February 17, 2009
Iran-Lebanese Hezbollah Relationship in 2008
Iran increased its operational and financial support for Lebanese Hezbollah in 2008. It continues to train Hezbollah agents in Iran and provides funding, weapons material, and technical expertise for the group. As a result, Hezbollah possesses notable capabilities. In addition to approximately 30,000 to 40,000 rockets, it operates a prized telecommunications network and a newly installed anti-aircraft system. Although there are signs of nascent balancing by Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia, the Iran-Lebanese Hezbollah relationship continues to exert influence largely unopposed.
Reports indicate that approximately 4,500 Lebanese Hezbollah agents have trained in Iran since November 2006. Training groups are typically between twenty to sixty agents and take place in small camps near Tehran. For most operatives, training lasts three months and consists of basic tactics, such as how to fire rockets, use explosively formed penetrators, and use sniper tactcs, although advanced students remains in Iran for an additional six weeks to learn more sophisticated tactics, such as using anti-tank missiles., The most skilled of this group then become trainers themselves. They, rather than Iranians, then train fellow Lebanese Hezbollah operatives because trainees respond more readily to trainers with similar cultural backgrounds.
Iran also increased arms shipments and funding for Lebanese Hezbollah in 2008, using a variety of methods to transfer war materiel. In April 2008, the Israeli government expressed fears that Iran would begin shipping weapons to Lebanese Hezbollah via boats stationed in Beirut harbor; evading the United Nations Interim Force in Southern Lebanon. Iran also transports weapons through Syria, either by truck through Turkey (probably without the knowledge of the Turkish government) or by airplane to Damascus International Airport. Drivers transport the arms from Syria into Lebanon. Some of these weapons may also make their way into Gaza via boat from Lebanon to Egypt. 
Funding, too, appears to have increased. Iranian aid to the terrorist organization was estimated at $60-$100 million per year in 2002 and between $200 million and $300 million per year, with additional money for reconstruction after the 2006 war with Israel. But in January 2008, Walid Phares, director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, claimed Iran increased its aid to slightly less than $1 billion, up from estimates of $300 million in August 2006. Beyond finances, Iran has helped Lebanese Hezbollah develop an independent telecommunications network, which proved central to Lebanon’s political crisis this year and afforded Lebanese Hezbollah a substantial tactical advantage in the 2006 war with Israel.
Unsurprisingly, increased Iranian support translates into greater capabilities for Lebanese Hezbollah. According to estimates, Lebanese Hezbollah now has between 30,000 and 40,000 rockets, about one-third of which are long-range rockets—probably with a range of about 300 km, or 186 miles. In August, Al-Siyasah reported Iranian engineers helped Lebanese Hezbollah setup an anti-aircraft system. Just a few days after the installation, Lebanese Hezbollah shot down a Lebanese military helicopter, apparently having mistaken it for an Israeli aircraft.
Arab states have attempted to balance the influence of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has taken an unequivocally critical view of Iran’s policies in Lebanon. In May, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said, “Iran is backing [the political crisis in Lebanon], a coup, and supports it. This will affect [Iran’s] relations with all Arab countries, if not Islamic states, as well.” This rhetoric dovetails with covert support lent by Saudi Arabia to certain factions in Lebanon. The Asia Times Online reported in late October that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia pumped money into Shi’i communities in Lebanon in an attempt to undermine Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s popularity. In particular, Saudi Arabia has backed Sheik Subhi Turayli, an original Lebanese Hezbollah leader and Nasrallah rival.
Although these efforts have so far borne few fruit, Lebanese Hezbollah has realized the threat they pose. In an attempt to mollify regional actors’ apprehensions, the organization established a new department, headed by Lebanese Hezbollah political chief Amin al-Sayeed, to monitor relations with Arab states and organizations. And the Speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, speaking at the Nineteenth Islamic Religious Scientific Conference, stressed the important of unity and said, “enemies will benefit from disagreements among Muslims,” and that “since Lebanese Hezbollah is a Shiite group and Hamas is a Sunni group, they are both being targeted by the U.S.” but that “Israel’s defeat in confronting Lebanese Hezbollah proved that U.S. hegemony has ended, and, if Islamic countries keep their unity, no foreign country can encroach upon Muslims’ resources.”
