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If You Don’t Understand Our Commitment to Iran, You Don’t Understand Hezbollah

Talking to Matthew Levitt about his new book 'Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.'

1:19 PM, Feb 13, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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There is also the extent of Hezbollah’s involvement with organized crime, including counterfeit currency and document fraud, fencing stolen items from cellphones to automobiles, and transporting and laundering the proceeds of narcotics And of course its ongoing and ever-present ideological and operational links to Iran.

And yet some Hezbollah experts continue to play down the outfit’s relationship to Iran.

The idea of exporting the revolution has never gone away—for Hezbollah this is part of its reason for being. They believe that if you don’t appreciate our commitment to wilayet al-faqih [ed., the theological concept of guardianship of the jurist that undergirds the clerical regime and Hezbollah] then you don’t understand us. As one Hezbollah parliamentarian explained, if the Iranians told him to divorce his wife he would.

Or we can ask, why is Hezbollah targeting Israeli tourists, for instance, in Cyprus and Bulgaria, where it killed 5 Israelis in the summer of 2012? It has little to do with Lebanon—a large part of it is because Iran said so. I don’t think Hezbollah is losing sleep over the prospects of the Iranians making a grand bargain with the White House that would throw Hezbollah under the bus.

Richard Armitage famously called Hezbollah the A-team of international terrorism. Where do you rate them in relation to al Qaeda?

I never liked the term “A-team” because it trivialized it. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are capable and dangerous. However, Hezbollah has far better operational security and counterintelligence capabilities. Because of its relationship with Iran, because it can access things like Iranian diplomatic switchboards for secure communications as it apparently did in Argentina, it has capabilities that others don’t. Al Qaeda is more nihilistic, while Hezbollah has several goals—primarily exporting the Islamic revolution.

What’s changed for Hezbollah since the death of Mughniyeh? What about his ostensible replacement, his cousin Mustafa Badreddine, now on trial in The Hague in absentia for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri?

Badreddine does not have the same street cred as Mughniyeh, but he is considered extremely dangerous. According to a Hezbollah member interrogated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Badreddine is "more dangerous" than Mughniyeh, who was "his teacher in terrorism." Remember, Badreddine not only reportedly planned and executed the Marine Barracks bombing together with Mughniyeh, but was then jailed by Kuwaiti authorities for his role in a series of bombings there as well.

Hezbollah’s greatest challenge today comes not from Israel to the south but from Syrian rebels—both moderates and extremists alike. Hezbollah’s status as the standard-bearer of the “resistance” has been severely undermined, both at home and abroad. Lebanon's Party of God is no longer a pure "Islamic resistance" fighting Israel but a sectarian militia and Iranian proxy doing the bidding of Bashar al-Assad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It’s not Israel that is bombing Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs or the Beqa Valley, but Sunni rebel groups.

Hezbollah is not down and out, but you don’t have to be a cartographer to see that the road to Jerusalem does not go through Damascus. With their patron in Damascus on the ropes, Hezbollah has gone all in, and taken serious losses in a short period of time. This has huge ramifications for their standing in Lebanon. As this conflict becomes more sectarian, will the Shia in Lebanon forgive Hezbollah and support it by default because of the sectarian nature of the war? Or how will Hezbollah come out of it?

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