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memri
July 24, 2006 No.
289

The Middle East Crisis – Local, Regional, and Global; Conventional and Nuclear (2): The War in the Perception of Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah

By: Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon and N. Toobian and Yossi Mansharof*
"By attacking Lebanon, the Zionist regime triggered its own extinction."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, IRNA, July 23, 2006.

In the 1980s the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan by a religious Sunni popular militia armed with large quantities of sophisticated weaponry, with Saudi and American support.

Today, this same mode of warfare is being utilized to great effect by Hizbullah, a religious Shiite popular militia which is armed with large quantities of sophisticated weaponry, with Iranian and Russian support.

Russia has not only been the backbone of the Iranian nuclear program; it is also providing the primary diplomatic umbrella for Hizbullah and Iran's activities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has gone so far as to claim that there is no connection between Iran and Hizbullah. Russia also does not include Hizbullah in its list of terrorist organizations.

However, the Hizbullah model differs from the Afghanistan model in one important respect: the depth of the ties between the "client" militia and the "sponsor" country. While the ties between the Afghani mujahideen and Saudi Arabia were basically ephemeral ties of religious affiliation, the ties between Iran and Hizbullah are an open-ended religious and strategic symbiosis.

Hizbullah is not an independent Lebanese organization. It is part and parcel of the Iranian state, and Iran sees in Hizbullah "one of the mainstays of its strategic security." Hizbullah is "Iran's first line of defense against Israel" and the West. [1] One of Hizbullah's founders, Subhi Al-Tufeili, stated in an interview that "Hizbullah's leadership is Velayat-e-Faqih - that is, Ali Khamenei." [2]

For these reasons, Iran was even willing to commit itself to a joint military pact with Syria in order to assure the steady flow of weapons to Hizbullah. The agreement was signed one month before the outbreak of the war, and the Iranian and Syrian defense ministers announced on the occasion of the signing that "Iran sees Syria's security as its own." [3]

In the 1980s, the mujahideen saw the Afghan communist regime as a Soviet implant, lacking any true hold in the area. In Iran's perception, Israel is likewise a foreign, Western implant with no true roots in the region.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad for example recently stated that: "They [i.e. the West] implanted an infectious growth in the heart of the Middle East so that the nations of the region would not taste a day's worth of peace and stability." (IRNA, July 25)

If Hizbullah is not crushed, then it Syria, Iran, and many others in the Middle East will see this as a victory of the "resistance" over the IDF, its American weapons, and its American sponsor. This will reinforce, in the view of the Iranians and of Hizbullah, their belief that Israel is bereft of any real strength.

In a speech on February 1, 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad labeled the superpowers and countries that wished to deny Iran its rights (to nuclear development) "superpowers made of straw." Hizbullah Secretary-General Nasrallah, for his part, has often called Israel "a spider-web state" - one that can easily be destroyed.

On the regional level, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents the "Second Islamic Revolution," which strives to export the revolution beyond Iran's borders. Ahmadinejad sees himself as walking in the path of the architect of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, who made exporting the revolution one of the fundamental elements of his vision. [4] Thus, in Iran's view, the fighting in Lebanon is not just a confrontation with Israel. It is part of the struggle for hegemony in the Middle East.

It should be pointed out that several Sunni Arab leaders (among them King 'Abdallah of Jordan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and apparently the Saudi foreign minister as well) have recently taken note of the Shiite dimension in the latest regional developments. King 'Abdallah even warned of an Iranian bid to create a "Shi'ite crescent" in the Middle East.

*Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project; N. Toobianand Y.Mansharof are MEMRI Iranian Studies Department Research Fellows.


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 11, 2006.

[2] http://memritv.org/clip/en/1132.htm.

[3] Iran and the Recent Escalation on Israel's Borders.

[4] It is worth noting in this context the statement by the Iranian Parliament Speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad 'Adel, that "the blood of Khomeini rages in Nasrallah's veins." http://memritv.org/clip/en/1199.htm.