By YAAKOV KATZ
Terror organization faces unprecedented crisis, according to Israeli intelligence assessments, stirring tension with its Iranian patrons.
Talkbacks (11) Iran has cut the annual budget it provides Hizbullah by over 40 percent, stirring an unprecedented crisis within the Lebanese Shi’ite guerrilla organization.
This comes, according to recent Israeli intelligence assessments, just weeks before a United Nations tribunal is expected to accuse Hizbullah of assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Iran has in recent years provided Hizbullah with close to $1 billion in direct military aid, but due to the impact of the recent round of international sanctions, the Islamic Republic has been forced to cut back on the funding. The money is used by Hizbullah to buy advanced weaponry, train and pay its operatives and establish military positions and sustain them throughout Lebanon.
The cuts in the budget has stirred tension between Hizbullah and its Iranian patrons, further fueled by disagreements between the top Hizbullah leadership and the Revolutionary Guard Corps officer who was appointed earlier this year to oversee Hizbullah operations on behalf of the Islamic Republic.
That officer is Hossein Mahadavi, and his official title is “commander of Iran’s overseas division,” which in this case is Hizbullah.
Mahadavi is believed to maintain an office in Beirut and is a senior member of the Guard’s Al-Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s overseas operations.
Mahadavi was sent to Lebanon to fill the vacuum created by the 2008 assassination of Hizbullah’s top military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Syria, which the group has been attributed to Israel. Mughniyeh was also the chief liaison between the Lebanese group and the Revolutionary Guard.
According to information that has reached Israel, Mahadavi has clashed with senior Hizbullah officials, including its Secretary- General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, on critical issues pertaining to the group, which is refusing to accept the Iranian’s authority.
Israel is concerned that the impending publication of the first round of indictments by the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating Hariri’s death could lead to regional instability, depending on how Hizbullah responds to the findings.
Nasrallah has said that Hizbullah would not stand by and allow its top operatives to take the fall in what he has called a Zionist plot.
The prevailing assessment within the IDF Northern Command is that Hizbullah will refrain from attacking Israel as part of an effort to divert attention away from the tribunal’s findings, but is more likely to topple the Lebanese government and steer the country toward political deadlock.