Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Iranian funding for Hizbullah

Last week’s surprise admission that Iran is funding the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah has raised speculation about the motivation behind the comments, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Hizbullah group, said this week that Iran pays all his group’s expenses and provides all its weapons and ammunition. “As long as Iran has money, we have money,” Nasrallah said on 24 June.

His remarks have been seen as a marvelous propaganda tool to be used against Iran by its rivals, possibly heightening the hesitations of the international community, which has wanted to see better relations with Iran but has thus far been slow in moving forward.

Hizbullah is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and many European countries. Affiliation with the group, including financial relations, can have serious consequences, and the United States has sanctioned some individual Iranians for having banking relations with Hizbullah.

More than $2 billion of Iranian funds in US banks have recently been confiscated to compensate victims of terrorism. The families of American Marines killed in Lebanon in 1983 in an attack carried out by Hizbullah have also sued the Iranian regime as a state sponsoring terror.

Last week’s confession by the Hizbullah leader could now jeopardise Iranian assets all over the world, particularly in Western countries. It has never been a secret that Iran is a supporter of Hizbullah, but never before has either the Iranians or Hizbullah made the relationship so plain.

“We should not worry about the consequences of Nasrallah’s remarks,” Ramadan Sharif, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards spokesman, said on 26 June. He added that Iran has in the past been penalised for supporting Hizbullah and that the most recent remarks are unlikely to have additional consequences.

But the comments indicate that the Revolutionary Guards are not happy at Nasrallah’s disclosure, and there may now be consequences as a result of this unprecedented admission.

Hizbullah, a Shia militia group, was founded by Iran at a time when Israel was considered a threat to the sovereignty of Lebanon and also the Palestinian resistance. Over the years its status has been upgraded in Lebanon and it is now one of the most powerful parties in the country with the power of veto in parliament.

But in the view of many, the group is still nothing more than an Iranian puppet and it has been widely blamed for the current political deadlock in Lebanon. The country has been left without a president for two years because of Hizbullah’s veto power in parliament.

In Iran the group’s image is not much better. In a country where people cannot openly express their political views, social media is still full of complaints about government spending on groups like Hamas and Hizbullah and the Syrian regime.

Iranians do not see these relations as genuine since money is involved. It is hard for the public to believe such support is necessary, and many feel that Hizbullah makes trouble for Iran.

It is not clear why Nasrallah chose to suddenly put his group’s relations with Iran in the spotlight. He may need more money, and the remarks may have been meant as a way of encouraging Iran to make up for Hizbullah’s shortage of funds.

The reshuffle on the ground inside Syria may have prompted Nasrallah to act urgently before the major powers shape the future of Syria without President Bashar Al-Assad and eliminate Hizbullah’s presence on the ground.

If Hizbullah needs Iranian money for its existence, Iran needs Hizbullah to play out its proxy war with Israel and give it easy access to Syria. For the Al-Assad regime, Iran’s friendship is also necessary, although many Syrians speak in hostile terms about Iran and its role in their country’s civil war.

Many Iranians have been killed and some are said to have been abducted by Islamic State (IS) group forces in Syria. The deaths and kidnappings are seen as part of the heavy price Iran has paid to support a militia group like Hizbullah and the Al-Assad regime in Syria.

Nasrallah’s remarks may indicate that a decision has now been taken behind the scenes, perhaps with the knowledge of senior Revolutionary Guard commanders, to extricate the country from some of its involvement.

The Iran-Contra Affair of 1986 took place when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards leaked information about Iranian arms deals with Israel to a Lebanese newspaper. The leak did not serve Iran’s national interests at the time, since the country was at war with Iraq and was having difficulties buying weapons.

Today it is clear that the interests of Hizbullah and the Revolutionary Guards are paralysing the interests of other Lebanese and Iranians.

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