memri
January 25, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1550

Hizbullah's Widespread Campaign To Commemorate Qassem Soleimani Sparks Criticism In Lebanon

January 25, 2021 | By O. Peri
Iran, Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1550

The Lebanese Hizbullah took a series of measures and held numerous events to mark the first anniversary of the death of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, deputy-commander of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq, who were assassinated in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad airport in January 2020. In addition to statements, interviews and articles extolling Soleimani and Al-Muhandis in Hizbullah's media, the organization put up posters of the two in various parts of the country, erected monuments in their honor and commemorated them in various other ways.

This commemoration campaign sparked criticism from Lebanese politicians, journalists and citizens, who saw it as an expression of Iran's control of their country. A statement made by 'Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Iranian IRGC's Aerospace Force, ahead of the anniversary of Soleimani's and Al-Muhandis's death likewise sparked outrage in Lebanon. He said, "Iran will support anyone who is at the forefront of the confrontation with the Zionist regime. Gaza and Lebanon are at the forefront, and their missile capabilities have been supported by Iran."[1] As part of the criticism, Hizbullah was accused of  representing Iran's interests rather than Lebanon's and of undermining Lebanon's sovereignty. According to reports, Lebanese citizens burned pictures of Soleimani  in various parts of the country.

Condemnations of Hizbullah were heard even from Qassem Qasir, a Shi'ite journalist close to the organization, who wrote that Hizbullah must rethink its relations with Iran and become a Lebanese organization.

It should be noted that events held by Hizbullah after the assassination itself also sparked outrage in Lebanon.[2]

This report reviews the events conducted and measures taken by Hizbullah to commemorate the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, and the criticism they aroused.

Hizbullah's "Loyalty To The Resistance" Parliamentary Bloc: As Lebanese It Is Our Duty To Thank And Salute Soleimani

On the anniversary of Soleimani's assassination, many officials and bodies affiliated with Hizbullah, the IRGC and the PMU extolled him and praised the relations between Iran and Lebanon. IRGC commander Hossein Salami said on Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV: "The Lebanese and the Iranians are a single nation living in two different geographic areas, one soul in two bodies… The honorable Hassan Nasrallah and Hajj Qassem Soleimani are [also] a single soul in two bodies… We support the beloved Lebanese people and the capable and beloved Hizbullah, and will continue doing so to the end."[3]

A statement issued by Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc said: "We Lebanese have a duty to thank General Qassem Soleimani, salute him and express our loyalty to him as an honorable emblem of struggle and humanity. He deserves [all] this due to the positions [he expressed] and the sacrifices [he made] for the sake of the Lebanese people and against their terrorist, Zionist and takfiri enemies [i.e., extremist Islamist organizations that accuse fellow Muslims of heresy]… The coming days and years will reveal the scope and might of what Iran has given [us] and what its emblematic commander and hero [Soleimani] invested in order to defend our [Lebanese] people and our homeland from the forces of usurpation, aggression, occupation and takeover."[4]

Nasrallah: Were It Not For Iran's Missiles, Nobody Would Take Any Interest In Lebanon

Some statements made on the occasion of the anniversary of Soleimani's death also mentioned the issue of the weapons Iran provides to Hizbullah. For example, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said on January 3: "Yes, we also admit that the Islamic Republic [of Iran] supports us with weapons and missiles… If Lebanon is strong, if anyone takes notice of Lebanon's presence on the map, if anyone in the world, in the U.S. or in Europe [even] asks about Lebanon, it's [only] thanks to the resistance and thanks to these missiles… All of Iran's support for Lebanon is provided unconditionally, and all the campaigns that the resistance has joined since 1982 were aimed at liberating Lebanon and Lebanese prisoners and defending Lebanon's soil, [territorial] waters and sovereignty - and so it will be in the future. The resistance currently waged in Lebanon may be one of the most important resistance [campaigns] ever [undertaken] in human history by an entity with independent decision-making…"[5]