Please see below for a detailed summary of sources examining data in the following areas:
Over the past six years, Iranian funding for Hezbollah has consistently risen. In 2002, Iranian aid to Hezbollah was estimated at $60-100 million per year. After the 2006 war, Iranian aid was estimated between $200-300 million per year, with additional money for reconstruction. And in January 2008, Walid Phares of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies claimed that sometime in 2008 Iran increased its annual aid to Hezbollah from approximately $300 million to slightly less than $1 billion.
Hezbollah has traditionally used the Lebanese banking system to access money. However, in an attempt to make it more difficult for Hezbollah to access funds, relatives of Hezbollah rocket attack victims filed a lawsuit against six Lebanese banks, alleging they provide Hezbollah with “regular, systemic, and unfettered access to U.S. currency”, which was used for weapons.
Iran also provided funding and technical expertise for Hezbollah’s private telephone network. A report released by Intelligence Online notes the network received funding from the Iranian Assistance Organization, which answers directly to the Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, and was constructed with the help of Iranian engineers.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called the network the group’s most important weapon. It was especially important during the 2006 war because Hezbollah was able to repel Israeli efforts at jamming communications with Iran (in Syria), preserving Hezbollah’s ability to coordinate its efforts. Further, Hezbollah was able to hack Israeli communications and jam Israeli electronic warfare devices through this network. Additionally, because the network is off the Lebanese grid, it makes it more difficult to spy on conversation between Hezbollah’s leaders and deputies.
Iran continues to train Hezbollah members, as well.
Since November 2006, up to 300 individuals per month have been traveling to Tehran to train. In sum, 4,500 Hezbollah operatives have been trained in Iran. They stay for three months and, among other things, learn how to fire rockets. 
Advanced trainees remain in Iran for an additional forty-five days, learning tasks like firing anti-tank missiles.
Four Hezbollah agents captured in Iraq during the summer of 2007 confirmed this information. In addition, they confirmed training takes place at small bases near Tehran, and that the Qods Force oversees training, at least for operatives traveling to Iraq. Hezbollah members, however, carry out instruction under the theory that Arab trainees will be more receptive to Arab trainers.
In August, intelligence sources indicated Hezbollah planned to return to Iraq by October to target specific Iraqi officials, as well as U.S. and Iraqi troops.
Iran ships weapons to Hezbollah through a variety of routes. In April, the Israeli government expressed concerns that Iran would start shipping weapons to Hezbollah via ships stationed in Beirut harbor; government sources worried the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon does not have the capability to effectively monitor shipping in the harbor.
Other methods of shipment include trucking weapons across Turkey to Syria and then to Lebanon without the knowledge of the Turkish government And flying weapons over Turkey to Damascus International Airport and then driving them through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Weapons are also shipped, through a convoluted route to Hamas in Gaza - first through Syria, then Lebanon, and then by boat to Egypt. Finally, they are smuggled into Gaza. 
The Daily Telegraph reported that explosives being transported from Iran to Hezbollah detonated near Tehran during the week of July 20. The IRCG immediately imposed a “news blackout” and began exploring the possibility of sabotage.
The same article indicates that weapons transfers have picked up “in recent months”—although it does not expound on the timeframe—notably through Syria. Israel estimates these transfers are in the “tens of thousands” of rockets and that some of these have a range of 300 km (186 miles).
Further, some in Lebanon suspected Hezbollah is acquiring surface to air missiles from Iran in an effort to challenge Israel’s air dominance.
Despite these developments, Iran continues to deny transferring weapons to Hezbollah. On August 7, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon publicly denied Iran supplies weapons to Hezbollah.
Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah has approximately 30,000 rockets. Israeli intelligence believes approximately 1/3 of these weapons are long-range rockets.
Hezbollah has threatened to attack Israel from “inside Palestine” including in settlements and occupied territories if Israel attacks Hezbollah.
In late August, Al-Siyasah reported Hezbollah, with the direct aid of Iranian experts, was in the process of installing an anti-aircraft system. The report describes officials conducting a land survey, marking out areas suitable for the installation of these elements.
The downing of a Lebanese army helicopter around the same time confirms Al-Siyasah’s report (for more, see below).
The major development in Lebanese politics was the May crisis, culminating in the Doha Agreement. The agreement empowered Hezbollah, giving its coalition 11 out of 30 ministers and veto power over important decisions, in addition to scheduling elections on June 7, 2009.
The crisis began when Prime Minister Siniora ordered the Lebanese army to dismantle Hezbollah’s vast independent phone network and fired Brig. Gen. Wafik Shoukeir, an airport security official, for allegedly allowing Hezbollah to install security cameras at the airport.
