Will Iran's political turmoil shake Hezbollah?
The Shiite militant organization in Lebanon draws money and ideological guidance from Iran's supreme leader.
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Those that disagree with the theory are free to leave after the preparatory stage, while those who are convinced, like Jassem, a veteran Hezbollah fighter, become a member of the organization.Skip to next paragraph
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"The jurisprudent will stay in Iran and will only be canceled when Imam Mehdi returns," says Jassem. "We believe that and we will fight for that."
Hezbollah 'cashing checks' from Iran
Hezbollah receives substantial funding from Iranian religious endowments, known as Bonyads, which are controlled by Khamenei, according to Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese expert on Hezbollah and author of a forthcoming book on Iran's relations with Syria, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Hamas movement. Hezbollah refuses to discuss the amount of funding it receives from Iran, although it is thought to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Any major changes in Iran arising from the current instability – especially to the status of the supreme leader – could have significant repercussions for Hezbollah and the influence it wields in Lebanon and the region.
"No one admits that Hezbollah gets funding from the Bonyads as they are supposed to be for developing Iran. The [administrators of the Bonyads] don't need permission to give money to Hezbollah, but the supreme leader gives the general tone over who are the legitimate recipients of funds," says Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb.
Although Hezbollah long ago arranged additional sources of income through its own charities and businesses, the funds from Iran help sustain the party's massive social welfare apparatus of schools, clinics, hospitals, and economic development, as well as equipping its formidable military wing.
That reliance on Iranian financial generosity, along with Hezbollah's ideological commitment to the supreme leader, spurs accusations that the party is a tool of Iranian foreign policy rather than a Lebanese party opposing Israeli occupation and championing the rights of its Shiite constituents.
"Hezbollah is now in the awkward position of being a resistance group purportedly fighting injustice, while simultaneously cashing checks from an Iranian patron that is brutally suppressing justice at home," says Mr. Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
No. 2 ambiguous on role if Iran attacked
Hezbollah's relationship with Iran also raises the question of the party's response to an attack by Israel or the United States on Iran's nuclear facilities. Hezbollah has amassed an enormous stockpile of rockets with ranges covering most of Israel, a threat that Israeli strategists have to weigh when assessing the potential blowback from an attack on Iran.
Hezbollah's reaction would likely depend on the circumstances of an assault on Iran, whether it is a limited strike by one country or a more comprehensive attempt at regime change. But for now, Hezbollah refuses to clarify what support it may offer its Iranian patron.
"Ambiguity gives more strength to the resistance," Qassem says.
This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, July 20, to exchange the term "supreme leader" where "jurisprudent" was improperly used.