Shi'ite cleric Ahmad Qabalan said that "Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis are more than commanders and emblems. They [represent] wisdom, history, revolution, respect for life, regional sovereignty and free decision-making - and therefore their blood was not spilled in vain… It is the missiles of Qassem Soleimani and the weapons capabilities [provided by] Iran to the resistance that decided the battle of liberation and victory, consolidated Lebanon's sovereignty and restored its [independent] decision-making and its national institutions, all given for no reward… There can be no sovereignty without the missiles of Qassem Soleimani… and if a statue of liberty and sovereignty is ever erected, it will be a statue of Qassem Soleimani…"[6]

Hizbullah's Extensive Activity To Commemorate Soleimani And Al-Muhandis

In addition to media statements, Hizbullah honored Soleimani and Al-Muhandis in several other ways. Posters of the two were put up along the road leading to Beirut's international airport.[7] Not far from there, the municipal council of the town of Al-Ghobeiry, which is part of the Dahiya, Hizbullah's stronghold in Beirut, put up a bust of Soleimani on a street that bears his name.[8] In the town of Al-Khiam, Hizbullah put up a giant banner bearing the portraits of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis along with Hizbullah's late operations officer 'Imad Mughniyeh.[9] Billboards bearing Soleimani's and Muhandis's names  were put up on the Ras Al-'Ayn road near Bayada lake in the Beqaa Valley and in the town of Brital in southern Baalbek. [10]


Posters of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis along the Beirut airport road (Al-Nahar, Lebanon, January 3, 2021)


Soleimani bust in Al-Ghobeiry (Alahednews.com.lb, January 5, 2021)

Various sites were also named after Soleimani and Al-Muhandis. For example, the union of Jabel 'Amel municipalities in South Lebanon opened a jihadi tourist attraction in Wadi Al-Hajir named after Soleimani, where weapons and military gear used by Hizbullah in the war with Israel are on display.[11] Hizbullah inaugurated a Soleimani nature park in the town of Al-Taybeh in South Lebanon,[12] and named a road in South Lebanon after Al-Muhandis.[13] A Hizbullah training course was named after Soleimani as well.[14]


Jihadi tourist attraction named after Soleimani (Alahednews.com.lb, January 4, 2021)

Soleimani and Al-Muhandis were also commemorated with memorials and cultural and social events, such as the "Qassem Exhibition" opened by Hizbullah's activity and information department in the Al-Ghobeiry municipal culture hall, presenting Soleimani's life story. In addition, Hizbullah put up a model depicting the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis near the village of Arab Salim.[15]


Model depicting the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis (Alahednews.com.lb, January 7, 2021)

Criticism Of Soleimani Posters: He Is Not A Lebanese Martyr

The extensive commemoration of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, and the expressions of praise for Iran, drew criticism from Lebanese politician and citizens alike, who saw this as an infringement of Lebanon's sovereignty. While Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe sufficed with a mild response, saying that "putting up a statue of picture in some square or town hall is not a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty" but that "we are not a display window for any side,"[16] former Lebanese minister Ahmad Fatfat was took a stronger position. He said that putting up posters of Soleimani in Lebanon is "an attempt by one political side to express its dominance on the ground and announce its takeover of Lebanon," and added: "This fact [i.e., the takeover of Lebanon] does not bother Hizbullah and is an act of bullying other Lebanese and refusing to recognize the state… [We have reached] a phase of surrender that will eventually lead to the end of the Lebanese state if the Lebanese officials do not have the courage to preserve its sovereignty. We are facing a force that is occupying Lebanon through the agency of Hizbullah, and all the rest are just extras."[17]

The criticism was expressed not only in words but also in actions. Some Lebanese burned pictures of Soleimani in Beirut,[18] on the Brital road in eastern Lebanon[19] and in Nahr Al-Kalb in the center of the country.[20] Lebanese Twitter user Rama shared a video of his picture being burned, and commented: "Lebanon belongs to the Lebanese, not to the Iranians!! We are the ones who protest and defend our country. [As for] the burning of Qassem Soleimani's pictures, we Lebanese honor the martyrs of Lebanon, but Qassem Soleimani is not one of them!"[21]


Burning Soleimani's picture in Nahr Al-Kalb (Twitter.com/ALJADEEDNEWS, January 4, 2021)

