Across the Bay

Saturday, July 22, 2006

How Was Hezbollah's Decision Made

Magnus Ranstorp, the Swedish specialist* on Hezbollah, talked to Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro about Hezbollah's kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers. (For Arabic readers who can't read French, here's a translation courtesy of ME Transparent.)

The title of the piece carries a quote by Ranstorp which reads, "the escalation was decided by Hezbollah and Iran." Malbrunot asked him how Hezbollah made the decision to kidnap the two soldiers. Here's a translation of Ranstorp's answer:

Such a decision is taken by its head, Hassan Nasrallah, within the Shura Qarar, the highest decision-making body of the movement. It consists of seven members, two of whom are Iranians attached to the Iranian embassy in Beirut, and who are tied to the intelligence services of Tehran. Through them, Iran knows exactly what Hezbollah is doing, especially when the decision goes beyond the normal red lines, such as attacking Israel outside the Shebaa Farms. In this case, Hezbollah also consults with the Syrians, because the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers carries implications for Syria's security. The consultations with Damascus are often done through the liaison Hassan Khalil, who is in contact with the military intelligence services in Damascus.

What about other links between Hezbollah and Iran?

They go through the Iranian embassy in Beirut, the most important one outside Iran, and by the personal representative of the supreme guide Ali Khamenei in Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek [whose house the Israelis targeted early on, to deliver the message that he's a marked man. -- AE]. But that's not all. Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon during the 80s, plays an equally very important role. He shuttles between Tehran and Beirut, through the Damascus airport, before using the military routes of the Bekaa valley. Mughniyeh, who is always tracked by the Americans, never passes through the Beirut airport. He is tied directly to Nasrallah, who himself has old personal ties with the Iranian directors. Through Mughniyeh, Hezbollah and Iran have been involved in the Palestinian intifada since 2000. Mughniyeh is notably in charge of recruiting foreigners for reconnaissance operations in Israel or elsewhere. In Beirut, the representative of Hamas, Ussama Hamdan [whose office was also hit by the Israelis in recent days -- AE] is also an essential pawn in the Iranian involvement in Palestine; he was previously the representative of Hamas in Tehran.

Update: From Middle East Newsline: Iran spent more than six months training and planning Hizbullah to prepare for its current war with Israel.

Western intelligence sources said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps held a series of exercises with Hizbullah on the use of new weapons and techniques. The sources said IRGC also prepared arsenals of medium-range rockets and missiles in the Bekaa Valley and Syria to sustain any war with Israel.

"Iran's IRGC planned this war carefully throughout 2006," an intelligence source who monitors Iran said. "IRGC sent weapons and hundreds of volunteers through Damascus in a war designed to contain several stages."

The sources said Western intelligence agencies detected a high level of IRGC-Hizbullah coordination as early as April 2006. They said the Hizbullah conflict was planned in cooperation with Damascus, which agreed to the emergency deployment of Iranian troops in Syria.

Addendum: More from Magnus Ranstorp, via the Counterterrorism Blog.

* You'll notice the Hezbollah emblem on the front cover of Ranstorp's book. It reads "the Islamic Revolution in Lebanon." That was the original Hezbollah emblem before it was changed (I think in the 90's, but I'm not sure) to "the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon" in an attempt to gain broader Sunni Arab support and so as not to constantly remind people of its direct and organic connection to the Islamic Revolution of Iran.