Perspectives - January 8, 2021

Hezbollah Remembers Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani

On December 27, 2020 Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave his annual interview to Al Mayadeen, concentrating almost entirely on commemorating former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. Nasrallah called Soleimani’s death a joint plot by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, saying that while Washington carried out the operation, Israel likely played an intelligence role and the Saudis incited against Soleimani.

Nasrallah then recalled Soleimani’s efforts on behalf of the broader Resistance Axis, including Hezbollah and the Palestinian armed factions. He revealed how Soleimani was responsible for the delivery of Russian Kornet missiles to Hamas, which Syria bought from Moscow. These were the same kind of anti-tank missiles Hezbollah used during the 2006 war with Israel. Nasrallah also stressed that while a confrontation with the United States over Soleimani’s assassination was inevitable, the Resistance Axis couldn’t allow itself to be dragged into a miscalculation or a clash at a time convenient to its enemies.

Nasrallah followed up his interview with a more rhetorically charged speech on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death in January, where he recalled Iran’s and the fallen Quds Force commander’s support for Hezbollah. He added that Soleimani’s assassination had increased the Resistance Axis’ determination to expel U.S. forces from the region. Nasrallah also stressed that while retribution was primarily Iran’s responsibility, “every free and honorable person must take part.” As in his Al-Mayadeen interview, however, he added a veiled caveat to this threat, saying that while some would mistakenly assume that Iran would depend on its “friends” – e.g. its proxy militias – to aid in retaliation, in reality Tehran would handle the matter itself, and “Iran’s friends will decide if they want to avenge the assassination.” Nasrallah also notably defended the Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force Amir-Ali Hajizadeh after he claimed Lebanon owed its missile capabilities to Iran. He accused Lebanese media of twisting Hajizadeh’s words, after the comments caused controversy in Beirut.

Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem also offered his own recollections of Soleimani, saying he strove to “improve the conditions of the Resistance in Lebanon” immediately upon taking command of the Quds Force around 1998. Qassem said that Soleimani was responsible for “amazing developments” in Hezbollah’s training, armaments, and fighting capabilities within a short time-period. He also noted that while the fallen Quds Force commander strove to increase Hezbollah’s strength and its operational capabilities, the May 2000 withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon – which the group claims as a military victory – was a “cumulative action” building off of Hezbollah’s efforts since 1982.

Qassem also discussed Soleimani’s frequent visits to Lebanon, including the one preceding his death, saying they were confined to meeting with Nasrallah and a tight cadre of Hezbollah officials. He also noted that these visits were kept totally secret from local government officials, saying that “of course Lebanese and Syrian officials didn’t know” that Soleimani was present in their countries.

Qassem also equivocated on whether Israel had any role, even an intelligence collection role, in Soleimani’s assassination, despite its interest in his demise. He ended by saying the U.S. decision to assassinate Soleimani was an “expression of American weakness in dealing with the reality in our region” due to what he called Washington’s “successive defeats.” He said therefore the United States needed to “score at least one victory.” Qassem added that he was personally surprised at the method of Soleimani’s assassination, saying Hezbollah believed the United States would attempt to kill him with an IED rather than through a direct airstrike.

Regarding Hezbollah’s response to Soleimani’s assassination, Qassem pointed to the latter’s daughter Zeinab saying she was content with Nasrallah’s vow to avenge her father. However – like Nasrallah – Qassem equivocated on the timing and method of such a response. He said, “Naturally…we have to carry out something. But these details are not normally discussed, and the path of our confrontation with America is long and complicated, and has many details. God willing, we will carry out our duty in the appropriate manner.”

Hashem Safieddine – the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, the father-in-law of Soleimani’s daughter, and Nasrallah’s apparent successor – commemorated Soleimani with a speech that was lighter on details but heavier on fiery rhetoric. Safieddine said “Soleimani’s blood continues to boil in veins of the Resistance Axis” which was now more determined to “liberate the region from American occupation.” He also vowed Hezbollah would “take revenge against America, and Trump – who thought that by assassinating Soleimani he could dismantle the Resistance Axis – will meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein.”

Hassan Nasrallah Gives Speech Focused on Domestic Issues

On Friday, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech addressing domestic Lebanese issues. However, he began by addressing this past week’s turmoil in the United States over certification of the U.S. election, and the rioters who invaded Congress. Per Nasrallah, this was not an aberration for the United States, but the true face of American democracy which outgoing President Donald Trump had pushed to the fore.

Nasrallah then turned to domestic issues, defending Qardh al-Hassan, Hezbollah’s financial loan institution, against recent accusations, and denying that Hezbollah was responsible for a shipment of Captagon seized by Italian authorities last July. Nasrallah traced the evolution of the story from the initial reports, which stated the shipment belonged to ISIS, into an accusation against Hezbollah. Nasrallah also noted that Italian authorities had not issued any official accusation against Hezbollah, which he claimed the group confirmed through direct contact with Italian officials.

Nasrallah also addressed the delay in Lebanese government formation, claiming Hezbollah was not obstructing the process until Trump left office, because his group doesn’t distinguish between Trump and incoming President Joe Biden.

Nasrallah ended his speech by discussing Lebanon’s skyrocketing coronavirus cases, casting blame on those who were violating restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the pandemic.