Tony Badran

WikiLeaks and the myth of a “Lebanonized” Hezbollah

The classified military documents obtained by WikiLeaks, which disclose Hezbollah’s role in Iraq under the direct command of the Iranian regime, may not be particularly surprising or even groundbreaking. However, they serve as a reminder of the reality of Hezbollah – all myths aside – as a brigade of the Islamic Revolutionary guard Corps. They also help keep in focus the nature of the strategic threat facing the US in the region: the alliance system led by Iran.

Fans of Hezbollah in the Western media are fond of asserting that the Party of God has become “Lebanonized.” Consequently, and contrary to claims by the US, according to this view the group does not possess “global reach” and has long stopped being involved in attacks against American targets, being focused instead on the narrower issue of Lebanon’s territorial dispute with Israel.

The documents, published by The New York Times, detail, among other things, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s direct operational involvement in training and supplying militias in Iraq. As such, they chronicle yet another chapter in the ongoing, decades-long war by the Iranians against the US in the region – a war in which Hezbollah has been the spearhead.

Specifically, the documents relate how Hezbollah has trained select Iraqi Shia cadres in various combat tactics inside Iran. For instance, one document details how a commander in Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia, Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM), Azhar al-Dulaymi, was trained in Iran by Hezbollah operatives under the supervision of the Islamic Revolutionary guard Corps’ Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to conduct military-style kidnapping operations with the aim of abducting American soldiers. Although al-Dulaymi was eventually killed by US troops, he succeeded in planning an operation that resulted in the capture and execution of four US soldiers.

This type of Iranian involvement, including the use of Hezbollah operatives in Iraq, has been repeatedly announced by US officials over the last four years, and it has been reported often in the press. For example, in August 2007, The Independent newspaper published an interview with a JAM militiaman in which he openly discussed receiving training in Lebanon at the hands of Hezbollah commanders in anti-tank ambush tactics, the use of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and sniper operations.

In late February 2008, an Iraqi military intelligence official told the Iraqi daily al-Zaman that the person who had supervised the movement of JAM fighters to Lebanon was none other than Hezbollah’s senior military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated earlier that month in Damascus, and who used to run external operations in close collaboration with the IRGC-QF. Indeed, the al-Zaman report noted that the training was also coordinated with Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani.

Another veteran Hezbollah military official, Ali Moussa Daqdouq, who was in charge of observing the training of JAM and other so-called “Special Groups” such as the notorious Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH) group, was captured in Iraq in March 2007 along with AAH commanders, the Khaz’ali brothers (who, regrettably, were released in 2008-09 in what is suspected to have been a swap involving British hostages).

According to a July 2007 briefing by Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the Multinational Forces spokesman at the time, “In May 2006,” Daqdouq “traveled to Tehran with Yussef Hashim, a fellow Lebanese Hezbollah [member] and head of their operations in Iraq. They met with the Commander and Deputy Commander of the Iranian Qods Force Special External Operations,” and Daqdouq “was tasked to organize the Special Groups in ways that mirrored how Hezbollah was organized in Lebanon.” Bergner added, “It shows how Iranian operatives are using Lebanese surrogates to create Hezbollah-like capabilities.”

Indeed, Iran’s preferred formula is to spawn and develop politico-military movements in divided societies where the central government is weak. To date, the only successful such implant has been in Lebanon, where Iran has embedded an organic extension of its structures in the form of Hezbollah.

Observers have tended to mistake the grafting of Hezbollah onto the local Shia community for “Lebanonization.” However, regardless of whether the group is rooted in a local community, it is nevertheless a tool of the Iranian Islamic Republic and one of its military apparatuses. In fact, Hezbollah’s architects always saw their project in Lebanon as a springboard for furthering the reach of the Islamic Revolution, and Hezbollah has indeed been fulfilling that role in Iraq and elsewhere.

This leads to the implosion of another myth, popularized especially in the last decade, and that is the notion of “non-state actors,” which is how Hezbollah is often referred to. However, it’s always been clear that the group and its mission were very much a state enterprise.  

