The purpose of this article is to provide information on the Iranian relationship with Hezbollah. There are questions over whether Hezbollah is a mere puppet of turbaned Persian overlords in Tehran, and I hope that the contents of this write-up clarify a topic whose facts are often muddled by propaganda from various sides, and whose reality is made doubly more difficult to assess due to the secrecy of Hezbollah itself.
If I were to sum up the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran simply, I would say that Hezbollah is a full-fledged province of the Revolutionary Islamic Republic established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. The Revolution in its ideological form is pan-Islamic and thus both transnational and anti-nationalist. Khomeini’s revolutionary ideology called for the erasure of colonial boundaries and the joining of Muslims across the Middle East into a single Islamic State.
Of course, this must sound eerily familiar. Since 2011, the world has witnessed the evaporation of national boundaries all over the Middle East, especially with the rise of ISIS and the increasing irrelevance of Sykes-Picot across the region. However, back in the 70s and 80s, when secularism and socialism were touted as the salvation ideologies that would peaceably integrate otherwise disparate confessional and ethnic groups within Frankenstein-like state entities, Islamists were considered subversive radicals that threatened to unwind the efforts of generations of secular, nationalist rulers. The innovative nature of the Islamic Republic is something that often goes ignored–typically lambasted as irrational and owing to a touch or more of insanity on the part of the Iranians. However, the creation and foundation of the Islamic Republic places Khomeini up in the same league as Lenin in terms of shaking up the world’s existing political order.
Khomeini’s Islamic Republic even served as the inspiration for Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and the rise of the Salafi movement, which was the Sunni rebranding of the Islamic Revolution. Khomeini sought to recreate society along Islamic lines in a form of government called Wilayet al Faqih, where law descends from religious clergy, and whose primary texts are the Quran and their accompanying scriptures, the Hadith.
The Revolutionaries: Harbingers of Apocalypse
From its very beginning, the Islamic Revolution in Iran sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East. The sheer ferocity and tenaciousness that its revolutionaries brought into combat and the vitriol of Khomeini’s rhetoric were biblical. The world watched with mouths agape as Khomeini’s fanatical revolutionary army sent wave after human wave into fortified Iraqi defenses during the Iran-Iraq War. The reverberation of shouts of ‘Death to America’ from hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered around their Spiritual Guide were no doubt felt in the halls of Washington loud and clear, especially when Khomeini’s young revolutionaries raided the superpower’s embassy and took tens of its personnel hostage. Seemingly out of nowhere, Iran had risen in open defiance to the existing world order and demonstrated, through horrific sacrifice on the battlefields of Iran and Iraq, that it was willing to pay the ultimate price to lay claim to its goals.
With its actions, Iran clearly demonstrated that it sought a regional reordering, starting with the overthrow of secular Arab regimes and later the elimination of Israel and expulsion of all other “colonial enterprises” in the region. In this author’s humble opinion, it is Iran that the world can thank (and hate) for the popularity of Islamism throughout the world today. Islamism came to constitute a Third Option in the bipolar world of Capitalism and Communism thanks to the sheer willpower of Khomeini’s religious army and the precedents they set.
Khomeini’s brand of Islamic chauvinism was a reaction to what he perceived as decades of humiliation of Muslims at the hands of colonial Europeans and, later, the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem. Khomeinists viewed the Muslim world as one wrought with sickness and lethargy, and whose cure was a return to the fundamentals of Islam. Of course, in the secular Middle East, and in a world order where Islam had effectively been buried on the world political stage since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a revitalization would require nothing short of a total cultural revolution of the likes seen in the Communist countries.
Khomeini’s plan for the regional supremacy of his ideology was to first target his fellow Shi’a, as those co-religionists were his closest associates during his Islamic studies in the Iraqi city of Najaf. It was in Najaf that Khomeini first began delivering lectures on his radical new form of government. The first two areas that were targeted by Khomeini for conversion were Iraq and Lebanon, who were approximately 60 and 33 per cent Shi’a, respectively. Khomeini found little fertile ground for Wilayet al Faqih in Iraq, which had a strong central government led by Saddam Hussein. Saddam mercilessly smote Islamists in his midst, but Lebanon, with the chaos and relative anarchy resultant of its ensuing civil war, proved to be the perfect testing ground for the viability of the Islamic Republic outside of Iran.
The fervor of the Iranian Revolution was not contained to the battlefields of Iraq and Iran however—when the revolution spread to Lebanon, Hezbollah echoed the commitment and fanaticism of its Iranian peers with its pioneering of suicide bombing as a tactic in the urban battlefields of Lebanon, with dramatic results. The world was fundamentally caught by surprise by the Islamic Revolution, as the maelstrom of religious energy summoned by Khomeini became a strategic threat to the superpowers’ positions in the Middle East. Thus began a policy of containment of Iran by both superpowers and regional rivals alike that continues to this day.