UPDATE (5:05 p.m., June 25): A blog post by a well known Iranian dissident in exile is now being circulated on Twitter as "proof" of the "Lebanese Hizbullah in Iran rumor." A good friend who is fluent in Persian was kind enough to provide a summary of the post, which cites no original sources or evidence that "proves" anything, let alone the rumor. The post also reuses two photographs run almost one week ago by a Persian ad English language web site with a royalist (shah) banner prominently displayed. This web site also did not provide evidence for its allegations of who the individuals photographed were. Now, scores of people, most who probably cannot read any Persian, are yet again participating in the Twitter rumor echo-chamber. Some ignorant Twitter users are even misidentifying the language of the blog post as "Arabic;" I mean, all those "squiggly line" languages are the same, right?
The dissident-blogger provides no actual sources, and simply repeats the same sourceless rumors that have been circulating for nearly a week. His claim rests on the "argument" that Hizbullah is now "repaying" those from whom it benefited. Of course, this would also include Mir Hossein Mousavi, who, along with Iran's ambassador to Syria, Hujjat al-Islam Ali Akbar Mohtashami, was instrumental in supporting Lebanese Shi'i groups when they were coalescing into a unified movement (Hizbullah) in the mid 1980s.
UPDATE (12:49 p.m., June 25): Shaykh Na'im Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, said in an interview: ""Hezbollah has nothing to do with Iran's internal affairs," he said. "We don't side with anyone. This is an internal Iranian issue. What is happening there has nothing to do with our situation. We have our own Lebanese identity and popularity, and these events don't concern us."
UPDATE (9:15 p.m., June 23): Veteran Middle East and war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the British newspaper The Independent, who is in Tehran chimes in about the rumors:
"Now for the very latest on the fantasy circuit. The cruel "Iranian" cops aren't Iranian at all. They are members of Lebanon's Hizbollah militia. I've had this one from two reporters, three phone callers (one from Lebanon) and a British politician. I've tried to talk to the cops. They cannot understand Arabic. They don't even look like Arabs, let alone Lebanese. The reality is that many of these street thugs have been brought in from Baluch areas and Zobal province, close to the Afghan border. Even more are Iranian Azeris. Their accents sound as strange to Tehranis as would a Belfast accent to a Cornishman hearing it for the first time. Fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows, but once they are combined and spread with high-speed inaccuracy around the world, they are also lethal."
The rumors are becoming more and more ridiculous now, and continue to spread thanks to dishonest or uncritical users of Internet sites such as Twitter. I have seen multiple claims, with no evidence to support them whatsoever, of "Syrians, Sudanese, Chechens, and Taliban" in Iran as riot-breakers. Is this the same Taliban, from Afghanistan, who is virulently anti-Shi'i and hanged Iranian diplomats in the 1990s? And are these the same equally anti-Shi'i Chechen groups? What's next, North Koreans?
NOTES: The first commentor makes a thinly disguised ad hominem allegation that I am an "apologist" for the Iranian government. This claim is demonstrably false, as evidenced by my past writing on this, and other, issues. See, for example, HERE and HERE.
Other readers mistakenly think that I am saying that there are certainly "no members" in Iran for the rumored purpose. I am not arguing this. I am criticizing the blind acceptance of such rumors, any rumors, without reliable substantiation or those which are based on purported "verification" by blatantly ideologically-motivated media sources or anonymous and possibly fictional "sources." I am also criticizing those who peddle such rumors as fact, whether on Twitter (as many are doing) or via other mediums.
The Problems with Twitter discussed HERE.
points and counter-points from readers.
Read Alexander's excellent, balanced examination of this and other rumors circulating in the U.S. and European media, and among segments of the demonstrators themselves on The Ruh of Brown Folks.
Choice quote: "I think that spreading rumors such as these two damages the credibility of the protest movement. It is simply hypocritical to accuse Ahmadinejad of fraud and then circulate forged letters and false rumors."
