Iran loses clout in Arab world
In the wake of its disputed election, Iran faces diminished support from some friends and hardening opposition among foes.
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Iran still provides significant funding and weaponry to Hezbollah, and all members must swear allegiance to the Islamic system led today by Khamenei.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, as an example of the damage done to Iran's image, Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, has noted Iran's "internal problems." Significant, too, the ultraconservative Tehran Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, related in a mid-October sermon how Nasrallah told him "that following [the postelection violence] he has received phone calls from all over the world. They expressed displeasure and were asking him questions. They were telling him that all the world's oppressed and liberal-minded people have pinned their hopes on Iran."
One week prior to Iran's June vote, Hezbollah itself suffered a blow in Lebanon's general election. The bloc that it led was expected to gain a majority of seats in parliament, but, in fact, held steady at 45 percent, against the US-backed bloc that won the remainder. Another blow struck the militia's well-honed reputation for incorruptibility when a Lebanese businessman close to Hezbollah was caught in a vast Bernard Madoff-style scheme to rip-off investors.
"I think you can crudely – and I would be very careful to push this too far – map some of the twists and turns that Iran has taken over the last few years, alongside those that Hezbollah has taken, because we've seen some similar dynamics," says Nicholas Noe, the editor in chief of the Beirut-based Mideastwire.com.
He and others believe that just as Iran's credentials have been eroded since the election, so has – to a lesser degree – Hezbollah's self-assigned role as the just leader of the Lebanese Shiites and as a member of the "axis of resistance" that stands up to Israel and the US.
Indeed, Beirut's leftist As-Safir newspaper predicted that "Hezbollah's patriotism will increase more than ever, based on its increased need to broaden its popular base and ... to compensate for the loss of a decisive Iranian ally."
Yet the impact of the damage done to "Brand Iran" – to use Mr. Noe's phrase – may be limited, both in Lebanon and in the larger Arab world. For one thing, only a minority of people in Lebanon, even among Shiites, look to Iran for spiritual guidance. For another, many of Tehran's closest allies – Hezbollah, Shiite parties in Iraq, Hamas – are already well established militarily and politically.
Then, too, as long as Iran keeps sending money and weaponry, the ties will remain strong no matter what happens on Tehran's streets. "We don't really care about the internal political situation in Iran," says Abu Hassan, a unit commander in the military wing of Hezbollah, sipping a cup of sweetened tea in Beirut's southern suburbs. "It doesn't matter to us who is the president, so long as they continue to support us. We don't interfere in their politics."
On the West Bank, the admiration for Iran remains even tighter. Despite official hostility by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority for Tehran's support of Hamas, the view of the election crisis among many is almost a facsimile of the hard-line view in Tehran. "Ahmadinejad wants to build power for himself and his country. And I think it's in his right," says Sheikh Mahmoud Musleh, a Hamas parliament member in Ramallah, who was jailed for two years after his election in 2006.