Masseer Especial Journal, which belongs to Khamenei.ir, has conducted an interview with Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is published for the first time. The following is part one of the interview:
I would like to start the interview by asking you how the situation in the region was, at the time when the Islamic Revolution became victorious. How was the situation in the West Asian region? Particularly given that one of the important dimensions of the Islamic Revolution is its regional and international implications, what changes occurred in the regional equations following the Islamic Revolution and what events have we witnessed? With the Islamic Revolution gaining victory, what took place in the region in general and in Lebanon in particular?
In the name of God the Beneficent, the Merciful. First, I would like to welcome you. If we go back to the past and observe the developments, we will find that, very shortly before the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a very significant incident took place in the region, namely the withdrawal of the Arab Republic of Egypt from the Arab-Israeli conflict and the signing of the Camp David Treaty. This event—due to the important and effective role of Egypt in the aforementioned conflict—had a very dangerous impact on the region as well as on the Arab-Israeli confrontation over the issue of Palestine and the future of Palestine.
After that incident, in the first place, it seemed that the confrontation was going on largely in favor of Israel. This was mainly because other Arab countries and Palestinian resistance groups were not able to confront major powers without the help of Egypt at that time. So, firstly, the occurrence of such an incident led to the emergence of a deep division among Arab countries.
Secondly, you remember that at the time, there was a US-led Western bloc opposing the USSR. Therefore, there existed a split in our region: the gap between the countries associated with the Soviet Union—that is, the Eastern bloc—and the countries depending on the United States, the Western bloc. Accordingly, we could see a deep divide among the Arab countries in the region, and this gap had devastating consequences for the nations and of course, also had an impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the time, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States essentially affected our region and its developments.
In the case of Lebanon, it should be said that Lebanon is also part of this region, and thus, it has been severely affected by its developments, including Israeli actions, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the divisions in the region. At that time, Lebanon faced domestic problems as well, and was suffering from the civil war. The Israeli enemy occupied parts of southern Lebanon in 1978, that is one year before the Islamic Revolution, and then created a security zone called the “border strip” on the Lebanese-Palestinian borders. The Israeli enemy, through this security zone, continued its daily aggression against Lebanon, its cities, villages and people. Indeed, we faced a very serious problem: the Israeli occupation in parts of southern Lebanon and its daily aggressions. Israeli warplanes and their artillery bombed southern Lebanon; abduction operations and multiple explosions by the Zionist regime continued in its worst form, and people were displaced following these brutal acts. These events also took place between 1977 and 1979; that is, not long before the victory of the Islamic Revolution.
Did they use the Palestinian presence in Lebanon as the pretext?
Yes; the Israelis objected the existence of Palestinian resistance and operations carried out by Palestinians. However, this was just an excuse because Israeli’s runs of aggressions in southern Lebanon began in 1948, when Palestinian resistance was not present in southern Lebanon. Palestinian resistance set base in southern Lebanon in the late 60s and early 1970s, especially after the events in Jordan and the arrival of Palestinian groups from Jordan in Lebanon.
It was in those circumstances that the Islamic Revolution of Iran gained victory. This victory came at a time when an atmosphere of despair was dominant in the Arab and Muslim world and concern for the future was widespread. Egypt’s withdrawal from the Arab-Israeli conflict and the signature of the Camp David Treaty, the imposition of a humiliating political process on the Palestinians and Arabs, as well as the weakness of the rulers of the Arab countries all provoked the despair, grief, hopelessness, disappointment, and worry for the future at that time. Therefore, the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in such an environment, revived the lost hopes in the region and among the nations to begin with, particularly the Palestinian and Lebanese people.
This victory (the victory of the Islamic Revolution) also brought about the resurgence of the hopes of a nation that had been cornered by the existence of Israel. Because the position of Imam Khomeini (Q.S. – May his spirit be blessed) regarding the Zionist project, the necessity of the liberation of Palestine, and standing shoulder to shoulder with Palestinian resistance groups was clear from the beginning. Imam Khomeini (r.a) believed in supporting the people of Palestine, liberating every inch of the land, and obliteration of the Israeli entity as a usurping regime in the region. Therefore, the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran created a growing hope for the future and increased a hundred fold the moral and motivation of the supporters of the resistance as well as the resistance groups in the region.
