The regime in Tehran and its Lebanese client Hezbollah normally do their utmost to hide their tactical disagreements from the public, but this morning we got a rare glimpse into those disagreements.
Botia News, close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported that Major General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, during a conversation with Hezbollah General Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, warned Hezbollah against engaging in “any preemptive strike against the Zionist regime.” According to Botia News, Suleimani demanded: “The authority of those who believe in preemptive strikes against the Zionist regime must be restricted…” Suleimani also warned Hezbollah against overestimating their own capabilities: “[Your] arms and preparedness to destroy Tel Aviv, and even your capacity to engage in continuous strikes against Eilat in Southern Occupied Palestine should not make you proud…”
Referring to the 2006 war in Lebanon, which Hezbollah is believed to have provoked without authorization from Tehran, Suleimani warned: “Hezbollah’s victory in the thirty-three days war [2006 war in Lebanon] was not because of the power of the weapons but because of the power of faith and divine help…” Suleimani also referred to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei’s, new year address in Mashhad on March 21, 2012: “On the first day of the new year the Supreme Leader [speaking] at the Imam Reza mausoleum clearly said: ‘God guarantees victory of the believers when we are defenders. If we start, the Quran has not guaranteed our victory’… One expects that after these concluding [fasl al-khetab] remarks of the Supreme Leader, all chatter about a preemptive strike should end…”
According to Botia News, Suleimani concluded his conversation with Nasrallah with the words: “Today, the Zionist regime is in total isolation and is facing a serious legitimacy crisis. Any attack would depict them as victims and us as unjust aggressors, which would mobilize the public sympathy for them. This would harm us… The claim that in order to relieve Syria of crisis one must create another crisis for the Zionist regime is false and serves as an excuse to prove extremist viewpoints… In order to liberate the Al-Aqsa mosque one must stress on awakening the people rather than relying on arms.”
Suleimani’s statements can only be interpreted as a reaction to Nasrallah’s May 11, 2012 television address. The report proves that the regime in Tehran believes that Israel is waiting for the right circumstances to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Tehran also fears that the slightest move by Hezbollah against Israel — in an attempt to divert public attention from Syria — could be used by Israel as a pretext to attack Iran. While the report also reflects Tehran’s unhappiness with Hezbollah’s growing independence and the fact that the Hezbollah leadership has ignored Khamenei’s line, there may also be another reason for Suleimani’s strong warnings: Tehran may fear that Hezbollah, fearing improvement of relations between Iran and the West, is planning to spoil the Baghdad nuclear negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 Group, by launching a preemptive strike against Israel. In the 1980’s, whenever Tehran tried to reach agreements with the United States by releasing Western hostages, Hezbollah took more hostages for which Tehran was blamed. Now as then, Tehran seems to be the real hostage.
The interview was first released by Botia News, a local IRGC media outlet in Kerman — Suleimani is a native of Kerman and gives frequent interviews to the local media. The story was picked up by Tehran-based IRGC news outlets such as Javan Online and Fars News, but has since been removed from the major websites and has twice been dismissed as a fabrication. Remarkably, even the original dismissal was removed from Javan Online. A revised and shorter version of the dismissal appears on the IRGC Public Relations Directorate website in which the interview is called “a great lie and deviant news fabrication of the Zionists.”
At the time of the writing, the original interview still appears on Botia News, and the original dismissal is still available on Mashregh News’s website. This is the full text of the original dismissal:
“A source informed about publication of some news concerning ‘request of Commander Qassem Suleimani from Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah in order to prevent some extremist and radical views in Hezbollah’ told Fars News: ‘This story is certainly false since fundamentally there is no extremism in Hezbollah, despite the West’s attempts at depicting Hezbollah factionalism… It is the West, which claims there are cleavages within the Hezbollah forces and distinguishes between moderates and radicals, but of course, this trick of theirs was not even effective during the 33 days war. For the time being, Hezbollah is the most organized Lebanese group, which has managed to preserve its cohesion during its lifetime. This is why they use the Zionist trick of distinguishing between radicals and moderates in order to overcome their own fear… In this process their goal is fundamentally to tarnish the Lebanese Hezbollah [which is why] they try to distort the image of Hezbollah.’”