For those who may be interested in the relation between Iran and Amal and Hezbollah, this is one account that seemed like an interesting beginning. It needs some editing since some points are repeated, but does at least try to open up to a process and a history that is altogether ignored or inexistent within western journalistic accounts. Its accuracy is, of course, what I have no way of attesting to. -rg
By Manal Lutfi
Asharq Alawsat
June 9 2008
London, Asharq Al-Awsat – With the victory of the Iranian revolution
in 1979, Iran wanted to gain the admiration and backing of the Arab
states and realized that it was possible. Since the first day of the
revolution, Iran was keen to extend its relations with Islamic states
and when this proved to be difficult in most cases for a number of
complicated reasons, it began to search for organizations, as opposed
to states and regimes.
Through these organizations it was able to resume its role in Islamic
issues, which it was cautious to present as one of the fundamentals
of the revolution and its ideology. Thus, in the early years of the
revolution, the internal transformations taking place in Iran were
awarded the same attention as the Palestinian and Lebanese issues
and the ‘global Zionism’ and the ‘arrogant powers’.
The Iranian revolution sought to win the admiration of the Arab
states and believed that this admiration would exonerate it from
the Persian racism accusation that it had been branded with. After
the Iran-Iraq war broke out, Iran sought to form alliances with the
Arab world but was only able to secure the support of Syria, Libya,
Algeria and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
These times coincided with the disappearance of the founder of Amal
movement, Musa al Sadr during his visit to Libya. Despite the fact
that the leadership of Amal sent direct messages to Tehran appealing
to it to release or save al Sadr in Libya; the revolutionary Iran
did not respond.
Lebanese intellectual Hani Fahs arrived in Tehran on the first plane
to land in the capital following the success of the revolution;
he arrived with Yasser Arafat and was a frequent traveler between
Lebanon and Iran. Fahs also lived in Tehran from 1982-1985.
He told to Asharq Al-Awsat that the relationship between Iran and
the Arab states, and later Amal, was complicated. According to Fahs:
“At one point the Iranian revolution was admired by some Arab states,
some supported it while others were negative towards it. Those who
admired it were cautious, some Gulf States for example, and those
who supported it were few. While Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and others
were against the revolution, Syria, Libya and the PLO supported it
and the PLO acted as a communication channel between these states
and the revolution. Iran sensed its inadequacy on this level and
was searching for an Arab position that could liberate it from the
accusation of Persian racism after the Shah publicly declared his
support for the Israeli aggression and the state of Israel. This was
one of the declared reasons behind the revolution since 1963 and the
massacre that was committed by the regime and the imprisonment and
later exile of [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini. Iran was reassured
by the positions of Libya, Syria, and the PLO. After Musa al Sadr
vanished, Amal movement could not withstand this hardship; however,
it did not sever its relations with Iran and the revolution. An Amal
delegation met with a delegation of the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council
[in Lebanon] headed by Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shams al Din and the Imam
[Khomeini] and the state [Iran]. It was a celebratory occasion but
Shams al Din vocalized his objection to Iran’s relations with Libya,
since some Shia and others were inclined to believe that Iran was
satisfied by or implicated in what happened to Musa al Sadr but had
no proof. Evidence of innocence is that Sadiq Tabatabai, al Sadr’s
nephew, and Sayyed Ahmad Khomeini, Musa al Sadr’s son-in-law were
fully informed on everything and were aware of al Sadr’s status in the
hearts and minds of the Iranian people. The same applies to Mostafa
Chamran, who had just been appointed as deputy prime minister to Mehdi
Bazargan then later became Minister of Defense — and Chamran would
not have tolerated any negativity towards al Sadr. The core of the
matter is that Chamran lived the crisis and attempted to alleviate
it whilst taking into account Iranian necessities that he did not
fully approve of. Moreover, Chamran found it difficult to fight it
or prevent its full impact and the controversy raged. Amal movement
and its supporters in Iran began to denounce the Libyan presence and
the Iranian group that had developed relations with the Libyan regime
before the revolution by a few days. Furthermore, some Iranians were
invited to Tripoli (Libya) and the relations become stronger with time.
