Former Hezbollah chief: ‘Tehran is only investing in Lebanon’s Shia to serve its own interests’
BEIRUT - Subhi al-Tufayli served as the first secretary-general of Hezbollah from 1989-91, although the group was very different then compared to now under Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Since leaving the group in 1992, Tufayli has become an increasingly vocal critic of it, particularly over its perceived subordination to Tehran.
The Arab Weekly met with Tufayli at his home in Ain Bourday, a small village in the Bekaa valley not far from Baalbek. For Tufayli, who says he remains committed to the interests of Lebanon’s Shias, it is not a question of his leaving the group but rather of Hezbollah leaving him behind. “We wanted a party of openness but Hezbollah became one of the most closed-off parties,” he said.
Hezbollah has become an increasingly strong presence in Lebanon’s political scene, to the point that it is able to influence foreign policy and relations with other countries.
Commenting on the recent tensions between Beirut and Riyadh, Tufayli said he was more surprised by Saudi Arabia’s decision to provide the Lebanese Army with essential military assistance than its subsequent decision to halt that aid in protest over the Lebanese government’s failure to endorse Arab and Islamic condemnation of attacks on Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions in Iran.
“The army’s decision-making belongs to Hezbollah. The army must follow wherever Hezbollah leads,” he said.
Hezbollah bills itself as the sole defender of Lebanon’s Shias but this is a label that Tufayli disputes. “Lebanon’s Shias do not all belong to one flock,” he said. Although the former Hezbollah chief confirmed that the group is using various social, cultural and economic pressures, seeking to ensure that Lebanon’s Shias remain in their corner, however reluctantly.
He warned that Hezbollah’s domestic and regional opponents were playing into the group’s hands by acting as if it were truly the sole representative of Lebanon’s Shias, failing to pay attention or provide support to voices of dissent within the Shia community.
Tufayli said he was referring in particular to the Resistance and Development Bloc, an electoral alliance between Hezbollah and Amal Movement during Lebanon’s 2005 elections. Other Shia political parties or politicians who objected to the new Shia political makeup were ignored, he said.
Iran exploited perceived fears about Shias’ place and role in Lebanese politics, Tufayli said, adding that this resulted in the complex and sectarian political outlook that dominates Lebanese politics. “Now, each sect has its supporter,” he said. “This has become something normal in Lebanon but, of course, it is wrong.
“Tehran is only investing in Lebanon’s Shia to serve its own interests.”
Tufayli accused domestic and regional parties of working to ensure that “there is no voice within Lebanon’s Shia community that is not tied to Iran”, adding that this complicates the political scene at a time when Lebanon seems no closer to electing a new president than it did two years ago.
Lebanon has been without a president for nearly two years. The initial competition had been between Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, although Geagea has subsequently endorsed Aoun, who is a member of the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
“Who paid General Aoun to move towards Hezbollah? Who caused Geagea to ally with Aoun? Why has former Justice minister [Ashraf Rifi] become a persona non grata after refusing to endorse the mockery surrounding Michel Samaha’s innocence? Whose interests are served by all this?” Tufayli asked. “This only serves Iran’s interests.”
Rifi resigned as Justice minister in February in protest over former Information minister Michel Samaha being released on bail after serving just eight months of a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence after being convicted of smuggling explosives from Syria into Lebanon and planning attacks. Samaha has close ties to both Hezbollah and the Assad regime.
Commenting on Hezbollah’s ongoing involvement in the Syrian conflict, and the spillover into Lebanon, Tufayli said: “The Shia mood in Lebanon is opposed to the Syrian regime and it already tasted 29 years of bitterness when the Damascus regime ruled over Lebanon.”
He criticised Hezbollah for being a “partner in the killing of the Syrian people”, saying that the Hezbollah leadership was aware that its involvement in Syria was unpopular, but is continuing this regardless.
As for fear-mongering about Sunni extremists and takfirists, this is a front to retroactively justify Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. “When Hezbollah first began fighting in Syria, there was no Islamic State (ISIS) or al-Nusra Front,” he pointed out.
Tufayli called on Lebanon’s Shias not to believe that Iran has their best interests at heart, stressing that Tehran is concerned only about itself. He called on the group’s fighters to leave Syria, particularly after Russia’s military intervention, which began in September 2015, turned the conflict into a proxy war.
“Let me say clearly that anybody who is fighting alongside the Russians [in Syria] is a Russian agent who is fighting and dying in a conflict that has nothing to do with them. Any Hezbollah fighter who dies in Syria is shedding his blood in a wider American-Russian conflict,” Tufayli said.
Dismissing claims that Hezbollah is fighting ISIS and other Islamist groups, he asked: “If you claim to be fighting ISIS, then why are you in Al- Zabadani, Aleppo and Idlib, where there is no ISIS?”
The former Hezbollah chief concluded: “What we are seeing today will one day be judged as one of the most shameful periods in Shia history and we will curse what happened during this period.”