UPDATE (5:55 p.m., June 18): Distortion of a quote from an article from the Iranian government funded Press TV media outlet is making the rounds on Twitter, claiming: "Lebanese Hezbollah Chief Nasrallah says Iranian protesters “are in illusion," linking to a short Press TV online article. The actual quote, in context, reads (I have not edited the quote, even to change spelling to the transliteration style employed at Occident):
"Now yes, some of our friends in Iran have caused a problem because of the dispute over vote counting. There have always been disputes of this kind in Iran but with the presence of Wileyet el Fakih, the Supreme Leader Khamenei, and the maturity and presence of mind of the Iranians, Iran will pass through this crisis easily," Nasrallah stated.
"And all those people who are dreaming and analyzing and holding up hopes otherwise, they are in illusion," he concluded. "
The placement of the quoted line has been changed, and a meaning has been added by dishonest Twitter users. Nowhere does Nasrallah refer to the demonstrators as being "in illusion." Rather, he says that those who think Iran will not "pass through this crisis easily" (see the line immediately above) are "in illusion." Yet more evidence that one must be carefuly relying solely on Twitter for reliable news.
Meanwhile, more rumors are being peddled on Twitter that now claim the Palestinian Islamist group HAMAS has sent people to Iran in order to suppress the demonstrations. The evidence? Quotes attributed to anonymous "Iranians," and polemical screeds on right-wing web sites.
One such site is the blog Gateway Pundit, which reproduces photographs from a source that uses the old royalist Iranian flag prominently in its banner that are allegedly of "HAMAS and Hizbullah" members in Iran. How one can tell the nationality of the two men, let alone what groups they are members of, is not explained. The blog also quotes an article from the right wing Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post. The first line is key: "Palestinian Hamas members are helping the Iranian authorities crush street protests in support of reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, two protesters told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday." The newspaper's "sources"? Two shadowy, unidentified "protestors." It is also remarkable that a rightwing Israeli newspaper has reporters in Iran.
The article from The Jerusalem Post uses identical text from a polemical screed penned by a "Paul Williams" for a conservative, seemingly Evangelical, Christian blog named "The Last Crusade." The newspaper does not list Mr. Williams as a contributor to the article, and it is unclear which party is guilty of plagiarism, but the same text appears in both the article and the blog screed.
This screed is also republished by the right-wing Canadian media outlet Canada Free Press.
Even The New York Times is promoting these rumors. In this article on the Basij, they provide a hyperlink to more articles on the Lebanese Hizbullah (Hezbollah) when they write "Ansar-e Hezbollah," the name of a pro-regime Iranian group.
A rumor has been circulating widely on the Internet that 5,000 members of the paramilitary wing of the Lebanese Shi'i political party Hizbullah have been "brought in" to assist the Iranian government suppress pro-Mousavi, Reformist, and other demonstrations. This rumor has been spread on a variety of web sites, including those of the far right and far left in the United States, including the far left Daily Kos [both camps share remarkably similar, dim, views of the ongoing events in Iran, and other issues; they are not as different as they may wish to believe.] The rumor reportedly is based on unsubstantiated claims printed in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, who published a largely unsubstantiated claim that Hizbullah was behind the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005, which was based largely on "anonymous" sources. Other bloggers have noted seeing similar rumors being spread on supposedly responsible and reliable news outlets, like CNBC.
The number of 5,000 is ridiculously high. The best "guestimate" puts the number of Hizbullah's active paramilitary fighters at between 1,200-2,000, with the party being able to call upon perhaps several thousand more "part-time" reserves. The number circulating in the Internet rumor even exceeds the estimates of Israeli intelligence, which has an interest in exaggerating the numbers of Hizbullah's paramilitary fighters. Even given the fact that some of Hizbullah's elite forces receive military training in Iran, it is unlikely that the number of part members in that country number anywhere near 500, let alone 5,000, at any one period of time.
This rumor is built about the erroneous, polemical claim that Hizbullah is not really a Lebanese movement, but simply a "proxy" or "puppet" of Iran. According to this claim, peddled by many Israeli officials and their allies abroad, particularly in the United States, Hizbullah will thus do whatever the supreme leader (rahbar-e jumhur), al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, asks, without question. In reality, the party is a Lebanese phenomenon and is primarily focussed on domestic issues, and was formed between 1982-1986 to address domestic concerns. The party has a close, strategic alliance with Iran, with which it also shares many ideological similarities, particularly with regard to politics. Khamenei is also recognized as the party's "guide," as was Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni before. However, individual party members are free to follow the marja' al-taqlid (religious reference; grand ayatullah) of their choice. Informal studies suggest that most follow either Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid 'Ali Husayni Sistani, based in Iraq, or Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, based in Lebanon.