Nasrallah said the government’s actions amounted to “a declaration of open war” and that: “we believe the war has started, and we believe that we have the right to defend ourselves. We will cut the hand that will reach out to the weapons of resistance, no matter if it comes from the inside or the outside.”
As fighting broke out in Beirut, senior military officials refused to carry out Siniora’s order ostensibly because the army feared that striking back could precipitate wider civil conflict, but the army also vowed to restore Shoukeir to his post.
Fighting continued, and the Lebanese army finally intervened on May 13.
The following day, the government and Hezbollah reached an agreement in which the government rescinded the two orders that set off the fighting.
The crisis was ended on May 21 with the Doha Agreement.
Despite the agreement, incidental fighting continued, notably in Tripoli, this time between Sunni government supporters and Alawite members of the opposition.
And in September, Saleh Aridi, an opposition member, was killed in a car-bombing near Beirut.
The opposition continues to be in contact with Iran. Al-Manar TV reported on October 16 that Michael Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, visited Tehran and said, “we didn’t find any differences with Iran concerning Lebanese policy” and that Iran “supports the Lebanese state’s policies and not those of the opposition.”
The May 28 edition of Haaretz cites an anonymous source who says “Iran wants to maintain Hizballah’s strength and is not interested in changing the situation in Lebanon now that Hizballah’s opponents have been neutralized.”
In August, a Lebanese Army helicopter flying over Southern Lebanon was forced to make an emergency landing after coming under fire. Haaretz published reports suggesting Hezbollah fired on the aircraft.
Israeli intelligence confirmed this two days later; Hezbollah claimed it believed the helicopter was Israeli.
The incident confirms reports that Hezbollah has acquired anti-aircraft capability.
Sources indicate Hezbollah has tripled its rocket inventory since the 2006 war, and now possesses 30,000 of them including some of higher quality such as the Zelzal missile, which could hit Tel Aviv, and the C802, which can sink an Israeli warship.
A report in the Times of London speculates the killing of General Mohammed Suleiman “could be retribution [by Syrian intelligence officials] for the sacking of top [Syrian] intelligence officers following the assassination in February of Imad Mughniyeh.”
Former Lebanese officials revealed on November 30 that during 2008 Hezbollah has been establishing cells in Syria, preparing to leverage Hezbollah against the Syrian government, although it is not clear what the group planned to do.\
Balancing by other powers against Hezbollah and Iran
In May, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal condemned Iran’s support for Hezbollah, saying: “Of course, Iran is backing what happened in Lebanon, a coup, and supports it. This will affect (Iran’s) relations with all Arab countries, if not Islamic states, as well.”
This type of unequivocal condemnation dovetails with covert action reportedly undertaken by Saudi Arabia. The Asia Times Online reported in late October that the United States and Saudi Arabia are pumping money into Shi’i communities in Lebanon in an attempt to undercut Nasrallah’s popularity. Thus far, however, the efforts have borne little fruit.
The same report indicates that Saudi Arabia may be trying to create a rival Hezbollah faction/splinter organization around Sheikh Subhi Tufayli, one of the original leaders of Hezbollah who has been sidelined since the 1990s.
Hezbollah seems cognizant of these balancing efforts. Possibly to allay the fears of other regional actors, it established a new department to monitor relations with Arab states and organizations, headed by Amin al-Sayyed, Hezbollah’s Political Council Chief.
In late December, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, called on Arabs and Iranians to “sit together to try to resolve regional disputes.” Meanwhile, the Saudis again expressed concerns “about the majority Shiite Iran’s gaining power in the region, particularly its influence over Iraq, Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hizballah group, and the militant Palestinian Hamas.”
Iran, too, stressed the importance of unity. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Nineteenth Islamic Religions Scientific Conference, Speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani stressed that “enemies will benefit from disagreements among Muslims.” He continued, “since Hezbollah is a Shiite group and Hamas is a Sunni group, they are both being targeted by the US…Israel’s defeat in confronting Hezbollah proved that US hegemony has ended, and, if Islamic countries keep their unity, no foreign country can encroach upon Muslims’ resources.”
Notable diplomatic contacts
Diplomatic contacts reflect the close ties between Hezbollah and Iran.
On May 25, Mohsen Akhtari, former Iranian ambassador to Syria, acknowledged Hezbollah’s origins, calling it and Hamas “the children of the Islamic Revolution.”
