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, Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi came for a visit to Syria and Lebanon. 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.
The Message in the Visit
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.
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