“But this did not prevent Tehran from being exceedingly wary and
balanced. It turned the blind eye to the demonstration that Amal had
stirred up against Jalloud’s* visit to Tehran without disrupting its
relationship with the Libyan regime. The Iraqi-Iranian war necessitated
that Iran resort to money and arms, and thus the Iranian tripartite
was formed (a senior figure in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC) and number veteran cadres from Syria and Libya) and the
ties were strengthened. The relationship with Amal became calmer
and there was serious communication and the problems diminished
based on an understanding that arose out of the needs of each
party. Tehran’s relations with Amal improved a little following the
slump in communications and understanding between the PLO and Iran,
Amal had objections over the deep understanding [they had] since it
viewed that it was at its expense. Iran’s interest in Amal reached
the extent that it considered, according to records, cooperating with
Fatah movement to boost the chances of Nabih Berri leading the movement
and the two parties conspired to remove Imam al Sadr,” said Fahs.
Sayyid Ali al Amin, the Mufti of Tyre and Mount Amel, who was one of
the key eyewitnesses during the transformation of the relationship
between Amal movement and Iran told Asharq Al-Awsat that in these
definitive years two essential factors shaped the relationship between
Amal and post-revolutionary Iran in 1979; first was the frustration
within Amal over the way in which Iran dealt with the disappearance
of Musa al Sadr. Amal had expected Iran to exert efforts to save
al Sadr and bring him back to Lebanon from Libya — but this did
not happen. The second source of frustration was Iran’s support
of Palestinian groups in Lebanon at Amal’s expense, which had been
calling for extending sovereignty over the entire Lebanese territory
through armed confrontations between the Palestinian factions and
Amal movement.
Al Amin pointed out that although Amal was a Shia movement; it was
of an Arab Shia affiliation and with time political and cultural
differences started to emerge between it and the new Islamic regime in
Tehran after some signs of the regime’s desire to export its revolution
to Lebanon began to manifest. This is also when Iran realized that
Amal was not the instrument required for the success of its project.
He continued: “After Khomeini’s rise to power in the aftermath
of the Islamic revolution in Iran, a relationship was established
between the Lebanese Amal movement and the new regime in Iran. The
main factor in this relationship was the emotive bond that was the
outcome of religious and doctrinal ties shared by both parties, upon
the consideration that Amal movement was founded by Imam Musa al
Sadr based on principles of the general religious culture in areas
that were predominantly inhabited by Shia. These Shia respected and
followed the scholars and marja’ (religious references) of their
religious heritage. Since Iran’s revolution was led by religious
clerics, spearheaded by Imam Khomeini; it had supporters among the
Shia sect in general, and in Amal movement specifically, all of whom
believed that the revolution would be a stepping stone that could
help them consolidate their position in the Lebanese regime and end
the deprivation they were subjected to. They had high hopes that the
new leadership in Iran would strive to save Musa al Sadr and bring him
back to Lebanon, especially since the issue surrounding his abduction
and disappearance was strongly present in the Lebanese arena. It had
only been a few months since his disappearance and Amal had expected
the new Iranian regime to support it in its ongoing conflict with
the Palestinian factions and the left-wing Lebanese parties that
were dominating over the south and various other Lebanese areas. At
the time, Amal movement was bearing the slogan of defending Lebanese
legitimacy and was calling for exercising state sovereignty over the
entire Lebanese nation.”
