New Arab Islamic Resistance raises a question: Who?
The symbol of the new Arab Islamic Resistance (AIR) is very close to that of Hezbollah, despite the group’s opposition to the Party of God.
As missiles rained on Gaza’s residents on the 12th day of Israel’s offensive, Sayyed Mohamed Ali al-Husseini granted Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya news channel an exclusive interview.
He declared himself the leader of a new, 3,000-man strong militia in Lebanon – the Arab Islamic Resistance – dedicated to fighting Israel. The next day a volley of rockets from Lebanon slammed into the Jewish State.
“I have no comment,” Husseini told NOW Lebanon when asked if his militia fired the rockets. He spoke with a calm confidence during an hour-long interview in his sparsely decorated office in Mrejeh, a southern suburb of Beirut, deep in the power center of the country’s other Islamic Resistance, Hezbollah.
He announced the existence of his armed group on January 7, but he told NOW he’d been amassing and training men for over seven months. Furthermore, some 1,500 Gulf residents expressed interest in joining the militia, he said. When they’ll arrive to train and fight in Lebanon is yet to be determined.
Central to the group’s identity is Arabism. (So central, in fact, they named a homemade rocket they created by improving on a Katyusha after the “Arabism” rocket.) Husseini and his troops reject Hezbollah’s Iranian ties and plan to run candidates from the Arab Islamic Resistance against the party in the 2009 elections.
Despite the Arab Islamic Resistance’s open and vocal opposition to Hezbollah, the Party of God has remained silent. They have not threatened Husseini as they are accused of doing to other anti-Hezbollah Shia politicians and religious figures. A Hezbollah press spokeswoman told NOW the party had no comment on Husseini or his new Resistance.
Husseini said he trained his thousands of fighters – firing guns and test-firing rockets – north of Lebanon’s Litani River. He would not specify where exactly, and surprisingly said the fighters never encountered any opposition from the Lebanese army or anyone else for that matter.
“It’s Lebanon,” he offered, briefly speaking in English. He displayed pictures of armed men in a forest with himself pouring over a map that was clearly not one of the military maps armed fighters usually use when training.
Resistance watchers – analysts, authors and journalists – contacted by NOW said they’d never heard of Husseini and found it strange it took a television interview to bring a 3,000-strong actively-training force to come to light. Wouldn’t someone have noticed them earlier, was the resounding refrain.
In fact, it was quite a challenge finding people who knew much about Husseini.
“I doubt his wife supports him,” one religious leader said, after making yet another phone call on the ancient Panasonic fax machine at his side to a colleague in search of information on Husseini. In fact, interview after interview ended with the same conclusion: This is mostly talk.
Husseini elusively said his funding comes from Arabs locally and abroad. From other sources, the usual conspiracy theories that the US and Saudi Arabia were funneling him cash flowed freely. One person contacted for this article, Sam Bazzi, a Lebanese living in America who runs a website that monitors terrorist activities, claimed Husseini’s money comes from Iran and that he is, in fact, an undercover Hezbollah agent.
The counterterrorism analyst Sam Bazzi
Hezbollah’s spokeswoman did not stay on the phone long enough to respond to that specific accusation.Husseini himself was elusive about his past. He refused to say where in Lebanon he was born, preferring to merely be known as Lebanese.
News reports about him mention time he spent in an Iranian prison. He merely confirmed this and attributed it to his opposition to the Wilayat al-Faqih (the Guardianship of the Jurist), the religious doctrine adopted by Iran that gives the country’s top cleric absolute authority on every issue.
He also confirmed but would not elaborate on the time in October 2007 when his car fell apart as he drove toward the city of Sur. At the time, he told Iraq’s Yaqen news agency that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard poured acid on the vehicle’s frame in an attempt on his life.
What is known is that Husseini studied Islam in Qom, Iran, where he learned and apparently accepted the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (a book he wrote in 2004 offered praise for Ayatollah Khomeini). By late 2004 he clearly rejected the doctrine, but refused to discuss these moments from his past.
While in Qom, he also befriended Hassan Nasrallah and for some time was a member of Hezbollah. Husseini says he and Nasrallah are still close friends. He even said his name was once floated as a possible successor to Nasrallah as Hezbollah’s secretary general, a claim analysts find difficult to swallow.
“This I know for a fact, he was never high- or mid-ranking even,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, the author of 2001’s Hezbollah: Politics and Religion.
Husseini described the only difference between his party and Hezbollah as Iran.
“Hezbollah has an organization, we have an organization,” he said. “Hezbollah has a resistance, we have a resistance. Hezbollah has a political platform; we have a political platform… Hezbollah is in Dahiyeh and the South; we are in Dahiyeh and the South.”
Iran, he said, was the only wedge between them. He even wrote off secular Shia parties, saying only a cleric has real authority to lead a political party from the Shia community.
“Hezbollah and me,” he said.