The victory of the Islamic Revolution also created a balance of power in the region. Egypt fled the fight against Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran entered. Therefore, the balance of power in the Arab-Israeli conflict was restored, and for this reason, the resistance project in the region entered a new historical phase. This was the starting point for the Islamic movement and jihad in the Arab and Muslim world and among Shi’as and Sunnis alike.
Imam Khomeini (Q.S.) introduced several mottos regarding various subjects such as the question of Palestine, Islamic unity, Resistance, facing and confronting the United States of America, stability and sustainability, trust and confidence of nations in God and in themselves, revival of faith in one’s own power when confronting the arrogant powers and towards the realization of victory. Undoubtedly, these mottos had a very positive and direct impact on the situation in the region at that time.
In addition to the general atmosphere created by the Islamic Revolution and the new spirit that Imam [Khomeini (r.a)] inspired in the hearts of the people of the region, resurrecting the resistance, what memory do you specifically have of Imam Khomeini and his stances regarding the resistance in Lebanon and by Hezbollah?
Yes, in the year 1982. If we want to talk about it, we should consider the liberation of Khorramshahr in Iran. The Israelis were deeply concerned about the war between Iran and Iraq, or Saddam’s imposed war against Iran. For this reason, after the liberation of Khorramshahr, the Israelis decided to attack Lebanon. Of course, this action had its own root causes, and there was a profound connection between the victories in the Iranian front and the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. This was how the Israelis entered Lebanon, Beqaa region, Mount Lebanon Governorate, and Beirut suburbs. At that time, a group of scholars, brothers and fighters had decided to form the Islamic Resistance and establish the Islamic-Jihadi foundation of [the movement of] Resistance, corresponding to the aftermath of Israeli invasion.
By then, Israel had not penetrated in all of Lebanon and had only reached about half of Lebanon—that is 40% of Lebanon’s total area. 100,000 Israeli soldiers entered Lebanon. They brought with them American, French, English and Italian multinational forces on the pretext of maintaining peace. Meanwhile, there were militias in Lebanon who were involved with and collaborated with the Israelis. By pointing to these facts, I mean to picture how very, very bad the situation was at that time.
Subsequently, a group of scholars (ulema), believers, and Mujahid brothers decided to launch a new movement for Jihad in the name of Islamic Resistance, which shortly afterwards was renamed “Hezbollah.” The formation of this front coincided with the decision of Imam Khomeini (Q.S.) to send Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces to Syria and Lebanon to oppose and confront Israeli aggression. Initially, the intention was for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops to fight alongside Syrian forces as well as Lebanese and Palestinian resistance groups. But after some time the scope of Israeli attacks became limited, so this was no longer a classic battlefield, and the need for resistance operations by popular groups was felt more than ever.
It was at that time that Imam Khomeini (QS) replaced the mission of direct confrontation by the IRGC and Iranian forces, who had come to Syria and Lebanon, by offering help and providing military training to Lebanese youth, so that they—i.e. the Lebanese youth themselves—would be able to deal with the occupiers and carry out resistance operations. This is the first [of Imam Khomeini’s positions].
Therefore, the mission of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Syria, as well as the Lebanese Beqaa region—in Baalbek, Hermel and Janta, that is, where there were training bases—was changed to providing military training to the Lebanese youth. They taught the Lebanese youths the methods of warfare and provided them with logistic support. The mere presence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Lebanon at that time gave the Lebanese youth and Resistance groups a purpose and a high spirit to stand up to Israel.
As I said earlier, it was decided that a large group would be formed and nine representatives were selected on behalf of the pro-resistance brothers, including the martyr Sayyid Abbas al Moussawi (r.a), to pursue this important issue. Naturally, I was not among these nine people, because at that time I was young, about 22 or 23 years old. These 9 people travelled to Iran and met with the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They also had a meeting with Imam Khomeini (QS). During their meeting with Imam Khomeini (r.a), while offering him a report on the latest developments in Lebanon and the region, they presented their proposal for the formation of an Islamic resistance front. They said to Imam Khomeini (r.a): “We believe in your guidance, your authority (wilayah) and your leadership. Tell us what we need to do.”
In return, Imam Khomeini (r.a) insisted that their duty was to resist and stand against the enemy in full force, even if you have limited means and are in smaller numbers. This is while Hezbollah had a smaller number of members then. He said: “Start from scratch: trust in the Almighty God, and do not wait for anyone in the world to help you. Rely on yourself and know that God helps you. I see you victorious.” It was an amazing thing. Imam Khomeini (r.a) regarded this path as auspicious, and thus, the meeting during which our brothers met with him, laid the foundation stone for the formation of the Islamic resistance front, under the auspicious title of ‘Hezbollah’, in Lebanon.
At that time, our brothers told Imam: “We believe in your guidance, authority and leadership, but in any case, you are very busy, and you are at an old age, and we cannot allow ourselves to continuously disturb you about different issues and problems. For this reason, we are asking you to name a representative to whom we can refer on various issues.” Then he introduced Imam Khamenei (May God continue his oversight), who was the president at the time, and said: “Mr. Khamenei is my representative.” Consequently, the relationship between Hezbollah and Ayatollah Khamenei (May God protect him) began from the very early hours of the establishment and foundation of this group; we were always in contact with him in different times, we met with him frequently and gave him reports on the latest developments and he always praised the resistance.
I remember the issue of several Hezbollah martyrdom-seeking members. You know that the first experience of a martyrdom-seeking operation took place in Lebanon, and was conducted by our brothers. The brothers sent a video file—before publicizing it in the media—containing oral testaments of those fighters seeking martyrdom, who had carried out a major martyrdom operation in Lebanon, and had shaken the invaders to their core. This video was played for Imam Khomeini, and he watched it and discussed it. The testaments were very beautiful and full of enthusiasm, mysticism and love. After watching the testaments, Imam Khomeini (r.a) said: “These are young [chivalrous] people. All of them were young.” He then said: “These are the true mystics.” The fact is that the Imam was strongly affected by the testaments.
Imam Khomeini’s collaboration, support for, and attention to the resistance and Hezbollah of Lebanon continued until the very last day of his auspicious life. I remember about one or two months before the passing of Imam Khomeini (r.a), when he was ill and rarely met with domestic officials and even less with foreign officials, I went to Iran as a member and an executive official of the Hezbollah council and met with Ayatollah Khamenei, late Ayatollah Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials, and asked if I could have a meeting with Imam Khomeini. I was told that he is ill and does not meet with anyone. I asked them to try and they agreed to do their best. Then I went to the office of Imam Khomeini (r.a) and put in a request for an appointment. At the time, one of our friends among Imam Khomeini’s household, Sheikh Rahimian (May God protect him)—who paid particular attention to the Lebanese—shared the matter with the late Sayed Ahmad Khomeini (r.a), and I was informed on the second day to get ready for a meeting. Naturally, we were all surprised. I went to meet Imam Khomeini (r.a) and nobody else was there, not even Sayed Ahmad; not even any of the Foreign Ministry’s officials or IRGC staff, who would usually attend the meetings, were there. Sheikh Rahimian accompanied me to Imam’s room but then went and left me alone with Imam. I was overwhelmed and awed by his presence.
Imam Khomeini was sitting on a high chair and I sat down on the floor. Awestruck by his grandeur, I could not say a word. Imam asked me to get closer. I went closer and sat next to him. We spoke and I handed to him a letter I had brought with me. Imam answered the questions I had shared with him regarding the developments of that time in Lebanon, then smiled and said: “Tell all our brothers not to worry. My brothers and I in the Islamic Republic of Iran are all with you. We will always be with you “. This was my last meeting with Imam Khomeini (r.a).
I wish we had time to hear more extensively from you about that time. Thanks again for the opportunity you gave us. You said that, Hezbollah was formed and began its activities during a very difficult time. You correctly mentioned that Iran itself was dealing with an invasion of its borders. In Lebanon, the Zionist regime periodically attacked the people and committed murder and plunder, and in any case, Hezbollah began its work in such a difficult situation. You also said that Imam Khomeini referred you to Ayatollah Khamenei to be in touch with him. I would like to ask you to point out some of the important pieces of advice that Ayatollah Khamenei (May God continue his oversight) gave you after the passing of Imam Khomeini, and let us know the measures that he guided you to take during his presidency. What we mean to make clear, when we reach the time of Imam Khamenei’s leadership, is the history of why Hezbollah was very pleased and reassured with his election as the leader of the Islamic Republic. What has happened that made you feel that way?
From the very first moment of our relationship with Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, I call him, in my own words, Mr. Leader (السید القائد). So let me use the same word, the Leader, to refer to him. My brothers had a Hezbollah Council within Hezbollah, with 7-10 members—changing at each stage. The members of this council always met with the Leader during his presidency. What I wish to say about that time, almost 7 years of Ayatollah Khamenei’s presidency before the passing of Imam Khomeini…
Was there a specific person to go between Hezbollah and Ayatollah Khamenei?
I get back to this point. The fact is that the Leader particularly valued Lebanese groups and provided them with sufficient time. I remember meetings that sometimes lasted for 2, 3 or even 4 hours. He listened carefully to what we had to say. Our friends and brothers also described the issues for him in details. As you know, at the time, they were not all on the same wavelength, and our brothers had different views. The Leader listened to all the comments, views, and opinions. Naturally, there was no Arabic language problem either, because he was fluent in Arabic and spoke it well. He spoke Arabic beautifully.
Nonetheless, he preferred to be accompanied by an Arabic translator; He usually spoke in Persian, but had no need for translation when the Lebanese spoke in Arabic. His full mastery of Arabic language contributed greatly to his deep understanding of the problems and the views of our Lebanese brothers. The important point is that, despite having full authority from Imam Khomeini, the Leader tried to play the role of a guide, and helped us make the decisions ourselves. I always remember that in every meeting, at that time and after being appointed as the Leader, whenever he wanted to comment, he would indicate ‘my suggestion is’. For example, he had reached a conclusion, but he would ask us to “sit down, consult with each other, and make the correct decision.
Indeed, the Leader at that critical stage managed to play an important role guiding the group in cultivating Hezbollah leaders and commanders intellectually, scientifically, and mentally, so that our brothers could make decisions confidently and by relying on their own capabilities even during the most difficult situations. He would make comments but he would refer to a Persian proverb that said: the expediency of a country is recognized by its owners. His Eminence would say: you are from Lebanon and thus have a better command of your affairs. We can only make a few comments and you can apply them, but it is you who will make the final decision. Do not wait for anyone to make decisions on your behalf. Therefore, the role of the Leader in the training, growth and swift development of Hezbollah was very significant.
In the first years, our brothers went to Iran two or three times a year—that is, they would travel to Iran about every 6 months—to learn about the Iranian officials’ viewpoints regarding the developments in the region, as at that time, developments in the region were taking place very rapidly. Naturally, at that time there was also the war; the 8-year imposed war against Iran and its implications for the region. Therefore, our brothers constantly needed to exchange information, consult with and get support from Iran. At that time, if our brothers were faced with an immediate and urgent problem, they would send me to Iran. Because I was younger than the others, and there was no systematic protection, or anything similar in place for me. I was alone, carrying a bag with me. This means that my trips to Iran, since I was not well known, were not complicated and there was no security threat around me.
On the other hand, I was acquainted with Persian language more than my other brothers in Hezbollah, and for this reason, they preferred me to travel to Iran. From the very beginning, there was compassion and affection between me and my Iranian brothers. My brothers in Hezbollah would tell me: you like Iranians and the Iranians like you too. So you should travel to Iran. On behalf of my brothers in Lebanon, I met with the Leader for one to two hours. Even when all issues had been discussed and I was prepared to leave, he would say: “Why are you in a hurry? Stay, and if there’s anything left, let’s discuss it”. That stage was very important for Hezbollah, because Hezbollah had focused on fundamental issues, fundamental approaches and fundamental goals. They made a collection of varying opinions, but we eventually managed to compile a single united book. Now I can say that we have a unified viewpoint in Hezbollah. Different perspectives have been unified and consolidated due to the events and experiences that we have gone through, and thanks to the guidance, advice, and leadership of Imam Khomeini (r.a) while he was alive and of the Leader after the passing of Imam Khomeini.
I wish there was more time to listen to your memories at length…
You will at some point say ‘I wish’… [laughs]