However, the new Iranian leadership did not meet these hopes
and expectations that Amal and its popular supporter base had
anticipated and thus, the emotive bond between the two began to
transform. According to al Amin “revolutionary Iran did not take
any actions with regards to the Musa al Sadr issue and it stood
by the Palestinian groups in Lebanon and thus the political and
cultural differences between Amal and the Shia Lebanese sect began
to emerge. Theirs was a culture that was based on ties with the
Arab world and devotion to their Arab origin and solidarity over the
project of a united Lebanese state and coexistence. Meanwhile, the
new Iranian culture was based on the rejection of regimes and states
that are not founded upon a religious basis, especially the Lebanese
regime which Imam Khomeini had described as a “criminal and corrupt”
regime. Individuals and groups that were affiliated to Iran began
to raise the slogan of the Islamic revolution in Lebanon and the
Levant and the Shia sect and its political and religious leaders
were vehemently against it, as were the jurisprudential marja’a
and religious scholars in Jebel Amel and Iraq. This is why Amal and
the Shia sect stood against the Iranian project, which had begun to
manifest in the Shia circles in Lebanon. This marked the beginning of
Iran’s awareness that Amal was not the appropriate tool for exporting
the revolution out of Iran.”
These complicated circumstances were what led many in Iran and
Lebanon to believe that Amal was incapable or unwilling to bear the
Iranian project. And following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the
role played by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the
Lebanese elements that were trained by the IRGC; other developments
of the alleged resistance project began to appear on the ground. These
developments did not only reveal Iran’s role but also the role played
by Amal, “which did not crystallize into a political, religious,
partisan project because of all the attention Imam Musa al Sadr
was receiving”.
After Musa al Sadr vanished and the sentiment among many that creating
a political, religious party within Amal would be very difficult, they
considered an alternative under the name “Hezbollah”. This was backed
by leadership figures in Amal, such as Abbas al Musawi and Sobhi al
Tufeili and various clerics and activists that were linked to Iraq’s
Dawa party, which had been established under Iran’s tutelage. They
all saw the necessity of founding a political-religious party —
and even an armed one.
Fahs explained, “After the revolution and until the Israeli invasion
and occupation in 1982, Amal was the Shia Iranian project in
Lebanon. However, it was an elaborate project that required patience
and polemics due to its close resemblance to the liberalist approach
nurtured by Musa Sadr, which he had also stressed in Amal movement but
which did not hinder the development of a strictly religious trend out
of a political-religious one. However; this trend, with the rise of the
revolution and the disappearance of Imam al Sadr became more convinced
with the idea of a religious-political project and it did not find in
Amal a legitimate opportunity to consolidate the relationship with Iran
and have a deep understanding with it. This became evident through the
frequent travels between Beirut and Tehran and Iran sought to embrace
the religious seminaries that were established in Lebanon after the
disruption in Najaf. Moreover, distinguished Iranian clerical figures
supported this, such as Sayyed [al Uzma] al Calebyakni and Sayyed
[Abul-Qassim] al Khoei while the late Abbas al Musawi and Sheikh Sobhi
al Tufeili and their contemporaries from Amal movement and independent
figures, especially those who were affiliated with the Dawa party,
became incorporated into a more Iranian framework following immense
efforts from Iran. Some are known for their ongoing activism in Amal,
such as Sheikh Naim Qassem.”
Conflicting political interests affected the relationship between
Iran and Amal and it is what paved the way for the creation of
Hezbollah. The same miscommunication happened between revolutionary
Iran and Fatah movement and these changes began to gradually manifest
between the Palestinian revolution and revolutionary Iran, which
had viewed Fatah and the Palestinian revolution as a playing card
in its resistance project against the West. As for the Palestinian
revolution; it saw in Iran an opportunity to consolidate the strength
of its national resistance to regain its occupied territories.
But the aforementioned differences between Amal and Iran also had
another consequence: The birth of Hezbollah, while the differences
between Iran and Fatah would later lead to the birth of Hamas and
the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine.
In his position as mediation and communication officer between
Fatah movement and Khomeini’s group, Hani Fahs shed lights on these
differences; he told Asharq Al-Awsat that these differences did
not prevent Iran and Fatah from communicating during the Israeli
occupation of Lebanon since Iran was a key participant in countering
the Israeli aggression through the IRGC and the volunteer movement
in Iran, which in one week recorded over 100,000 volunteers.