For instance, after the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, the US understood that this was an act of war by the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Indeed, when President Ronald Reagan asked the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up target lists for retaliation, they included “the Syrian defense ministry and other command targets in Syria” as well as “selected ‘snatches’ of Syrian officers based in Lebanon who had helped carry out the operation.”
It was in that vein that former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, called in 2008 for using “military force against a training camp to show the Iranians we’re not going to tolerate this.” Yet the US did not pursue that option in 1983, nor has it done so today. That has allowed states such as Iran and Syria to strike at American targets without fear of retaliation. So much so, in fact, that, as detailed in the French Le Figaro on Monday, Syria feels confident enough to host Hezbollah arms warehouses on its own territory.

Instead of making clear the exorbitant price of such actions, we have come to entertain myths about the transformative powers of diplomacy that would ostensibly “incentivize” America’s adversaries to adopt more “constructive” behavior. Similarly, the myth of a “Lebanonized” Hezbollah persists, as does the legend of it being a “non-state actor,” when all evidence shows that it continues to be what it always has been: a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

  • jj

    The Lebanese are either ignorant,or just monkeys 300,000 innocent soul died in our country for a few bucks,now we have hizbullah ,if not for them we would not have a country,the good thing is with all the power they poses they use it with all humanity, humbly ,the others want blood money that's the diifrence.

    May 7, 2011

  • israa

    ya rab yonsor hezboullah

    March 22, 2011

  • Fatima Hazime

    Unbelievable !!!

    January 22, 2011

  • George

    Nasrallah has always stated that he is supported by the Iranian, he has always stated that he believes in the Welayat Al Fakih (not sure if I spelled it right). We all know and Nasrallah always tells us that he gets weapon and funds from Iran. So, what information is this Article providing that we don't already know? The constant bombardment in the media, that is pro-Israeili and pro-saudi ...., about Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah and its dangers is not effective. I mean, OK, we don't like this relationship and we know that it is not helping our country, but the problem in our country is that all Lebanese politicians and groups without exceptions are allied with external forces. Lebanon is just a dream. ... Geroge

    December 10, 2010

  • ziad

    I guess that people in this region are not capable of classifying their priorities!! a man doesnt know where to start! shall he start with kicking out that cancer spreading in Palestine... a cancer that, strangely enough, has neurological extends towards all the states in this region. Or shall he hold the burden of daily difficulties starting with food and water, getting married?! giving birth?!! making his own business?! Then getting into this wide world of evolution, technically, ethically, non ethically, scientifically.... saving the environment? building a shelter preparing for the old coming war(s)... saluting his neighbor.. with a high probability of holding gun into his face in any moment!! making friends? who may travel east or west... leaving behind the burden onto the chest of who stays!! shall he cherish this "Resistance of dignity" that created a hope in his heart with a black glow for the future? shall he open his mind or close it... and join those who left or get lost of

    December 9, 2010

  • christo

    well that what keep happened in lebanon befor was alkataib and alqowat working for israil and now hosbolah working to iran .......... can we just know who was the bad one in here wake up people think you cant talk about shia or about chritian jaaja have bomed chersh what you can say for that may hosbolah well boom mosq and then what we lebanese going to be like that we cant do any thing about it coz we never watch were we going we just wake up when we don bay athor people

    November 29, 2010


    The 2013 elections will answer one overriding question: "Is it better to have "fake" unity without freedom and democracy; or to have freedom and democracy without unity?" Hizbollah has succeeded in creating two Lebanons with nothing in common except its useful idiots. Hizbollah is incompatible with freedom and democracy on which Lebanese society was founded. There are limits to intimidation and rule of force. Hizbollah has creted a level of hatred and distruss between community not seen even in war times. Unless the Shiaa community wake up and liberate itself from this Iron curtain of hate and oppression, Lebanon will inevitably go the road of Chekoslovakia and permanently cut off Hizbollahstan so the rest of Lebanon can live free and in dignity.

