Tehran has taken advantage of America’s preoccupation with its presidential election and Europe’s with its economic woes to stealthily enlist small but important ancient Middle East Christian communities to its Shiite drive against Sunni dominance of the region.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources report that Iran first made a beeline for Lebanon, the only country in the region where Christians (the Roman Catholic Maronites) constitutionally share power with Muslim Sunnis and Shiites. Therefore, the acquisition of the high-placed Christian leader, Gen. Michel Aoun, was a feather in their caps.
Since he was welcomed in Tehran On Oct. 13-14, Aoun, a close associate of Hizballah, has had nothing but praise for the Islamic Republic.
On his return to Beirut, the Lebanese Christian declared that Iran was the most powerful force between the Persian Gulf and China and Iran’s stake in Lebanon would bear fruit in six months. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 369).
Wednesday, Nov. 5, he lined up solidly with Hizballah, proposing a new national strategy for Lebanon, the whole of which must be changed to “a resisting community.” The resistance (a euphemism for violent action against the West and Israel), he said, must spread to all Lebanese provinces based on an understanding between his Free Patriotic Movement, Hizballah and Iran.
He has thus slotted smoothly into the radical Hizballah line which does not recognize the internationally-approved Lebanese-Israel border.
Tehran eyes Iraq, Syrian, Egyptian Christians
Tehran is acting not only to exploit Western apathy about the fate of Middle East Christians, but also to steal them away from their traditional protector Syria while Damascus is engaged in drawing a military noose around Lebanon. Under the Assad regime, the Christians of Syria, estimated at just under a million, 6.5 percent out of the country's total population of 17 million, have been feeling the chill like other communities in the Sunni Islamic region.
Tehran also has high hopes of winning over Iraq’s one million-strong Christians, chiefly Assyrian (also known as the Chaldean and Syriac) members, who in the past five years have been increasingly persecuted and dispossessed of their ancient homes by Iraq’s Sunni Kurds.
With the right funding and logistical backing, Iran figures that Iraq’s Christians are well situated geographically to act as a buffer between Iraq’s Sunnis, its Kurds and Baghdad.
Part Three of Tehran’s “crusade” is the pursuit of the indigenous Coptic Church of Egypt which, like all the Christian denominations of the region, predates Islam by many centuries. Egypt has eight million Copts, one-tenth of the population.
Meanwhile, Christian leaders continue to stream to Tehran.
This week, the staunchly pro-Syrian former Lebanese president, Emil Lahoud, arrived with a retinue of 60 Lebanese Christian leaders. They were greeted with a full Iranian honors guard, a privilege normally reserved for sitting heads of state. Lahoud was put up at one of the late Shah’s royal palaces and the rest of the party at Tehran’s poshest luxury hotels.
Alignment with Tehran and Hizballah
Asaad Hardan, head of the Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) of Lebanon, is due in the Iranian capital next.
The Lebanese branch of the Syrian party is in fact one of the most dangerous covert militias in the region. It functions as a terrorist organization with a long record of clandestine violence on behalf of Damascus. In 1983, the SSNP was involved in blowing up the US embassy in Beirut in which 50 Americans lost their lives including the 19 top Central Intelligence Agency officers in the Middle East.
For thirty years, the SSNP was employed and funded by Syrian military intelligence on terrorist and assassination missions. In 2007, it joined up with Hizballah.
The SSNP is Greek Orthodox, the largest Christian denomination in Syria.
Inviting Hardan to Tehran signals Middle East terrorist groups run by Syrian military intelligence, as well as Christian minorities, that their future interests will be better served by reliance on Iran rather than Syria. Iran’s next invitees from Lebanon are two venerable Maronite leaders – Suleiman Feranjieh, head of the powerful clan that rules northern Lebanon, and Michel Mur, strongman of the Mattan Mountains district, whose son, Elias Mur is defense minister in the Lebanese government.
These Christian visitors to Tehran are not only open to switching their allegiance to Iran but also to lining up with its Lebanese surrogate, the Shiite Hizballah, and its goals.
Michel Aoun led the way this week.