By Tony Duheaume
Al Arabiya, 18 November 2017 - The importance of Hezbollah for Iran as an overseas fighting force, which operates alongside its own military, cannot be underestimated. Since its establishment in Lebanon in the early 1980s by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Quds Force, Hezbollah has fought wars and carried out deadly attacks against civilians in foreign lands that have proven its worth as a terror group.
Terrorist attacks carried out by Hezbollah, which have targeted various nations over the years, can only be construed as attacks carried out by the Iranian administration through proxy. As by using its Quds Force, the regime itself can claim plausible deniability from its deeds, which it has done for many decades.
Iran’s imperialist designs
It seems that Iran’s hawkish leadership is currently working hard to revive its long-lost Persian Empire through stealthily applied hegemony. With Iraq always having been at the top of its list of potential conquests, Tehran is taking advantage of Iraqi government’s invite to aid it in the fight against ISIS, and had sent its wily Quds’ Force Commander Qassim Suleimani to take up the challenge. As the battle commenced, Suleimani integrated a large force of Iran-backed militias into the ranks of Iraqi armed forces, thereby effectively taking control.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US coalition forces, Iranians have been actively infiltrating the Iraqi government, gaining influence over a large number of MPs in a bid to turn Iraq into an Iranian satellite state. While in Syria, with the Iranian puppet President Bashar al-Assad on the back foot, Iran’s proxy forces and its military were sent in to shore up his regime, and with the dictator’s army virtually non-existent, Iran has setup a military headquarters there, in readiness to reinstall their puppet.
But in case of Lebanon, it is Iran’s proxy Hezbollah that is doing the infiltrating in a bid to take control of the country through stealth. Through its support of Hezbollah, Iran has gained a powerful foothold in Lebanon. One big advantage for better relations came in the election of Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun as the country’s president on 31 October 2016, which left the door open for further Iranian influence. Then through the electoral system — through its 12 seats in parliament and with crucial allies such as President Aoun’s Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement that controls the Ministry of Defence portfolio, and by working closely with the Shiite party Amal that controls the Ministry of Finance — Hezbollah is now in virtual control of Lebanese politics.
Lebanese military vis-à-vis Hezbollah militia
But Hezbollah’s strength doesn’t end there. Its military wing is more powerful than the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and even in recent times the two have been known to work together. The officer in charge of the Lebanese army, who appears to be seeking better relations with the US is Staff Brigadier General Joseph Aoun (no relation to President Michel Aoun). Joseph Aoun had previously commanded the Lebanese 9th Brigade, whose remit was to maintain security of an area skirting the Litani River in south Lebanon, where Hezbollah was required to disarm under Resolution 1701 — of the UN Security Council Resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militia — which Hezbollah has never observed.
On July 2009, a huge blast struck Lebanese village of Khirbet Selm, when an abandoned house — containing a stockpile of rockets, automatic weapons and ammunition that belonged to Hezbollah — exploded in a massive inferno. The incident exposed how the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as well as the LAF supposedly patrolling the area with a directive to enforce Resolution 1701 to disarm any Hezbollah militia, had failed in their mission. With Israeli IDF having estimated 160 villages across southern Lebanon contained Hezbollah military supplies, whilst carrying out 400 vehicles and air patrols a day, it seems strange that none of the UNIFIL and LAF combined patrols came across any sign of Hezbollah’s arms caches.
Although Gen. Aoun seems to be reaching out to the US, he has been known to have close links with Hezbollah, and after being reassigned to the Arsal-Hermel sector in north-eastern Lebanon in 2013, with his duties entailing strengthening of defensive line in an area straddling Syrian border to avert penetrations by Syrian militias, these links strengthened greatly.
With this area having been a Hezbollah stronghold, it would have been inevitable that the LAF would have to cooperate with Hezbollah in some way to enable it to carry out its duties in the area, and with the nearby town of Qusayr and the Qalamoun region being Hezbollah military zones, essential to the paramilitaries deploying forces to fight in Syria, the aid of the LAF would have been vital in securing these logistical supply routes, leaving the LAF open to calls of collusion.
Iran’s aid to proxies
Then with Iran having billions of dollars in cash returned to it through signing the nuclear deal, the regime is said to have increased its funding of Hezbollah from $600m annually to $800m. With Hezbollah immersed in criminal activity, hundreds of millions of dollars are also funnelled to the terror group in Lebanon, from its illicit dealings in drug trade, the selling of pirated software, etc. Much of the cash made from these illicit activities, is then laundered through the sale of cars to Africa, through its second-hand car dealerships in the US, the proceeds of which find their way back to Hezbollah’s accounts in Lebanon.
By means of this vast finance, with the aid of the Quds Force, Hezbollah has been able to construct a global terrorist network, spanning all continents. Through the use of Iranian embassies, plans have been hatched to hijack planes, detonate numerous vehicle bombs, kidnap dozens of innocent people, as well as assassinate dissidents living abroad, and those considered a threat to the Iranian regime.
As far as Hezbollah’s unique position in Lebanon is concerned, Iran sees it as a great success in the export of its Islamic revolution, and to maintain the terror group’s military effectiveness, it supplies it with a vast amount of weaponry. As a result of this, Hezbollah can comfortably outgun Lebanese Armed Forces, and with somewhere in the region of 25,000 armed fighters in its ranks, makes it a powerful adversary — should time ever come for the Lebanese government to confront it.
Iran is seeking a land-bridge to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria in order to supply its faithful proxy as well as to move troops and military equipment into the country unobstructed, ready for any future war with Israel, or attacks on targets in the Gulf States. But as things stand, although Hezbollah has made great inroads into the Lebanese Army, the two are still very suspicious of each other.
But on 6 January 2017, Iran sent a high level parliamentary delegation to Beirut, offering to provide the LAF with a substantial package of military aid, at a time when relations with the country seemed to be favorable.
Silencing critics through assassinations
However, it is noteworthy that Hezbollah’s critics tend to end up being victims of car blasts, as was the fate of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated on February 14, 2005 after a fallout with Bashar al-Assad. Recently, there was the episode with Rafik’s son Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister who fled to Saudi Arabia after receiving intelligence that there was a plan to assassinate him. Taking into consideration this latest interference, it seems Iranians are stepping up their agenda to take over Lebanon.
There are other signs also that show Iran is back to its old ways against those it views as its enemies. On 27 October 2017, one of its agents bombed a police bus in Bahrain, killing one police officer and injuring eight others. Following the arrest of a suspect, Bahraini authorities uncovered a cell linked to Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which was also said to have been involved in earlier terrorist attacks and a series of other plots to blow up oil pipelines and plans to assassinate public figures in the country.
Whenever Iran has its back to the wall – as it is experiencing now under Trump’s crackdown – the regime responds by carrying out assassinations and terror attacks, and looking at its proxy’s history, such attacks will not be the last.