Considering the key point in political horsetrading in Lebanese politics right after the recent parliamentary elections, it is unlikely that Hizbullah would send all of its full-time paramilitaries or even its part-time reserves abroad. The ongoing tense relations between March 8, the National Opposition political coalition of which Hizbullah is a member party, and the ruling March 14 coalition make such a move by the party even more unlikely.
The argument that Hizbullah would send the bulk of its active paramilitary force abroad because it fears losing substantial financial support from the Iranian government is factually unfounded. The ties beween the two remained strong during the two terms of Reformist president Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005). The polemical "logic" that Iranian financial support of the party "proves" that it is a "proxy" would mean that foreign aid from one country to another makes the second country a "proxy." Therefore, the militant Lebanese Maronite party Phalange was an Israeli "proxy" in the 1980s, since the rightwing Likud government of prime minister Menachem Begin provided over $100 million in support to it, hoping to install a pro-Israel Maronite regime in Lebanon.
There are claims that some of the forces acting to quell the demonstrators in Iran are "speaking Arabic" (be afraid!), though these claims are based largely from Internet claims, such as those dominating Twitter at the moment, which have not been independently verified or proven. Some argue that, if true, these individuals may simply be from one of the Arabic-speaking minorities in the country, particularly since nearly 50% of the population are not native Persian-speakers and/or are not ethnically Aryan ("Persian"). Iran has a large Arab minority in the west. A counter-argument to this explanation notes, accurately, that the Iranian Arab minority and those minorities who may speak Arabic are generally hostile to the Iranian government, regardless of who is president. Iran's radical jihadi Sunni groups, such as Jund Allah (God's soldiers) are drawn primarily from the country's Baluchi and Arab minorities.
Is it possible that Lebanon's Hizbullah has sent some of its members to Iran? Sure. I just don't find it probable, particularly in the numbers claimed in the rumors/allegations. It is more likely that biased European and American journalists and Internet pundits confused the nickname of usually plainclothes pro-government students and other individuals (hizbullahi) or members of the Basij, a government reserve that includes a large paramilitary wing (similar in some ways to state national guards in the U.S.) and, erroneously, assumed that these "reports" referred to Lebanon's Hizbullah. There is also a Turkish group that goes by the same name. As for Twitter "reports" about "Arab-speakers," these have yet to be independently verified and may in fact have emerged from the prejudice of some Aryan Iranians ("Persians") to Arabs, and non-Aryan Iranians.
See also Andrew Exum's take @ the Abu Muqawama blog HERE and HERE.
The rumors are now making the rounds on far right blogs and the Twitter echo-chamber, one of the big negatives of Twitter as a "news" service.
Hizbullah leader al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah did congratulate Khamenei on the election, but he would have done this regardless of the outcome, as he has in the past.
The official English translation of this letter reads:
"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Your Eminence Grand Ayatollah Imam Sayyed Khamenei (May you live long) Peace and God's mercy and blessings be upon you... On behalf of my brothers and sisters in Hizbullah, I congratulate your eminence on this magnificent epic created by the great Iranian people in this historic presence last Friday, in the presidential elections, when they renewed their support and faith in this blessed system and the values and principles of the Islamic Revolution-founded and led by His Eminence the late Imam Khomeini (May God honour his soul). This magnificent epic is one of the great blessings of your wise leadership, your paternal guidance and your tremendous patience, whilst it has introduced joy to the hearts of all the vulnerable and the Mujahideen...hope was revived through the strength, sturdiness and solidity of the structure of this dear republic which represents a great, strong, and steadfast backing of our resistant people and defending their rights in the face of the aggressors and extorters. I ask God Almighty to perpetuate your noble presence to achieve under your leadership more of glory and command for Iran and the nation."