- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2007

JERUSALEM — Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been stripped by Iran of his control of the Lebanese organization’s military wing, according to a report last week in Sharq al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London.

A similar report in the Tel Aviv daily, Ma’ariv, attributed the move to Sheik Nasrallah’s role in involving Hezbollah last year in a war against Israel. Hezbollah dismissed both reports as “utterly unfounded.”

Sheik Nasrallah won plaudits throughout the Middle East for Hezbollah’s stand against Israeli air and ground attacks, seen as the most effective resistance to Israel by an Arab force since the Jewish state’s founding 60 years ago.

But Ma’ariv cited Western sources saying Tehran’s unhappiness with Sheik Nasrallah stems from the war itself, although no details were given.

The monthlong encounter exposed the strategic arm Iran had built up in southern Lebanon as a deterrent to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

It was not an infrastructure intended for a local, cross-border clash. In the first hour of the war, Israeli planes destroyed the bulk of Hezbollah’s Iranian-supplied rockets capable of striking Tel Aviv and other targets deep inside Israel.

The extent to which Iran, and also Syria, had armed Hezbollah became evident during the war when 4,000 short- and medium-range rockets were fired into Israel. An estimated 10,000 more remained in Hezbollah’s arsenal at war’s end.

The war also revealed the extent of Iran’s strategic presence in Lebanon and diminished its effectiveness. About 40 Israeli civilians were killed by the rockets and 300,000 sought shelter away from the border area, but the psychological and physical effects of the rockets were not decisive and may have inured Israel against similar attacks in the future.

It was Sheik Nasrallah who unintentionally touched off the war by ordering a cross-border raid into Israel to abduct members of an Israeli border patrol. The ensuing Israeli reaction devastated much of southern Lebanon and a Hezbollah-controlled neighborhood in Beirut.

Sheik Nasrallah said after the war that he would not have ordered the raid had he known what the Israeli reaction would be.

According to al-Sharq al-Awsat, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered Sheik Nasrallah to relinquish control of Hezbollah’s military wing to his deputy, Sheik Naim Qasim, who also becomes Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal representative in Lebanon. Sheik Nasrallah, however, remains Hezbollah’s secretary-general.

The Arabic newspaper, citing sources in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said Sheik Nasrallah’s demotion stemmed from differences of opinion between him and Sheik Qasim over the restructuring of Hezbollah’s military wing.

Iran reportedly provides Hezbollah with $400 million a year for its operating expenses. It has provided an additional $1.5 billion to compensate for losses suffered by militants and civilians during the war.

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