Lebanese Writers: Posters Of Soleimani Are A Sign Of Iran's Control Over Lebanon

Attacks on Hizbullah for the widespread commemoration of Soleimani were also apparent in the Lebanese media. 'Adir Nasser, a Lebanese columnist for the London-based Emirati daily Al-Arab, wrote on January 6, 2021:  "The Lebanese Hizbullah… does not refrain from inventing new kind of oppression inspired by the many events it conducts… Now it has taken the opportunity of the first anniversary of Qassem Soleimani's assassination to invent a new way of oppressing the Lebanese, especially the Shi'ites in the Dahiya, [Hizbullah's stronghold] in southern Beirut, in South Lebanon and in the Beqaa Valley: [it is] launching a widescale attack on their morale by putting up pictures of the murderer Qassem Soleimani in the streets and squares, and erecting a statue of him in Al-Ghobeiry square near the capital Beirut.

"We [also] see the road to the Rafiq Al-Hariri international airport, the only gateway for flights into the country, adorned with hundreds of enormous posters of the murderer Soleimani, in a bid to impress anyone entering [the country with the extent of] the Iranian regime's control of Lebanon. Is that what the Lebanese people wants [to see] when it is experiencing dire economic and living conditions?... Hizbullah and the axis to which it belongs have nothing left to do but intimidate [people] and threaten war, even if their weapons are limited to a poster or a statue here or there. But [Hizbullah's] real weapons, which it is striving to preserve, are its people and its support base - [whose members] are supposedly willing [even] to 'die in battle for the sake of Islam' just in order to stay under its rule. [But] Hassan Nasrallah will [eventually] realize, even if belatedly, that  [these people actually] want to live. They oppose death and scorn the culture of death that he is championing."[22]

Lebanese journalist and political analyst Huda Al-Husseini wrote in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "What will Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gain if he loses Lebanon and wins Iran? In Iran - which is a [sovereign] state, even if a rogue one - will he fulfill the same role he fulfills in Lebanon, which is not a state? And what is the meaning of his provocation of the Lebanese on the anniversary of Soleimani's assassination? Will he do us the favor of explaining to us how the missiles he received from Iran in order to turn Lebanon into the front line of Iran's confrontation with Israel [can possibly] defend Lebanon's sovereignty?... What does Nasrallah gain by putting up posters of Soleimani at the entrances to Beirut, or the 'fist of resistance' [sign][23] or the bust of [Soleimani] in the Al-Ghobeiry area in the southern Dahiya? The Lebanese burned and trampled these posters and published videos [of this] on social media, not caring that this cast Nasrallah in a ridiculous light [just] as he was giving his speech to the Lebanese people. If Nasrallah wants to accelerate the declaration of the founding of his state, let him declare war on Israel. Isn't this what Iran wants him to do? Let him do so, and [then] we'll see… Posters of the 'glorious Soleimani' have been burned not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq, Turkey and Gaza. People cannot be forced to love [certain figures]…"[24]

Lebanese Writers: Hizbullah's Iranian Weapons Have Turned Lebanon Into A Province Of Iran

Intense criticism was also voiced against Hizbullah's relations with Iran, especially following Hajizadeh's declaration about supplying Hizbullah with missiles. Kataeb Party chairman Samy Gemayel tweeted: "To anyone who is still deluding himself that his country is sovereign and independent: Lebanon and the Lebanese are being held hostage by Iran with the help of Hizbullah. Both of them are using us as human shields in their war that has nothing to do with Lebanon…"[25]


Samy Gemayel's tweet

Hussein Al-Wajeh, who was a media advisor to former Lebanese prime minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, tweeted: "Some Iranian leaders insist on treating Lebanon as a province of Iran and are trying to push the Lebanese people into the Iranian regime's ongoing wars with the international community. Lebanon never has been and never will be the forefront of Iran's conflict, and the Lebanese will not pay a price on behalf of the Iranian regime. Lebanon is an Arab country committed to the charters of the Arab League,  and it is sovereign, free and independent."[26]

