Thursday 23 October 2008

Saudi Games

The Saudi regime is using its cash in attempt to build a rival to Hizbollah, writes Sami Moubayed in Asia Times:

The Saudis are reportedly funding a rival wing of Hezbollah itself, modeled around Sheikh Subhi Tufayli, one of the party's original founders who has been sitting in the dark since the 1990s.

Tufayli started out as a firm supporter of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, having studied Islam in Najaf (Iraq) during Khomeini's long exile in the holy Iraqi city, before the Islamic revolution of 1979. He returned to Lebanon and helped co-found Hezbollah - with Iranian support - during the Israeli invasion of 1982.

Under Tufayli's leadership, Hezbollah managed to drive Amal from Beirut during the height of the Lebanese civil war in the late 1980s. Under his command rose the young Nasrallah in 1989, leading a commando force against Amal in Iqlim al-Tuffah, and becoming a member of the central command of Hezbollah at the young age of 29.

A hardliner, Tufayli once said that his supporters did not dream of eradicating Israel in the near future, but plans to lead a battle that will last "for centuries". More recently, he has distanced himself from Iran for its firm support for Nasrallah, a man whom he respects but envies tremendously. He can't challenge him, beat him, or replace him as head of Hezbollah or the Lebanese Shi'ite community.

In 2000, when Nasrallah liberated south Lebanon against Israel, Tufayli was believed to be politically finished, since Hezbollah was at the apex of its career and no Shi'ite with a right mind could challenge the charisma or popularity of Nasrallah.

But on several occasions he came out and spoke against Nasrallah, objecting to the latter's alliance with Iran and claiming that he broke with Hezbollah because of the overt Iranian agenda of its secretary general. Earlier, in his final act of defiance, Tufayli clashed with the Lebanese state when his followers tried to take over a party-run religious school in Baalbak.

The Lebanese government of Siniora has tried in vain to get rid of Hezbollah, but was unable to do so due to the party's power base and the repeated victories it scored against Israel since 2000. The UN could not disarm Hezbollah, nor could the United States, or Israel in its failed 2006 war on Lebanon.

Now, all parties are trying to break Nasrallah's kingdom from within, through splinter Shi'ite groups loyal to people like Tufayli and through the money of dissident Syrians. Any person who has seen how popular Nasrallah was in Lebanon in 2000 or 2006 realizes how foolish it would be to try and challenge him by resurrecting figures like Subhi Tufayli.