Nasrallah's Dangerous Strategy: He Has Become Entangled In What Sadr Called "Diabolical Schemes"
03 June 2013
By Amir Taheri
"Islam seeks believers that are aware and intelligent,
not zealots who are slaves to their hallucinations."
The quotation comes from an address by Musa Sadr, an
Iranian-born cleric, who, until his mysterious
disappearance in 1978, acted as a key leader of
Here are two other quotes from Sadr: "We reject
opportunism, political shenanigans, alliances with the
devil and the tactic of leaning the way the wind
And: "Islam is not a boutique from which to reap
profits. Nor is it [a means of] pressing people into
our service, as is the method of religious
organizations and foundations."
In this previously unpublished address, Sadr describes
the Iranian Shi'ite sociologist Ali Shariati as "the
source of our inspiration" and echoes Shariati's
castigation of the mullahs.
Sadr talked of "keeping Lebanon safe" and trying to
raise the living standards of Shi'ites who represented
the poorest segment of society at the time.
Coincidentally, the text of this address was emailed
to me at the same time as Hassan Nasrallah, the
current leader of Hezbollah, was making a speech
justifying acting in the service of President Bashar
Al-Assad's campaign against the Syrian people.
What would Sadr have said about Nasrallah's decision?
One can only guess. He would certainly have been
concerned about dragging Lebanon into a dangerous
adventure beyond its control.
One could speculate with some confidence that Sadr
would not have regarded the preservation of the Assad
dynasty as a cause worthy of fighting for. Sadr was
suspicious of the true nature of the Assad regime and,
despite being assiduously wooed by Hafez Al-Assad,
never took the road to Damascus.
He would have been aggrieved by the death of hundreds
of Muslims, among them some 150 Hezbollah militants,
in the battle for Qusayr.
Most importantly, perhaps, Sadr would have taken
exception to Nasrallah's decision to act on orders
from Tehran. According to the Iranian Kayhan
newspaper, the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah entered he
Syrian civil war "in response to the injunctions" of
Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei.
This is in contrast with Sadr's constant efforts not
to become an instrument of influence of any foreign
power, including his native Iran. It was in fact this
issue, more than any other, that caused his eventual
break with Iran under the Shah. His refusal to obey
orders from Tehran led to the end of Iran's financial
subsidy and political support. But Sadr was not
swayed; he had become the leader of the Lebanese
Shi'ites and learned to think and act in the interests
of Lebanon, rather than Iran.
As a journalist, I met Sadr several times over the
years and witnessed how he slowly morphed into a
full-fledged Lebanese leader. Towards the end, even
his Persian accent had acquired a Lebanese edge.
Nasrallah's decision to involve Hezbollah in the
Syrian conflict is questionable on a number of
accounts. To start with, the Hezbollah leadership was
never officially consulted on the matter. Nor was the
Lebanese government, which Hezbollah is a partner in,
informed of this. Needless to say, the Lebanese
military also was not consulted. This led to a
situation where a private army, controlled by a
foreign power, is using bases in Lebanon to
participate in a foreign war.
Thus there is no indication that a majority of
Lebanese, or even a majority of Lebanese Shi'ites,
approve of Nasrallah's adventurist behavior. In fact,
the information we have from Beirut and the south
indicates growing unease among the Shi'ites.
There are also indications that some within Hezbollah
itself are unhappy about Nasrallah's strategy. To be
sure, most Lebanese Shi'ites feel close to Iran and
approve of intimate relations with whichever regime is
in place in Tehran. But friendship is one thing and
In its mini-war with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah lost
some 600 men. Its losses in Syria have already topped
300, according to reports. Hezbollah guerrillas are
trained for hit-and-run warfare. They are not suited
to seizing and holding territory, something that Assad
needs to do if he is to regain chunks of Syria under
rebel control. The current pattern of fighting
indicates that Assad is using Hezbollah elements as
cannon fodder, enabling his Alawite units to capture
Sunni-majority territory. In other words, Hezbollah is
being used as an instrument of ethnic cleansing
against other Muslims—something that Sadr would never
have approved of.
For years, Nasrallah tried to cast himself as a
champion of Islam or, if that was too much, at least
of Arabs. Now, however, he is no longer behaving even
as a communitarian leader. He has been exposed as one
of General Qassem Suleimani's pawns in Lebanon and
The difference between Sadr and Nasrallah is that the
former was principally concerned about Lebanon and,
more specifically, its Shi'ite community, while he
latter is a pan-Shi'ite militant who sees Iran as his
Nasrallah is behaving like those Communist leaders who
regarded themselves as mere agents of the Soviet
Union. With the fall of the Soviet Union, all those
parties disappeared. However, the Communist parties
that had retained a degree of independence from the
USSR survived, notably in France, Portugal and Spain.
Nasrallah would do well to study the examples set by
two other clerics.
The first is Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, now
regarded as the principal Marja'a Al-Taqlid (Source of
Emulation) for Shi'ites. For more than a decade,
Sistani has steadfastly refused to sacrifice the
interests of Iraq at the altar of political ambitions.
Rather than fanning the fires of sectarian war,
Sistani has used his immense prestige to help detoxify
Iraqi politics. Despite endless solicitation, he has
refused to intervene in Iran's presidential elections.
The second example, is that of the late cleric Sayyed
Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who was regarded as
Hezbollah's principal religious leader. Throughout his
life, however, Fadlallah acted as a Lebanese Shi'ite
leader rather than an accessory to the Khomeinist
regime's dreams of conquest.
What Nasrallah is doing is bad for Shi'ites, bad for
Lebanon, bad for Hezbollah, and ultimately bad for
Syria and Iran as well. He has become entangled in
what Sadr called "diabolical schemes."
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest
Iran, and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. He was
Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for
the Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of
the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a
contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He
has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York
Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French
magazine Politique Internationale, and the German
weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he was editorial
writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has
published 11 books, some of which have been translated
into 20 languages. He has been a columnist for Asharq
Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and