Time: Iranians Annoyed With Hezbollah

Parvin Heydari, an Iranian mother of two, was flipping back and forth between the nightly news and Oprah when a bulletin on an Iranian state channel caught her attention. It urged Iranians to boycott what it called “Zionist products,” including those made by Pepsi, Nestlé and Calvin Klein, and warned that profits from such products “are converted into bullets piercing the chests of Lebanese and Palestinian children.” As evidence, the voice-over intoned, “Pepsi stands for ‘pay each penny to save Israel.’” Heydari says she changed the channel, as she has no intention of crossing Nestlé’s Nesquik off her shopping list. “Lebanon has nothing to do with us,” she says. “We should mind our own business and concentrate on policies that are good for our economy, and our kids.”

To many observers in the Western world, Hizballah, the Lebanese guerrilla group battling Israel, is a mere puppet of Iran. Some are convinced that Hizballah triggered the crisis on Tehran’s orders to divert world attention away from Iran’s controversial nuclear plans. But client states are not necessarily as docile as one might think. Just as Israel sometimes takes actions that surprise (and even displease) the U.S., Hizballah does things Iran has neither ordered up nor necessarily approves of.

It’s impossible to know the precise origins of the current crisis in Lebanon, but since it erupted two weeks ago, the mood in Tehran has swung between indifference–the fighting rarely makes the headlines–and resentment over Iran’s longstanding sponsorship of Hizballah. True, there have been officially sponsored rallies declaring support for Hizballah, whose leaders pledge religious allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. But the emotional support for Hizballah common throughout the Arab world is largely absent here.


Several interesting articles in the Washington Note. One a few days old talks about the PR wars and how they’ve influenced the American evacuation from Lebanon. Something I’d suspected but never voiced.

The Bush Administration’s and RNC’s Nonsensical PR Games: Lebanon and Iraq

  NEW YORK--I've just seen two reports about absolutely looney Bush administration steps in Iraq and Lebanon that have more to do with public relations management than they do, in either case, with "on the ground realities.

The American Prospect’s Garance Franke-Ruta regarding Why It’s Taking So Long" to evacuate Americans from Lebanon:

[quote]A reliable source tells me that the reason the United States has been so slow in evacuating its citizens from Lebanon is that the public diplomacy (i.e., P.R.) issues raised by evacuating under Israeli assault are so complicated.

Individuals within the State Department, I am told, have been reluctant to create an impression that the Israeli assault on Lebanon is as bad as it is or that civilian U.S. citizens are being threatened by U.S. ally Israel. If a conflict this severe had broken out in, say, Indonesia, the American embassy would have been shut down the next day and its personnel and families rapidly brought to safety. That’s how things normally work. (See Laura Rozen on the evacuation from Albania here.)

In this case, however, the diplomatic message sent by shutting down the U.S. embassy in the face of Israeli bombing would have contradicted the U.S. government message of support for the Israeli mission against Hezbollah terrorists, which, when added to the general concern within lower-level diplomatic circles about ever creating a Fall of Saigon-style visual for the news media, have led the Americans to be slower than they could have been about getting U.S. citizens out of harm’s way

And more to the point of what’s going on with Hizbullah (one day I’ll settle on a spelling for that word), an email from from a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Asst. Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

The assumption in Israel and here is that Iran and Syria put Hezbollah up to its provocative gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered Palestians in Gaza. The assumption in the Arab world is that the U.S. put Israel up to what it is doing in Gaza and Lebanon. Both assertions remain politically convenient assertions that are almost certainly wrong. There is no evidence for either.

The relationship between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran is analogous to that between Israel and the United States. Syria is the quartermaster and Iran the external financier and munitions supplier to Hezbollah; we play all three roles in support of Israel.

There is no reason to believe that Hezbollah, which is an authentic expression of Lebanese Sh’ia nationalism birthed by the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 1982, is any less unilateralist or prone to consult its patrons before it does things it sees as in its interest than Israel, which is an authentic expression of Jewish nationalism birthed by European racism, is in relation to us.

Remember the assertions that Vietnamese expansionism was controlled and directed by the Chinese? similar stuff. Chinese backing for the Viet Minh and the Hanoi regime did not equate to Chinese control or direction of North Vietnam, its armed forces, or its agents in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Consider the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war.

The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad. But that will not mean that the successors of Nouri Al-Maliki control Sheikh Nasrullah. Sometimes clients direct the policies of their patrons, not the other way around. This is a point exemplified by the dynamic of Israeli-American relations but far from unique to them.


More on the same subject from WP’s World Opinion Roundup:

Iran – Instigator or Bystander?
Tehran is more than 900 miles from the scene of the fight, but the Iranian government stands at the heart of the Hezbollah-Israeli war, according to some international online commentators.

With Secretary Condoleezza Rice visiting the region for the first time since fighting between Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces erupted July 12, the role of Iran, patron and supporter of Hezbollah, is a key part of diplomatic efforts to arrange a cease-fire.