    November 3, 2010

  • Hassan

    In 1969 the PLO got the right to run amok all over Lebanon in the name of facing the Israeli threat, that created Fathland a lawless state withing the Lebanese state where Lebanese laws were ignored at best but mostly held in contempt. The so called hezb Allah has moved into that role now and will meet the same end and no amount of divine finger wagging can save them. Their only salvation is by joining the rest of the Lebanese in the country we all share.

    October 30, 2010

  • halim

    "They also help keep in focus the nature of the strategic threat facing the US in the region" personally I don't need to keep in focus the threat facing the US..... I prefer to focus of the threat we are facing from the US politics and their support to Israel

    October 30, 2010

  • HA in their own words

    We are the sons of the umma the party of God the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran.There the vanguard succeeded to lay down the bases of a Muslim state which plays a central role in the world.We obey the orders of one leader,wise and just,that of our tutor and faqih who fulfills all the necessary conditions.By virtue of the above,we do not constitute an organized and closed party in Lebanon nor are we a tight political cadre.We are an umma linked to the Muslims of the whole world by the solid doctrinal and religious connection of Islam,whose message God wanted to be fulfilled by Khatem an-Nabieen Muhammad.This is why whatever touches or strikes the Muslims in Afghanistan,Iraq,the Philippines and elsewhere reverberates throughout the whole Muslim umma of which we are an integral part.Our behavior is dictated to us by legal principles laid down by the light of an overall political conception defined by wilayat al-faqih... Kinda clear things up about who HA is.

    October 29, 2010

  • sam akar

    Ya mr. tony, where are u taking these people driving ur all wheel suv in z snow?Some brotherly advise, Z most important thing about winter driving is don`t become too overconfident behind z wheel, even with ur all wheel drive suv, U might think u can go anywhere, but u could still have a problem braking, these suvs slide on ice just like any other car. From BAGHDAD to TEHRAN to BEIRUT to WASHINGTON, come on ya man, check ur brakes, u might want to heed z winter driving advise, z last i checked SNOW & baghdad?? hahaha.

    October 28, 2010

  • Imad

    HA is the "Islamic resistance in Lebanon" said so right on the package, so they are part of a worldwide Islamic resistance. Hassan Nasrallah called himself a soldier in the army of the Fakih, a soldier's primarily function is to follow orders and make war or in times of peace prepare to make war. Also soldiers are sacrificed by their commanders to achieve a wider strategic goal put forth by and known only to the commander, in Hassan's case that commander in the Iranian Fakih. Naiim Qasem relates the story of how HA's decision to enter the Lebanese parliament was made in Iran. Members of HA hold Lebanese passports but not unlike London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and his 7/7 buddies who held British passports, they see themselves as part a larger foreign nation and army.

    October 28, 2010

  • tony

    Johnny, this has nothing to do with Kata'ib Hezbollah. This is not a false inferences. You would do well to take your own advice and dig up all the details and facts.

    October 28, 2010

  • Johnny

    I think you have to look at the facts for a minute. A group known as Kataeb Hezbollah has emerged in Iraq which is inspired by Lebanon's Hezbollah and likely funded by Iran as well. Nonetheless, they are a different organization. Journalists should not be so quick to make false inferences without digging into the details of the facts.

    October 28, 2010

  • Beiruti

    Syria has won its immunity from US retaliation from two sources: 1) Israel does not want the US to do anything to the Assad regime in Syria that would destablize the regime, because, 2) Assad has eliminated all moderate political movements and has left only Islamists with any sort of political structure and leadership, albeit, under strict control by Syrian intel. The purpose of keeping the Islamists is as blackmail against the US that if the Assad Regime is done away with, then a radical Islamist regime would rise in Assad's place. It is his doomsday, final trench from which to fight for survival. Supposedly a defensive position that Assad uses for offensive purposes. Its time to call his bluff.

    October 28, 2010

  • joseph

    Tony, i think this is an understatement, that HA is "rooted in a local community". They are the local community - or at least amongst the Shia.

    October 28, 2010