Lebanese former minister Saj'an Qazzi wrote in the daily Al-Nahar: "Mr. Nasrallah insists that Hizbullah is 'one of the most independent resistance [movements] in history.' So what is the meaning of its ideological and military loyalty to [Iran's] Rule of the Jurisprudent [regime] and its coordination with the IRGC? Why does [Nasrallah] adopt the Iranian lifestyle and form of dress? Why the political resemblance,  the military subordination and the unity of the arenas? What is the meaning of the weapons supplies, the missile factories and the financial donations? And finally, what is the meaning of the posters and statues of Qassem Soleimani, more numerous in Lebanon than in Iran? The Lebanese have lost their sovereignty, but they have not yet lost their minds.  If these accusations are baseless, Hizbullah should have publicly denied the statements of IRGC commander Hajizadeh, who said on January 2 that 'Hizbullah has Iranian missiles and it has also learned how to manufacture them.' But in fact [Nasrallah] confirmed them rather than denied them. If Hizbullah is independent, it is independent of Lebanon, not of Iran."[27]

Al-Nahar columnist Sabine 'Awais wrote on January 4: "A few days after Israel violated the airspace of the capital [Beirut], 'Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Iranian IRGC's Aerospace Force, stood up and expressed the true purpose of arming and training Hizbullah in clear terms and without a thought for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial [integrity] or borders - just as [he stated that] the Gazans were trained to use missiles against Israel, instead of stones. His grand declaration, which exposed Iran's intention to confront Israel using Tehran's tools and military proxies, in particular from Lebanese soil, revealed not only an outrageous violation of Lebanon's sovereignty but the shameful absence of any comprehensive official [Lebanese] position opposing this violation…"[28]

Pro-Hizbullah Journalist: Hizbullah Must Become Part Of The Lebanese State

Even Shi'ite journalist Qassem Qasir, known for his pro-Hizbullah positions, condemned the organization. In a January 6, 2021 interview on NBN, the television channel of the Shi'ite Amal party, he said: "Hizbullah… cannot continue its present relations with Iran… and must be a Lebanese party. Hizbullah can have a religious or moral affinity to Iran, but it cannot continue to say that it abides by the orders of [Iran's] Ruling Jurisprudent [Khamenei].' This problem must be resolved… Nor can Hizbullah continue to wage resistance all by itself. It must be incorporated in a [Lebanese] defense strategy… The notion of a Shi'ite role that supersedes the role of the state is no longer helpful." Qasir added that Hizbullah's excessive efforts to commemorate Soleimani were "meant to compensate for their failure to retaliate militarily" to his assassination.[29]

For a MEMRI TV clip of excerpts from his statements, click below.

 

[1] Tasnimnews.net, January 2, 2021.

[3] Almanar.com.lb, January 7, 2021.

[4] Alahednews.com.lb, January 7, 2021.

[5] Alahednews.com.lb, January 3, 2021.

[6] Aliwaa.com.lb, January 3, 2021.

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 4, 2021.

[8] Alahednews.com.lb, January 5, 2021.

[9] Almarkazia.com, January 3, 2021.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 3, 2021.

[11] Alahednews.com.lb, January 4, 2021.

[12] Alahednews.com.lb, January 1, 2021.

[13] Alahednews.com.lb, January 1, 2021.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Lebanon), January 3, 2021.

[15] Alahednews.com.lb, January 7, 2021.

[16] Aliwaa.com.lb, January 5, 2021.

[17] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 5, 2021.

[18] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Lebanon), January 5, 2021.

[19] Elnashra.com, January 3, 2021.

[20] Twitter.com/ALJADEEDNEWS, January 4, 2021.

[21] Twitter.com/Ram7Leb, January 4, 2021.

[22] Al-Arab (London), January 6, 2021.

[23] The 'Fist of the Resistance' statue, recently erected in central Beirut, commemorates the October 2019 protests in Lebanon.

[24] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 7, 2021.

[25] Twitter.com/samygemayel, January 2, 2021.

[26] Twitter.com/husseinwajeh, January 2, 2021.

[27] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 8, 2021.

[28] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 4, 2021.

[29] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 19, 2021; asasmedia.com, January 17, 2021.

Share this Report: