- Despite Iran's strong rhetoric condemning
Israel's military onslaught against Lebanon,
Tehran, which is accused by the US of supplying
weapons to Hezbollah, has become cautious in
supporting its most flourishing investment abroad.
On a state visit to Tajikistan last week,
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad rejected US and
Israeli charges and insisted that Iran did not
support Hezbollah militarily.
But just a
few months ago, a prominent Shi'ite cleric close
to Hezbollah wrote in Baztab, a conservative
Iranian news site with ties to the Revolutionary
Guard, that in the event of any military action
against Iran, resistance groups such as Hezbollah
would make life miserable for the United States
and its ally Israel.
"We will turn the
Middle East into another Vietnam for the US," he
wrote. "We will make the
Middle East a Bermuda Triangle for Israel - Hamas
in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Badr
Army in Iraq."
Still, many independent
Iranian experts believe that the government is
trying to distance itself from the latest crisis.
"I do not think Iran wants to physically
intervene in the conflict. They have already
interfered by giving their full moral support,"
Said Mahmoudi, head of the department of
international law at Stockholm University, said.
"They have also masterfully used the difficult
situation of conservative, passive Arab leaders by
criticizing such leaders and thereby winning the
hearts of the Arab people on the streets."
Some observers note that Tehran has often
preferred a mediator role, for example, using its
influence to release hostages in Lebanon during
"There is a slight possibility
that Iran can turn this around in its favor by
being included in the consultations in Rome and
elsewhere and by playing a mediating role between
the West and Hezbollah," said Trita Parsi, author
of Treacherous Triangle - The Secret Dealings
of Israel, Iran and the United States.
"But it's a double-edged sword," he said.
"If Tehran shows that it can rein in Hezbollah, it
may score a point with European nations who will
view Iran as a moderating force. But Washington,
however, is likely to view Iran's influence over
Hezbollah as evidence for Iran's proximity to
Parsi also said
it was unlikely that Iran was actively involved in
provoking the conflict. "The current fighting is
to Iran's detriment since Israel, through the
attacks on Hezbollah, is destroying much of Iran's
retaliatory and deterrence capabilities. Without
Hezbollah, Iran is more exposed to a US or Israeli
attack," Parsi said.
than helping Iran's nuclear case or taking
attention away from it, the current fighting is
complicating matters for Iran in several ways. A
critical component of Iran's strategy in dealing
with the United States and Israel has been its
caution about keeping open the option of
de-escalating the conflict if and when necessary."
Parsi believes that Tehran has
consistently challenged US red lines on its
nuclear program, but has done so while maintaining
the ability to make concessions when it had to in
order to avoid a military confrontation with the
West that it knew it could not win. Through the
crisis in Lebanon, however, Iran has lost this
While many Iranians inside and
outside of the country are anxious about the
possibility of an Israeli military attack,
Mahmoudi believes such a development would be
"I doubt if expansion of the
present war is a realistic and meditated
scenario," he said. "Although Israel can
potentially find an excuse [like the one against
Hezbollah] to start an attack against Syria or
Iran, it seems to me that it has not been the
However, concerns remain.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has
characterized the invasion of Lebanon as a part of
the broader US-led "war on terrorism" launched
after the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on
New York and the Pentagon, and which has included
the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Al-Qaeda was and is undoubtedly a
terrorist organization according to any
definition. Hezbollah, like Hamas, is stamped as a
terrorist organization, in my view for political
reasons. Hezbollah is in essence a resistance
movement which came to existence in 1982 and as a
result of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon," said
He noted that there were still
certain areas in southern Lebanon under Israeli
control, as well as disputed areas between Lebanon
and Syria. "So Hezbollah's act of attacking
Israeli's military posts at the border and
kidnapping of Israeli soldiers at most should be
considered as grave crimes, punishable by normal
law-enforcement measures," he said. "Such
kidnapping should definitely not be seen as purely
'terrorist' acts like those of al-Qaeda."
Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a political columnist
with the Etemad-Melli daily in Tehran, said in a
telephone interview, "At this moment, Iran and
Syria just want not to lose Hezbollah completely
and to support them in the coming months and
"Destroying the capabilities of
Hezbollah is designed to neutralize the Iranian
influence in the region. Now, many Lebanese
believe that their painful life after the attack
is because of the relationship between Iran and
Hezbollah," he said.
"Just 30% of
Lebanon's population is Shi'ite and unlike the
Iranian government's propaganda, they are not very
popular. In the Lebanese mind, Hezbollah is not a
symbol of the resistance against Israel anymore
but a symbol of ignorance and fatuity."
Iran is also coming under increasing
pressure over its nuclear program. On Monday, the
United Nations Security Council demanded that
Tehran suspend its enrichment activities by the
end of August or face possible sanctions. The US
is leading the pressure on Iran.
Foreign Ministry spokesman countered with the
warning that if the Security Council passed any
resolution intended to punish Tehran, Iran would
revoke its consideration of the UN-brokered
incentive package presented on June 6.
threat of sanctions, the escalation of the crisis
in the Middle East and the US accusations that
Iran is behind the actions of Hezbollah in the
context of the larger "war on terror" seem to be
setting the stage for military action against
"So it may therefore be expected
that military actions against Iranian nuclear
installations will be seriously considered by the
US and Israel. Iran has taken this scenario very
seriously and has repeatedly mentioned that it
will hit back," said Mahmoudi. "Irrespective of
who hits Iran, Israel will be the first and the
In his latest visit to Iran
last month, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah,
emphasized that should Iran be attacked, Hezbollah
will immediately react.
"It seems fully
understandable that Israel, as a preemptive
measure and in preparation for a possible military
action against Iran's nuclear installations, has
launched this enormous operation against Hezbollah
to cut or paralyze Iran's military arm in
Lebanon," said Mahmoudi.
"Seen in this
perspective, Iran should be very frustrated and
anxious about the risks of military measures
following UN sanctions. For such measures, the US
and Israel of course do not wait for any UN
authorization and as usual can find an excuse," he
Omid Memarian is an
Iranian journalist and civil-society activist. He
has won several awards, including Human Rights
Watch's highest honor in 2005, the Human Rights
Defender Award. He is currently a visiting scholar
at the Graduate School of Journalism at the
University of California, Berkeley.