In March, an Iran state-affiliated media outlet inappropriately published a speech by Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The speech was a private – candid – address to an Iranian audience in Beirut in the same month. After backlash in Arab media against the speech, including Nasrallah’s declaration of loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei above all, the Iranian outlets retracted the article. Hezbollah denied that Nasrallah had delivered the speech.
The retraction and denial, however, strongly suggest a cover-up attempt. The speech was meant for internal distribution, thus making it a valuable document. It was likely addressed to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel.
The speech highlighted that Hezbollah’s founding 1985 manifesto and Nasrallah’s previous declarations of loyalty to the Supreme Leader continue to be salient.
Nasrallah touted that the organization was born after the success of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. That highlights that the network that later became Hezbollah in 1985 was active and had a defined ideology prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. During the war, the network grew and was able to frame itself as a protector of the besieged Shiite community.
Throughout the speech, Nasrallah emphasized his belief in the velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurisprudence, the founding politico-religious ideology of the Islamic Republic. An iteration of Plato’s philosopher king, it calls for a theocratic government and an Islamic state with the material and spiritual power of the state vested in the hands of a cleric, or the vali-ye faqih, who would act as the deputy of God on earth. Hezbollah has consistently maintained that it does not seek to impose Islamic law through force, but rather through co-opting the population, which contrasts with the Iranian experience since 1979.
The Lebanese cleric’s speech further highlights that the conventional wisdom of describing Hezbollah as a “proxy” of the Islamic Republic is insufficient to describe the relationship – Hezbollah is an arm of the Iranian government and the Lebanese branch of the Guard Corps.
The Hezbollah chief claimed that Shiism would have been destroyed without the Islamic Republic, citing sectarian Sunni jihadists and “Wahabbis.” Both Shiite and Sunni jihadists benefit from a cycle of sectarian violence that each side has stoked.
Nasrallah discussed how the Islamic Republic creates the groundwork for the arrival of the 12th Shiite Imam Mahdi, or the Messiah. The IRGC and Hezbollah believe in a strain of messianism that believes human action can facilitate the Mahdi’s arrival. Western analysis tends to overlook or over exaggerate the role of messianism. It is a potent vision that sanctifies the activities of the IRGC and Hezbollah and comforts them during difficult situations. The Mahdi’s arrival during a time of great upheaval and suffering in the world defines Shiite apocalyptic literature.
Nasrallah, who speaks Persian, started the speech by describing the historically impoverished status of Lebanese Shiites. “Everything changed after [the 1979] revolution. We got to know the Imam [Ruhollah Khomeini] after the martyrdom of Seyyed Mustafa,” the eldest son of Khomeini who died during police custody in Najaf, Iraq, in 1977. Many attributed that to the Shah’s intelligence service.
The Lebanese cleric described how Khomeini was “much assisted” by Imam Mohammad Baqir al Sadr, a prominent Shiite-Iraqi cleric and founder of the Dawa Party whom Saddam Hussein’s security service tortured to death in 1980. The young Nasrallah attended a seminary in Beqaa valley, eastern Lebanon, that followed Sadr’s teaching. That is where Nasrallah became familiar with Khomeini’s teachings.
“His Excellency the Imam [Khomeini] was like the sun. No one can say that I introduced the sun; the people inadvertently were attracted to the sun, even the ulama [clergy] who did not accept us in their hearts approved of the Imam.”
“We were born with Iran’s Islamic revolution and acquired our existence and life with the Islamic revolution. The most important example of the velayat-e faqih experience was achieved outside the country [of Iran] in Lebanon.”
The Hezbollah chief claimed that “acting upon the belief of the velayat-e faqih” for Hezbollah’s success more than “the Islamic Republic’s weapons, money and aid.” “Our belief is velayat-e faqih is different than that of many Iranians who accept the velayat; our belief is stronger.”
Nasrallah laid out “several levels for belief in the velayat-e faqih:”
“We believe that obeying the valiy-e faqih is like obeying the infallible [the 12 Shiite Imams].”
“We believe that if the valiy-e faqih has said that ‘this is my opinion (he did not order) we must obey. (In Iran they say that he did not order and only advised).” [That is a slight against former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who ran for last year’s presidential election despite Khamenei’s “recommendation” not to do so.]
