Plans Lebanese Shiite Popular Army – Like Revolutionary Guards
The 200,000-strong pro-Syrian rally in Beirut this week was an impressive show of strength by the Lebanese Hizbollah movement and its fiery leader sheikh Hassan Nasrallah – even if Syrian agents had a hand in its success. But the demonstration was first and foremost a triumph for Iran and betrayed how deeply the Islamic Republic had sunk its claws into Lebanon.
Only days after Syria announced its troops would pull back to Lebanon’s eastern Beqaa Valley, Iran began implementing contingency plans drawn up years ago but refreshed in the wake of a visit to Tehran last month by Syria’s prime minister, Naji al-Otari. He informed his hosts that Syria could not stand alone against international pressure for its withdrawal from Lebanon in obedience to UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources, Tehran's first action in response to this news was to transfer of $3 million to Hizballah to fund the Beirut rally with an offer of any logistical help required.
But more importantly, Iran’s leaders decided in principle to fill the military or security vacuum left by the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Under its contingency plan, work must start at once on the establishment of a popular Shiite army patterned on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This force would propel Lebanon’s biggest religious-ethnic group to the top of the regime. Lebanon’s 1.4 million Shiites make up more than a third of the population; their community far outnumbers the Maronite Christians, the Sunni Muslims and the tiny Druze sect.
Planners in Tehran intend the Hizballah to take over the most sensitive Syrian military positions after they are evacuated. They will be supplied with tanks, heavy artillery, light and heavy automatic weapons, rockets, missiles and drones – all the hardware a conventional army needs. The missiles and pilot-less aircraft Iran deployed in Lebanon in the past have been kept in storage under the strict supervision of Iranian officers.
Hizballah arms ship due early April
Zelzal missiles, with a range of 150-250 km (90-150 miles) were sent to Lebanon three years ago and are stored in the southern ports of Tyre and Sidon. Hizballah was not given the use of these missiles, but did receive a number of Iranian drones last year for testing. One was even sent on a reconnaissance mission over northern Israel but it crashed on the return leg.
As we reported in our previous issue, Iran has sent its first arms ship to Hizballah. The vessel, which embarked from Bandar Abbas port in the Persian Gulf, is carrying 10 tanks, 20 cannon, a large quantity of light and medium automatic weapons and several tons of ammunition. It should arrive in the Hizballah-controlled Tyre port in about three weeks, or early April. Iran believes Hizballah is immune to any international calls to disarm or leave Lebanon. Its fighters are Lebanese citizens and its armed forces, Tehran contends, are only of concern as a purely domestic issue.
In any case, Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, has given his word to Iran that he will continue to support Hizballah as a legitimate Lebanese force. It was conveyed to Iran’s ambassador in Beirut, according to our sources, Wednesday, March 9, when the envoy delivered to the president a secret oral message on the issue from Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
If Iran has its way, Lebanon could become the second Shiite Islamist Republic in the Middle East.
An Iranian-supplied “Mehdi” army in Lebanon, brandishing the best weaponry money can buy, could easily overpower the weak, Maronite-dominated, Lebanese Army. Lebanon’s Sunni community is losing strength and the battle of demographics and would pose no obstacle to Tehran’s plans. The Iranians have been showering Nabih Berri, Parliament Speaker and head of the rival Shiite group Amal with promises of political power if he is cooperative. An Amal representative in Tehran was invited this week to the Department for the Export of the Islamic Revolution and handed a secret message for Beri along with an invitation to visit Tehran for more detailed talks.