On July 4, we heard about the death of Imam Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah in
Lebanon, who was usually described as the spiritual leader of Hizbullah. This is
the death of the “fig leaf” for Iran’s political and military activities in
Lebanon, and the end of the false reality where we were led to believe that
Hizbullah had a spiritual leader in Lebanon. Fadlallah’s story is mainly about
the failure of Israel’s policy toward the Shi’ite community in Lebanon, where
our activities and lack of any relationship helped strengthen the perception
that the war with Israel transcends the interests of the Shi’ite
From the day Fadlallah arrived in Lebanon in 1966, he
formulated a worldview that was completely different from that of the then most
significant Shi’ite religious leader in Lebanon, Imam Musa Sadr. Sadr led the
Shi’ite community to focus on its own interests and build its institutions, and
he spoke out against the Palestinians, who had taken control of southern Lebanon
and were using it for their struggle against Israel. Fadlallah remained in
Sadr’s shadow until February 25, 1978, when Sadr disappeared during an official
visit to Libya, where he was probably murdered along with his escorts by Muammar
In 1975, Fadlallah wrote his book, Islam and the Logic of Force,
which explains that military force must serve the aims of Islam in its war
against infidels and imperialists. This was the approach that saw the adoption
of an antiimperialist, and in particular, anti-Israel agenda.
KHOMEINI revolution in Iran, on February 1, 1979, was the formative event that
Fadlallah had been waiting for. At the start of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s
regime, he sent emissaries that became formal and informal officials spreading
the revolution in Lebanon, and Fadlallah became their contact and ally.
Fadlallah was an asset for the Iranians because he could pass on the Iranian
message in his eloquent Arabic, overcoming the cultural differences between
Lebanon’s Shi’ite community and Khomeini’s emissaries.
In 1979, Amal was
the largest and most influential organization in Lebanon’s Shi’ite community,
and Fadlallah worked vigorously to change the way it operated, so that it would
match the mood coming from Teheran. But after his efforts failed, Fadlallah was
compelled to give his consent and support to the establishment of a new Shi’ite
organization, Hizbullah. Fadlallah decided to officially stay out of Hizbullah
to prevent a split in the Shi’ite community, but he continued to be seen by many
as Hizbullah’s spiritual leader.
Fadlallah’s influence over Hizbullah was
limited and the belief was that while at first there was close cooperation
between him and the Iranian emissaries, as Hizbullah strengthened, the
commitment of the Iranian emissaries to him diminished.
Fadlallah led the
way in the perception that the struggle with Israel transcended the interests of
the Shi’ite community. In a speech that he made in Bint Jbeil in 1972, he
attacked those who maintained that the departure of the Palestinians from
southern Lebanon would solve the Shi’ite community’s problems, and he claimed
that Israel was not attacking southern Lebanon because of the Palestinians but
because of its desire to conquer the area as it had done in three wars since its
He took advantage of Operation Litani, the First Lebanon
War and the arrival of the IDF in Beirut to strengthen solidarity between the
Shi’ites and the Palestinians. The longer Israel stayed in Lebanon, so
Fadlallah’s position strengthened on Israeli intentions to conquer Lebanese land
and not only solve the problem of Palestinian attacks.
disappearance of Sadr and the success of the Iranian revolution, there was a
significant change in Fadlallah’s power and status. The absence of competition
over the hearts and minds of the Shi’ite community was now backed up by the
money, propaganda and philosophy coming from Teheran.
The story of
Fadlallah is also the story of Israel’s failure in Lebanon and a missed
opportunity to make the Shi’ites into allies. A lack of interest in the
Shi’ites played right into the hands of Fadlallah, Hizbullah and Iran. Israel,
which had liberated the Shi’ite south from the tyrannical control of Palestinian
organizations, failed to build bridges to this community and in particular gave
no indication that it was ready to allow it to control its region.
erred in that it did not develop relations of trust with the Shi’ite
which suffered humiliation and lack of respect from the Sunni and
communities and the Palestinians. The Shi’ite community that had lived
the Lebanese Jewish community in the Wadi Abu Jmil neighborhood in west
did not receive proper treatment from us, and we adopted the same
the other communities toward it.
The death of Fadlallah is the death of
the last Iranian fig leaf in Lebanon and from now on there will not be a
religious leader who can be called the spiritual leader of
Hizbullah. From now on, in practice and in public, it will be Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of Iran, who will also have spiritual
leadership and religious authority over the Shi’ites in Lebanon.
writer is chairman of the Smart Middle East Forum.