“We believe in him [Khamenei] higher than the [Lebanese] constitution (some say that he says it is better to act within the framework of the constitution in so and so way). We consider this view taklif, legal obligation, and necessary.”
“When we in Lebanon discuss in the Hezbollah council, if we believe that his excellency would be said if we do a certain thing, we do not act upon it [and] if we think he’d be happy, we act upon it.”
“We consider him [Khamenei] [to be the representative] of the Infallible Imam. Velayat-e Faqih is not an administration and legal matter. Velayat-e faqih is kindness, victory and companionship. The principle of velayat-e faqih is love. Otherwise, we are administrative employees.”
“Today, Hezbollah is a global power,” Nasrallah continued, again crediting that success to “obedience to the velayat-e faqih.”
He also discussed that various institutions in the Islamic Republic, despite competing with each other, “assisted Hezbollah in unison and did not compete [when it came to] us.”
“All parties in Iran assisted Hezbollah, and each more than the predecessor. I thanked all institutions in the presence of his excellency and thanked his guidance. He became very happy and put his hand to the air and said ‘thank God someone has come and has thanked us.’”
“We tell all foreigners that we receive money, weapons and equipment from Iran but that no one issues order to us, and this doesn’t exist anywhere. The Islamic Republic of Iran consults us on regional issues, while it is a government, but other governments with parties look down and with a mercenary outlook, while in return we love the velayat-e faqih and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“We plainly say that the Islamic Republic is…the country of the Imam of Time [Mahdi], and we are ready to sacrifice for the holy system that we are the soldiers of his Excellency and the soldier of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“In propaganda, they say that Hezbollah is the long arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region, and it has never looked at us as mercenary.”
“If we had made oversights in the matter of takfiri movement and Daesh, we would have witnessed the destruction of Shiism in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.”
“We have a CD…in which he [deceased Syrian Army of Islam leader Zahran Alloush] says that he is seeking to re-establish the government of Bani Marwan and Bani Umayyad in Syria. He said that a mistake was committed in Karbala and they released the family of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him). ‘We will kill them all, then we will go to Najaf and kill Shiites and level the shrine of Imam Hussein’ (peace be upon him).”
“We do not fight to preserve Bashar Assad, but rather to protect the principle of Shiism. Many of Najaf’s ulama did not believe in fighting DAESH until DAESH approached Karbala. They later found out that we defeated a great conspiracy.”
“Without Iran and Hezbollah, Syria would have fallen. The Russians came four years later; their role was destiny-making.”
“No one thought that Iran’s children would be martyred in Aleppo, Homs, Nubul and Zahra, etc…The Shia is at the height of its power in the region. We can say that Shias did not have power during the time of amir al-mo’menin (peace be upon him),” or Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and one of the early Caliphs in the 7th century AD whom Shias believe should have led the Muslim community instead of Abu Bakr.
“The Islamic revolution creates the groundwork for the arrival of his Excellency Mahdi (may God hasten his reappearance) that has not had precedence in history. We must await the arrival of the Imam of Time (may God hasten his reappearance) at every moment.”
“I want to say that the arrival of the Imam of Time is at the hand of the Iranians. Due to the affinity I have to you, if the Islamic Republic of Iran were not there and the events of DAESH occurred, Shiism in Lebanon, Syria and Najaf would be destroyed. These would have [another] Karbala,” alluding to the massacre of third Shiite Imam Hossein, Ali’s grandson, and 72 companions at the hands of Caliph Muawiyah.
“These (Sunni Wahabbis); it has come in the fatwa of ibn Baz, the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, that the graves of the Imams and the great ones of Shiism must be demolished and their bones extracted, which is what they did in Syria with the grave of Hujr ibn Adi.” The latter was a commander in Ali’s army whose grave was demolished in the vicinity of the Damascene suburb of Ghouta by Jabhat al Nusrah in 2013.
“Even if Hezbollah were strong and Iran were not there, Shiism would be destroyed.”
“Know the value that coming to Iran three weeks after the ‘88 sedition [2009 post-election protests], I went to see the gentlemen of this side (sedition) and those who took no sides and I told them that all the enemies were happy and Shiites sad.”
“You right now are not building your future, but rather are building the destiny of the arrival of his excellency [Mahdi]. Know that God chose you because you deserved it. You are the tribe of Salman Farsi [first Persian convert to Islam] and have been chosen and have acted well until now. It is possible that temptation, movements and parties may deviate you from the right path.”