On May 19th, the United States Department of State listed Hashem Saffiedine – the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council – as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224. The designation imposes sanctions on Saffiedine, seizing any interests or assets he possesses in US jurisdiction, and prohibits US persons from engaging in any transactions.
Though Saffiedine is one of Hezbollah’s most powerful leaders and one of its earliest members, not much is known about this mysterious figure. He was born in 1964, in the South Lebanon’s governorate’s village of Deir Qanoun al-Nahr, according to Saudi news source MzMz. In 1983, he married the daughter of Sayyed Muhammad Ali al-Amin, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Lebanon’s High Islamic Shiite Council. He is Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s maternal cousin, and both were taken under the wing of Imad Mughniyeh early on. In fact, Mughniyeh facilitated the duo’s travel to the Iranian holy city of Qom for religious studies.
Saffiedine appears to have begun his career in Hezbollah as the party’s political representative to South Lebanon. According to Asharq Al-Awsat, he was studying in Qom until Nasrallah recalled him to Lebanon in 1994. Joseph Alagha writes in his book Hizbullah’s Identity Construction that in 1995, the Shiite organization held its fourth conclave and promoted Saffiedine to its highest council, its governing Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura). He was the only new appointee to that body that year. Additionally, the conclave created the group’s Jihadi Council (al-Majlis al-Jihadi), to control all of Hezbollah’s military activities. Saffiedine was appointed as its head and Nabil Qaouq – his current deputy as Executive Council head – to his old post of political representative.
Saffiedine continued his rise within the party and during Hezbollah’s fifth conclave, held in 1998, he was elected as the head of the party’s Executive Council – according to Hezbollah’s website, a position held by Nasrallah from 1987 until 1989, and then from 1991 until 1992 – a position he has held since, being reelected in subsequent conclaves held in 2001, 2004 and 2009.
In fact, according to a study by the National Defense University’s Center for Complex Operations – Saffiedine is Nasrallah’s heir apparent and de facto second-in-command, despite Sheikh Naim Qassem having the title of Deputy Secretary General. Asharq Al-Awsat says Saffiedine was chosen as Nasrallah’s successor due to his political and military experience within Hezbollah, as well as his strong ties with Tehran established during his religious studies in Qom. The paper claims being told by a high-ranking former member of the organization that Saffiedine was chosen as Nasrallah’s successor as far back as 1994.
Party officials close to Saffiedine described him to Asharq Al-Awsat as a “true leader, simultaneously firm and flexible,” and open to hearing criticism from other organization members. They also described his personality as an “extension of sayyed Nasrallah’s,” and a perfect successor to the Secretary General.
As head of the influential Executive Council, Saffiedine wields considerable power within Hezbollah. According Asharq Al-Awsat, he controls all daily sensitive issues, including managing the party’s different bodies and organizations, its funds, domestic and foreign investments.