Analysis: Hezbollah and Iran – two branches of the same tree

The fact that a Hezbollah MP would call on Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Iraq to unite against Israel demonstrates the alliances and power his movement has in the region.

Hezbollah members rally in Beirut 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hezbollah members rally in Beirut 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
When Lebanese MP Walid Sukkarieh of Hezbollah said last week the Shi’ite-dominated axis of Hezbollah-Iran-Syria could bleed Israel to death by sustaining losses that the Jewish state could not match – while at the same time making ominous insinuations about Iran’s nuclear desires – he provided a valuable insight into the mindset of radical Shi’a and the alignment of forces in the region.
“If Hezbollah can tolerate 1,000 martyrs, they [Syria, Iraq, and Iran] can tolerate 100,000 martyrs, and if Hezbollah can tolerate 10,000 martyrs, they can tolerate 1 million. Israel, on the other hand, has a population of 5 million,” Sukkarieh told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, according to a transcript provided by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute).
He also cited Iran’s nuclear program, hinting that a nuclear bomb would further tip the scales in favor of the Shi’ite axis.
“Moreover, if Iran continues to obtain nuclear technology and to stockpile uranium, it will be able to produce a nuclear bomb within a year, five years, or 10 years,” he said.
A nuclear-armed Iran with this martyrdom ideology is troubling for Israel and the West, despite the recent charm offensive by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said Steven David, an international relations expert from Johns Hopkins University.
“Unless and until Iran matches Rouhani’s rhetoric with actions that deprive Iran of the capability of producing nuclear weapons, the threat of a nuclear armed Iran behaving recklessly remains,” David said in a report for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University (BESA).
“Both Iran and Hezbollah see themselves in a strategic partnership, far beyond a traditional patron-proxy relationship,” Matthew Levitt, author of the recent Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God and a senior fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence, told The Jerusalem Post.
Harel Chorev-Halewa, a researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that what Sukkarieh expresses “stands at the heart of Hezbollah’s strategic concept of the muqawama, the Resistance Axis, namely the radical camp of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and until recently Hamas as well.”
“One of the main ideas of the muqawama is that this axis enjoys, mainly because of profound religious justifications, the virtue of endurance, and especially the ability to suffer heavy losses, unlike Israel and the West in general,” he said.
This principle is key in understanding “the muqawama’s fighting patterns and tactics – aiming to cause as many civilian and military casualties as possible for the enemy, in order to exploit its ‘weakness.’
“In that sense Sukkariyeh is just repeating the same slogans that Hezbollah’s audience are very well familiar with, claiming that the axis actually does not need the atomic bomb because they can successfully deal with Israel anyway,” Chorev-Halewa said.
Hezbollah incorporated the Shia concept of martyrdom and suffering, which can be traced back to the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Shi’ite hero and grandson of Muhammad.
Leaders of Hezbollah often speak about the culture of sacrifice.
For example, Naim Qassem, one of Hezbollah’s founders and its deputy secretary- general since 1991, wrote about it, putting Sukkarieh’s interview into perspective.
“The culture of martyrdom,” wrote Qassem, “reinforces one’s readiness for death for the sake of God, as the founding logic is based on the religious conception that there is life after death, in which man lives happily and realizes all of his dreams. This goes alongside the benefit reaped on earth by the nation as a result of the martyr’s action.... Martyrdom for the sake of liberation goes beyond its material aspect, representing a form of obedience to God’s ordained duty of defending the land. It is thus a death for the sake of God.”
The culture of martyrdom sprouts from Iran, whose leader Hezbollah sees as a spiritual authority, explains Prof. Martin Kramer, president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and a specialist in contemporary Islam and Arab politics, who was the director of the Moshe Dayan Center.
“What is striking and distinctive about Hezbollah is its cultural deference to Iran’s Islamic symbols, its spiritual deference to Iran’s Islamic authority, and its ideological deference to Iran’s Islamic vision,” he wrote in his study “Redeeming Jerusalem: The Pan-Islamic Premise of Hizballah” in The Iranian Revolution and the Muslim World.
Today, Tehran, sometimes in partnership with Hezbollah, is able to pull the levers and influence actions in the region, particularly with its ally Syria. In addition, it has significant leverage in Shi’ite-dominated Iraq and in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is part of the government coalition.
Asked about the Shi’ite factor and its cooperation with Iran, Levitt said, “The experience of training and fighting with Iraqi Shia militants first in Iraq and now in Syria has brought Iraqi Shia militants back into the mix in a way they hadn’t been since the 1980s.”
Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that after the success of the Iranian revolution in 1979, “the new regime moved immediately to export the Islamic Revolution to the Arab and Islamic world.”
To carry this out, a special office – the precursor of today’s Quds Force – was established by one of the closest associates of the founder of the regime, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, explained Badran. The purpose of this was “to set up and support ‘Islamic liberation movements’ around the world who would follow the leadership of Khomeini.
“Lebanon was the most attractive and most viable place to begin,” said Badran, especially since most senior members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps at the time had lived and trained in Lebanon during the 1970s.
“The first fruit of this effort, and its crown jewel, remains Hezbollah,” which continues to pursue the goals of the Iranian regime, he said.
Badran points out that “the second most successful front for Iran today is Iraq, where the Iranians have spawned and sponsored a number of Iraqi Shi’ite militias, who follow the ‘line of Imam Khomeini,’ and who we now see are an essential part of Iran’s fighting force in Syria.”
The fact that a Hezbollah MP would call on Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Iraq to unite against Israel demonstrates the alliances and power his movement has in the region.