other extreme right-wing Israeli parties hell-bent on expanding illegal settlements and rejecting any meaningful peace negotiations.
— Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @eyad1949