Iran and Lebanon
- Iran’s 1979 revolution transformed relations with Lebanon and politics within Lebanon, especially after Tehran sired Hezbollah in 1982.
- Iran now considers Hezbollah its primary Lebanese interlocutor, followed by the Shiite community, and only then the state.
- Iran has poured billions of dollars and tons of increasingly sophisticated weaponry into Hezbollah, the most successful example of the theocracy’s campaign to export its revolutionary ideals.
- Hezbollah, the Party of God, is an extension of Iran’s foreign policy and an instrument of its security policy, especially against the United States and Israel. Yet it also has its own Lebanese and regional agenda, and is no longer just an obedient proxy of Iran.
- Iran’s use of Lebanon and Hezbollah to challenge Israel, often at great cost, has spawned widespread anger and suspicion among many other Lebanese parties and religious sects. Lebanese views of Iran reflect the country’s political and sectarian fault-lines.
The Lebanese state
The Syrian factor
Notables in Lebanon-Iran relations
- Hassan Nasrallah is Hezbollah’s secretary general. A charismatic leader who took over the movement in 1992, he is widely admired in the Arab world and more popular than any Iranian leader.
- Musa al-Sadr was the Qom-trained scion of a prominent Lebanese clerical family that moved to Tehran. Al-Sadr, the architect of the awakening of Lebanon’s then-disenfranchised Shiite community, disappeared before the Iranian revolution. His mobilization of the Shiites sect paved the way for greater Iranian political, social and military presence in Lebanon.
- Imad Mughniyah was the former Hezbollah security chief who collaborated with Iranian security. The closeness of Iranian-Hezbollah ties was evident by the large presence of Iranian security personnel at his funeral after he was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008.
- Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah captured the complex nature of Lebanese Shiite-Iranian relations. Fadlallah, long the senior Lebanese Shiite cleric with a following worldwide, was once a spiritual reference for Hezbollah militants. Yet, he openly contested the Iranian concept of velayet-e faqih, the basis of rule by a supreme religious leader. He often clashed theologically and politically with Iran and Hezbollah. He also ran a social services network that catered to the same Shiite constituency. His passing in 2010 left the field open for greater Iranian clerical influence.
- Hezbollah is valuable to Iran, but Iranians have also begun to grumble about the financial and political costs of supporting the Lebanese militia. Hezbollah’s fate now depends more on Lebanese politics and tensions with Israel than on Iran.
- Hezbollah will be a major component in any conflict involving Iran. Yet, its participation may not be automatic. Hezbollah will weigh domestic considerations, including a war’s impact on the Shiite community.
- Peace between Israel, Lebanon and Syria will require Hezbollah’s transformation into a peaceful political party. Yet this will require Iranian acquiescence, which seems unlikely outside some form of U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.
Emile Hokayem is the senior fellow for regional security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
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