Ayatollah Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts who is thought to be the designated successor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, visited Lebanon and Syria at the end of January 2018, in the midst of the warnings by the Israeli prime minister, defense minister, and military spokespersons against Iran and its plan to build facilities in Lebanon for manufacturing precision weapons, The Jerusalem Post reports.
Raisi toured the border between Israel and Lebanon accompanied by Hezbollah military commanders and Iranian officers. During the tour, Raisi stated that “Jerusalem’s liberation is near.” In remarks translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), he said:
“Thanks to the resistance movement, Palestine has so far succeeded in withstanding Israel, and they [the Palestinians] have learned that it is fighting and steadfastness, not the negotiating tables, that determine the fate of their country.”
Raisi also commended Hezbollah on its efforts to strengthen Islamic culture in Lebanon.
“Hezbollah is not only in the arena of fighting, but it is also solving the problems of the people and providing them aid. This is the unique aspect of the Islamic movements. Hezbollah’s mission does not end with military and defense matters; it must play a role in various and diverse tasks in building Islamic culture,” MEMRI reported.
In addition to the tour of the border, Raisi met with a number of Lebanese leaders and government officials. He paid visits to the families of two deceased terrorist leaders, Imad Mughniyeh and Mustafa Badr al-Din.
Raisi’s visit comes days after Prime Minister Netanyahu and additional Israeli officials spoke out against Iran’s building a “missile factory” in Lebanon, referring to its plans to establish facilities in Lebanon for manufacturing precision weapons.
“It would appear that this visit by a senior Iranian figure close to Khamenei was meant to convey to Israel that Iran is not deterred by the Israeli threats and is determined to help Hezbollah strengthen its military capabilities in Lebanon. Iran also intends to help mobilize support for Hezbollah among the Shiite community for the Lebanese parliamentary elections this year, as Iran and Hezbollah work to boost Hezbollah’s political power in Lebanon’s domestic arena,” Brigadier General Dr. Shimon Shapira, a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former military secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office said on the center’s website.
Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security advisor and senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzed the border visit in a post on the Council on Foreign Relations’ website.
“Raisi’s Lebanon/Israel border visit delivers several messages. First, borders have no meaning for Iran; the Islamic Republic is determined to be the dominant player in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Second, the governments of those countries have no control of their own borders and territory; Iranian military and terrorist leaders can come and go as they please. Third, whether Lebanon gets into a conflict with Israel will be determined by decisions made in Tehran, not in Beirut,” he wrote.
Raisi is a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and is thought to be the designated successor of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In 2017, he lost the elections for the Iran presidency to Hassan Rouhani. During the elections, Rouhani accused Riasi of being behind the 1988 mass murder of political prisoners in Iran in which thousands were killed.
In Lebanon, Raisi met with Hizbullah leaders Hassan Nasrallah and Hashim Safi al-Din; Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri; and the chairman of the Shiite Islamic Council, Abdul-Amir Kabalan. Raisi also visited the family homes of the deceased terrorist leaders Imad Mughniyeh and Mustafa Badr al-Din.
The high point of Raisi’s visit occurred in southern Lebanon when he toured the border with Israel escorted by Hizbullah military commanders and Iranian officers. In pictures published by his office, the escorts’ faces were blurred.
Raisi proclaimed that “Jerusalem’s liberation is near” and praised Hizbullah’s role in Lebanese society as an Islamic movement that does not limit itself to military and defense matters, devoting some of its efforts to building an Islamic culture in Lebanon.
It would appear that this visit by a senior Iranian figure close to Khamenei was meant to convey to Israel that Iran is not deterred by the Israeli threats and is determined to help Hizbullah strengthen its military capabilities in Lebanon. Iran also intends to help mobilize support for Hizbullah among the Shiite community for the Lebanese parliamentary elections this year, as Iran and Hizbullah work to boost Hizbullah’s political power in Lebanon’s domestic arena.