Sheik Naim Qassem, deputy secretary general of the Lebanese Hizballah and right hand of the loquacious Hassan Nasrallah, arrived in Tehran on July 20.
The fact that he is still there reflects the disarray in the top echelons of the radical Lebanese Shiite group.
Monday, Aug. 20, Qassam went on Iran Television’s Arabic language program Alalam and, after trotting out the ritual statement about Hizballah’s preparedness for another war with Israel, Sheik Qassem delivered a surprise: He said he was renewing Hizballah’s commitment to the initiative of national unity government to break the existing political deadlock in Lebanon. He went on to stress the need for national accord among all parties, “without which there would be no solution to the crisis.”
That sentence was the key to the extraordinary length of the Lebanese Shiite leader’s stay in Tehran, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources reveal.
Until that moment, Sheikh Qassem was known for his staunch commitment to an armed struggle by Hizballah to overthrow Fouad Siniora‘s pro-Western government and firm opposition to the latest Tehran strategy, which promotes national accord and an emergency government of unity in Beirut.
He was a hard man to talk round; even his Iranian masters had to keep him in Tehran week after week before he relented.
On the face of it, Qassem fell out on this issue with Nasrallah, who was ready to toe the line dictated by Tehran. However, according to our Middle East sources, the dispute between Nasrallah and Qassam runs much deeper than this. In bucking Tehran, Qassem was also aiming at the top slot of Hizballah, hoping by his hard line views to displace Nasrallah as secretary-general of Hizballah and move into his place.
This ambition has not been affected by the scolding dished out to him in Tehran.
Qassem’s next move is more devious, taken under cover of Hizallah’s highly secretive General Convention.
Qassem wants more autonomy from Tehran; Nasrallah toes the line
The group is set to celebrate its 8th General Convention on a date that will not be published for the hush-hush election of five ruling bodies. They are the Shura Council, the supreme decision-making body; the Executive Council, which translates the Shura Council’s decisions into actions; the Political Council, which handles domestic political relations with friends and foes; the Central Council, for finances, education, social welfare and medical care; and the Jihad Council, which serves as a kind of general high command for Hizballah’s armed militia, its intelligence service, terrorist organizations and internal security forces.
Hizballah, like most radical Islamic movements, shrouds the workings of its ruling institutions with mystery. Their national convention holds no open sessions, only cabals and covert deliberations among diverse cliques which can go on for months until a majority emerges capable of establishing consensus on certain key issues. The convention then calls it a day.
This hole-in-corner procedure is wide open to conspiracy, manipulation and endless speculation. It provides opportunities for purges and sometimes liquidations. Hizballah’s grass roots are kept out of these machinations; rank and file members may wake up one morning and discover a new leader has been sprung on them overnight.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that Sheik Qassam’s consent in Tehran to give up on a showdown with the pro-Western government in Beirut has given him a perk or two and some promotions for fellow hard-liners:
1. Hassan Nasrallah stays as secretary general of the movement.
2. Sheik Naim Qassam stays on as his deputy.
3. Haj Hussein Halil takes over as Hizballah’s senior political adviser.
4. Ibrahim Amin is named head of the Political Council.
5. Hashem Sefi el-Din is head of the Central Council
6. Imad Moughniyeh is head of the Jihad Council.
The Nasrallah-Qassem feud has now shifted to a tussle over the size of the Shura. Nasrallah wants to keep it down to seven through whom he can exercise control, whereas Qassam demands the original complement of nine.
The two adversaries are also at odds on the degree of Hizballah’s independence.
Sheik Qassam seeks greater autonomy from Tehran, while Sheik Nasrallah’s faction opts for absolute, unquestioning obedience to Tehran’s dictates.