Leadership: Iran Cracks Down On Hezbollah

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October 13,2008:  Iran has taken tighter control over Hezbollah, a Lebanese organization it founded, armed and heavily influenced for over a quarter century. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is still fuming over the killing, last February of their number two guy, Imad Mughniyeh, in Syria. He was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. This was embarrassing for Syria, a police state with a long reputation for getting along with terrorists. Israel was blamed, although there were plenty of other suspects (Saudi Arabia, Lebanese, even Iraqis and Iran). But now a replacement for Mughniyeh has been revealed. It's Mohammad Rida Zahidi, a senior officer in one of the many secret police organizations that keep Iranians in line. Zahidi's most recent assignment was to run the security organization that protected senior government officials. A decade ago, he served as a senior official in the Iranian embassy in Lebanon.

Zahidi will take over the late Mughniyeh's chores of coordinating operations between Hezbollah and Syria. That's a critical job, as most Hezbollah weapons, and much else, comes across the Syrian border into Lebanon. Mughniyeh was considered the number two man in Hezbollah. But while Mughniyeh was Lebanese, Zahidi is an Iranian. It's believed that the Iranians want Hezbollah to calm down and not engage in risky behavior (like the 2006 war with Israel, which Hezbollah declared a victory, but wasn't, and Iran knows it.)

In an attempt to get some revenge for Mughniyeh's death, Hezbollah has threatened to make attacks against Israeli targets outside of Israel. This has not been done much in the past because Hezbollah relied on fund raising and recruiting among Moslems (especially Shia) living outside the Middle East (especially in the West). But in the past few years, Western counter-terror efforts have cracked down on both of these activities anyway. So there is real fear that the furor over Mughniyeh's death will encourage Hezbollah to branch out into international terrorism. The downside of this is increased international efforts against Hezbollah. Logic, however, does not always play with Hezbollah, or the Islamic radicals in the Iranian government who provide money and weapons for the Lebanese based Hezbollah. Then again, the Iranian Islamic radicals are on the defensive at home, where Iranians are increasingly angry over how the religious dictatorship has mismanaged the economy, and stepped up use of religious police to enforce rules on how people are supposed to live (no entertainment, dress codes for young men and women, press censorship, etc). Going international with their terrorism would be a big mistake for Hezbollah, but they just might do it. Unless their new number 2 guy, the Iranian secret policeman Zahidi, stops them.

 


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