  • U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday said he would press for “a truce and establishment of a buffer force” in southern Lebanon, adding that he expected Syria and Iran to help.

  • Rice traveled to Jerusalem where she met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni late Monday in talks that addressed Iran’s involvement, according to the Jerusalem Post.

  • Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s representative in Iran vowed that the group’s military campaign will leave “no place safe” for Israelis.

Whether Iran is instigator or target of the war now entering its third week is much disputed. The Israeli and American view that Iran is mainly responsible for Hezbollah’s attacks runs counter to the common view in the Iranian and Arab news sites that the Islamic Republic supports but does not control the Shiite militia of Lebanon.

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 by Shiites angered by Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon and dissatisifed with Amal, the traditional political party of Lebanese Shiites. The new party was assisted by religious Iranians interested in advancing the cause of a Shiite revolution as preached by Ayatollah Khomeini. They also received help from secular Syria, which was looking for allies in Lebanon. What began as a military organization evolved into a political party, a social welfare network and a militia – a state within a state.

In Israel, Hezbollah is often seen as an instrument of Iran’s foreign policy. Elsewhere, Hezbollah is seen as an ally of the Islamic Republic with its own agenda.

“This is a regional war,” says Dore Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations. “Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas – the provinces where British troops are deployed – and hopes to encircle both Israel and the Sunni heartland of the Arab world… There is no question that Iran’s main aim is to dominate the oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia.”

Iran hosted a conference of representatives of Hezbollah, Hamas and several Palestinian militant organizations in April, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Tehran has never tried to hide its support for these groups, which it views as legitimate resistance movements.” Tehran is also encouraging volunteers to join the fight in Lebanon, reports RFE/RL.

“Hezbollah had its own reasons for attacking Israel,” former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told aljazeera.net, "but Syrian and Iranian interests were being served as well, otherwise they would’ve intervened to stop their client organisation.

One Iranian commentator welcomed the charge. Israel’s supporters “are right to see Iran as the source of all the developments in the region,” wrote Mohammad Imani in the Keyhan, a conservative daily in Tehran.

But the BBC says Iran’s role is “murky.”

Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the BBC it was “unrealistic to think that Iran somehow controls Hezbollah, that Syria doesn’t need to be considered, that Hezbollah has no decision-making authority or capability on its own.” In a paper for CSIS, Cordesman says there “no evidence” that Iran dominates Hezbollah.

That view is shared both inside and outside of Iran.

“It is misleading to say that Iran and Syria are carrying this out,” Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said of Hezbollah’s fight against the Jewish state. “These are careless statements.”

“Despite the belligerent talk, Iran experts in the United States believe that Tehran is posturing, seeking to gain maximum geopolitical advantage while wanting to avoid a fight with Israel - at least for now,” says a writer for Eurasianet, a news and commentary site.

Iran’s strategy, says Trista Parsi, a Middle East specialist at the Johns Hopkins University, “is to continuously defy the U.S. but stop short of trapping itself in a military confrontation it knows it cannot win.”

“While Ahmadinejad huffs and puffs – he has warned Israel that it ‘will face a crushing response’ if it attacks Syria, and accused Arab leaders who have refused to cheer on Hezbollah of being ‘complicit in the Zionist regime’s barbarism’ – there is little evidence showing an active Iranian role in the fighting,” Parsi writes.

“This is rhetoric, not actual policy,” Mohammad Atrianfar, editor of the reformist Iranian newspaper Shargh, told Time Magazine’s Azadeh Moaveni.

Editors of Le Monde, the French daily, say Iran is taking advantage of the war to advance its nuclear diplomacy.
"The war in Lebanon began at a time when the major powers, frustrated at having failed to secure a response from Tehran to their diplomatic offer, had announced their intention of resuming the Security Council talks on what sanctions could be imposed on Tehran. The evidence is lacking to establish a cause-and-effect link. What is obvious, however, is that, on the strength of its feeling of impunity and power granted to it by the revival of Shiism, Tehran has decided to capitalize on the conflict in the Near East. "

Of course, the million dollar question is, once things settle down, will Iran resupply Hezbollah?

Interesting article and plausible information but plausible is about as good as it gets without actually seeing the intelligence products and being able to evaluate them. I’ve heard a big song and dance about absolute knowledge of Saddam’s capabilities before complete with “marked up satellite” photos and I’d be just as skeptical about the quality of these.

That’s not to say I doubt that Iran is supplying Hizbollah and this guy may well be saying the God’s honest truth. The fact is that no matter what happens Iran will keep on supplying them. Unless, as more and more folks are suggesting, there’s a way to pry Syria away from Iran diplomatically.

The only bone I suspect they’d go for is Golan back. And that would kinda moot the need for all the secrecy about Israeli sources and methods based on an observation post in Golan.