The ruling body of the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group, the Shura Council, has just held its annual elections. This “electoral” process is called every year for majority decisions on policy, the selection of the organization’s institutions and the election of its political leaders.
The Council’s arcane procedures would be unrecognizable to any Western or even Middle Eastern political organization. First, the number and identity of the Shura Council members – believed to be between 25 and 32 – is dead secret, not only for Lebanon’s Shiite community as a whole, but even to each other.
To make sure their masks do not slip, the council members do not convene in one place, but stay at home; messengers, drawn from Hizballah’s Special security organization, circulate among them with the meeting’s agenda and collect their written answers. Members often canvass the organization’s religious and military establishments to push their agendas.
In the bellicose Hizballah, therefore, decision-making on political, military, religious and economic matters is a leisurely process. This year it took six weeks. It leads up to the climax of a trip to Tehran where the Shura council members promote their platforms and their candidature for re-election. Because it is there that the real decisions are made on Hizballah’s policies and appointments.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources report that this year, the all-powerful rulers of the Islamic Republic were more active than usual in the various stages of the process of setting out Hizballah’s course and assigning its leadership, because of the controversy over Hassan Nasrallah’s re-election as Hizballah’s secretary-general.
Nasrallah sought to challenge Khamenei’s primacy
The office-holder is barred by the charter from serving more than two consecutive terms. Nasrallah was due to step down in mid-2008 in time for the annual council to elect his replacement. But he was saved for a third term by a fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei which granted him a further lease as Hizballah’s top man.
But this did not satisfy the ambitious Nasrallah. It was a compromise he was forced to accept.
Behind the scenes, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources reveal, Nasrallah put up a big fight for the supreme leader to promote him to the elevated post of “General Guide of Hizballah.”
This would have dodged the constitutional limitation on his term of office but, even more important, raised him to an eminence on a par with Khamenei, whose formal title is General Guide for Shiites in Iran.
The aggressive Hizballah leader was thus challenging Khamenei for primacy over all Shiites outside Iran. The Iranian ayatollah could on no account countenance this promotion; he considers himself the unchallenged Supreme Guide of Shiites worldwide.
Khamenei therefore decided to let Nasrallah serve out his third term as Hizballah’s secretary general but at the same time put him in his place.
Iranian dailies were fed a report disclosing Nasrallah’s designated successor as Hashem Safieddine, head of the group’s Shura Council and his first cousin. They named him next in line in case of an emergency.
Nasrallah is still Hizballah’s strongman for the moment, but his boss in Tehran has cut him down to size by naming his successor.
Tehran has long been irked by the Lebanese extremist’s attitude of independence and lack of deference. Nasrallah omitted to consult his Iranian masters before staging the cross-border kidnap of Israeli soldiers which triggered the Lebanon war with Israel in 2006; nor did he ask permission to let loose hundreds of rockets against northern Israel. Tehran which supplied the rockets was furious.
Unlike his flamboyant cousin, Safiedinne stays out of the spotlight and quietly runs the organization’s executive body. The Shura Council also tagged Mustapha Shehadeh as Hizballah’s military chief and successor to Imad Moughniyeh, who was killed in an explosion in Damascus last February.