On July 31, Hojjat ol Eslam Hassan al Baghadi, deputy to the Lebanese Hezbollah General Secretary, described the Hezbollah-Iran relationship in this way: “Our relationship with the Islamic Republic is like that of a father and child and in case of attack we will defend Iran, even in case we should sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Islamic Republic. We will do it not out of fanaticism, but because of the true interests of the world of Islam.”
On August 30, Naim Qassem, Deputy Security General of Hezbollah, likened the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran to a “blood relation.”
Nasrallah, on September 1, characterized the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah as religious rather than political.
And on September 8 Nasrallah suggested links between causes in Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria, saying that if Israel attacked any of those locations it would face war across all fronts: “the results of which would not be clear for the Zionists.” But he noted that “any future war would depend on regional and international developments, and even the war between Russia and Georgia.”
On June 14, Syrian Information Minister Muhsin Bilal said Syria and Iran are not emenies, despite Syrian talks with Israel, and that Syria “always seeks to employ its relations with Iran to serve Arab interests and help solve any problem that may arise.” About Hezbollah, he said: “Syria supports the resistance as long as there are occupied territories.”
On October 22 Larijani defended Hezbollah and Iran’s support for the group, stating, “They are freedom fighters fighting to defend their country and independence, that is not terrorism.”
In a lecture at the Qom theological center, Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, a senior cleric and religious leader, praised Hezbollah as a bulwark against the United States and Israel: “If the Lebanese Hezbollah were absent, the Zionist regime and its main allies the United States would have swallowed the Arab countries.”
During a week commemorating the Iran-Iraq War, Hojjat ol Eslam Seyyed Ahmad A’lamolhoda, a member of the Iranian Assembly of Experts, accused the United States and Europe of waging “soft war” against Iran through higher education and the media and called on Hezbollah and Iran’s youth to resist these efforts.
In late December 2008, Iran honored Imad Mughniyah, a senior leader of Hezbollah connected with numerous attacks on Americans, including the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA Flight 847,and the kidnapping of William Buckley; Mughniyah died on February 14, 2008.
President Ahmadinejad lauded Mughniyah’s spirit of “resistance” and said, “Today, thousands of Imad Mughniyehs will continue the resistance and will follow the path of martyrs until their final victory.”
On December 13, Esfahan University in Iran gave Nasrallah an honorary degree. Hassan Hamadeh, Hezbollah’s chief representative in Iran, accepted the degree on Nasrallah’s behalf and thanked Iran for “twenty-five years of support for the Islamic resistance and Lebanese Hizballah.” He noted that Hezbollah’s victories would have been impossible without Iran’s support and he personally thanked Khomeini and Khamene’i for their support.
In an implicit acknowledgment of Iran’s support for Hezbollah, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged “Syria and Iran to support the transformation of Lebanon’s militant Hizbollah group from an armed militia to a politics party.”
On January 4, 2009 Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili met with Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus to discuss the current situation in Gaza.
Degree of independence from Iran
In early February, interviews with senior Hezbollah officials suggested Hezbollah was asserting more independence from Iran. Reports suggest Hezbollah does not act on Iran’s behalf when it does not suit Hezbollah’s interests and that Iran’s support for Hezbollah intends influence an organic organization rather than fund an arm of Iranian creation.
In early January 2009, Hassan Nasrallah claimed Iran was not dictating Hezbollah or Hamas’ decisions in the Gaza conflict, reflecting Hezbollah’s supposed broad operational independence. He stated: “Iran has not imposed any decision on Hamas as it did not, during the summer 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel.” He noted Hamas retains decision-making authority in Gaza: “nobody can impose decisions on them [Hamas], whether it be Iran or Syria.”
Internal Hezbollah politics
In the wake of debates over Iranian influence and the tumult caused by the killing of Imad Mugniyah, there have been several political struggles and questions in the past year.
An anonymous source claims three factions within Hezbollah are battling for power. 1) a pro-Iranian faction led by Nasrallah; 2) A pro-Syrian faction led by Wafic Safa and Haj Hassan Khalil; and 3) a faction headed by Naim Qassem.
The faction opposing Nasrallah argues he has allowed the “Syrian penetration of the party.”
Israeli sources suggested that no single person has been appointed to replace Imad Mughniyah, instead indicating that his duties are shared by several individuals, and that Nasrallah is using the opportunity to seize more power in the organization. 
But the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera published a report claiming Muhammad Reza Zahdi was appointed as Mughniyah’s successor.
And Al Siyasah published an unattributed report indicating Hezbollah has not yet appointed a replacement for Mughniyah, noting that finding a replacement for Mugniyah is on the agenda of its end of the year conference.