He said: “During the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982, we were
in Tehran along with Amal movement’s first group and its supporters,
all of whom later became the nucleus that formed Hezbollah. We
were attending a conference on Islamic unity that was held in the
early days of the invasion… Iran, with its desire to resolve its
Persian complex, wanted to fully adopt the primary Arab cause after
communication and relations had soured with Fatah — despite having
previously had a historical understanding. The Iranians wanted the
entire Palestinian support and cause on their side in their resistance
project, and Abu Ammar (late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat)
wanted Iran’s full support in his pursuit of peace as a position
of strength and so that it may replace Egypt in the equation since
Egypt was no longer part of it after the Camp David [Accords]. This
marked the distinction that became grounds for division at one point
in time. However, this did not prevent communication during the
Israeli occupation of Lebanon due to Iran’s direct involvement in
countering the Israeli aggression and there was also daily contact
with Abu Jihad (Khalil al Wazir) who was expecting the [Iranian]
volunteers. Meanwhile, a delegation of leadership figures from the
IRGC was expected to arrive at Lebanon via Damascus to coordinate the
matter; however it was detained and disappeared after crossing the
Lebanese forces’ checkpoint between Tripoli and Beirut. It remains
to be an open case to this day.”
Since Khomeini was disinclined to send more IRGC troops to Lebanon
and felt that the cost for doing so would be high, especially since
Iran was embroiled in a war with Iraq, it gave rise to what Fahs calls
“the search for an alternative formula for participation.
According to Fahs: “At this point, Imam Khomeini curbed his advancing
[in that direction] and gave priority to the Iranian fighting against
the Iraqi aggressor. He believed that focusing on Lebanon would be
neglecting Iranian affairs and appearing to lenient with the Iraqi
regime after its defeat in the Battle of Khorramshahr. And thus the
project was temporarily suspended as the Iranians began to search
for an alternative formula for participation. This coincided with
activities undertaken by some Lebanese figures in Tehran who wanted to
set up a resistance against the Zionist enemy, aided by the Iranians. I
was one of the people who were consulted on the matter and we agreed
that it was simply a resistance project, nothing more. But we were not
invited to the secret meetings because of my known relationship with
Fatah and the group did not want a headache; it was not part of their
program to absorb experiences that were part of a different context or
that hinted at debate. This is when I was prompted to come up with a
different formula, which was to bring together Muslim clerics, Sunni
and Shia, and I drafted a declaration but had to stop my activities
and for reasons had to remain in Iran. Although I still maintained
contact, my participation was external and I did not get involved
for reasons both related to myself and to it [the project]. Later
it transpired that the idea had been transformed into a composite
one, which was cooperation for resistance via a civil, military and
logistical organization whilst relying upon trained elements from Amal
and elements from the south [of Lebanon] who had experience in battle
with Fatah so that gradually the matter would evolve into becoming
‘Hezbollah’ after gaining credibility and legitimacy.”
“It is worth noting,” he continued, “that the martyr Sheikh Ragheb Harb
was part of this movement but that he steered clear of consultations
and deep discussions into the nature of the resistance project that
was desired by Iran and Lebanon. This was by reason of his adherence
to Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Shams al Din’s approach, however this does
not mean that Rageb Harb was not active in the resistance. On his
way to Tehran in 1983 after his meeting with Sheikh Sobhi al Tufeili
in Bekaa [valley], Harb discovered that a party called Hezbollah had
been formed. Harb did not express his approval or disapproval of the
party and his objections remained to be the same: the necessity to
prioritize the resistance.
* Abdel Salam Jalloud was the second man in the Libyan regime who after
the Lockerbie incident was no longer part of the official circle in
the regime. By 1993, he was no longer a part of the official process.