Iranian politician, founding father of Hezbollah, died of COVID-19
(RNS) – Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, an influential Iranian politician and Shiite cleric who survived an assassination attempt in 1984, died of COVID-19.
Until his death, Mohtashampour, 74, was considered one of the last living members of a generation of Iranians who played a vital role in establishing the largely theocratic state of Iran after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah.
In the 1980s, Mohtashampour was a confidante and former student of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the future head of Iran. Mohtashampour, then a young clergyman, accompanied Khomeini into exile, first to Najaf in Iraq and later to Paris, France. After his exile, Mohtashampour played an important role in the establishment of Hezbollah as Iranian ambassador to Damascus from 1982 to 1986 and was Iranian interior minister under Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi from 1985 to 1989.
After spending time in the Arab world prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he was one of the new regime’s experts on Palestinian affairs and helped found the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – a paramilitary organization defending the regime.
“He was the Iranian ambassador to Syria and a diplomatic mediator who, among other things, oversaw the transfer of Iranian military officials to Lebanon to train Hezbollah,” said Mohammad Kalantari, an academic at the University of London, Royal Holloway. “At the time, Iran did not have an ambassador in Beirut, so the Damascus embassy was crucial in coordinating Iranian support for groups fighting the Israeli occupation.”
During this time, Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic flourished. During the Iran-Iraq war, Syrian leader Hafez Assad supported Iran in its conflict with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in part because of ideological disputes between two Ba’ath regimes, said Kalantari, co-director of the Center for Islamic and Westerners Asian studies.
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Hezbollah, viewed as a terrorist group by the United States and numerous governments around the world, has played a key role in numerous deadly attacks on Americans over the years. The group gained in 1983 with the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, a subsequent bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks, killing 241 American soldiers, and a subsequent bombing killing 58 French , international importance paratroopers. Both Hezbollah and Iran denied a role in these attacks.
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In 1984 Mohtashampour lost his hand in an assassination attempt when a bomb hidden in a book exploded. The Israeli espionage service Mossad is said to be behind this attack on his life.
In later years he remained active in left-wing and reformist movements within Iranian politics. From 1997 to 1999 he was an advisor to President Sayyid Mohammad Khatami. In 2006 he took part in an international conference organized by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deny the historical nature of the Holocaust.
In 2009 he decided to support his former boss Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in the elections. Although both lost, the 2009 “Green Movement” saw massive street demonstrations across Iran to protest against the re-election of President Ahmadinejad.
In the aftermath, Mousavi was placed under house arrest, where he has remained to this day. For his part, Mohtashampour largely withdrew from public life and spent much of his time in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where he embarked on a path of political quietism and spiritual reflection.
Mohtashampour returned to Iran shortly before his death, where he reportedly died in hospital in northern Tehran. With the Iranian elections scheduled for next week, representatives from across Iran’s political spectrum have sought to usurp Mohtashampour’s legacy. His path from regime loyalist to soft opposition figure has progressed increasingly, with former Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently embarking on a similar political path.
“Mohtashampour was certainly a key figure in the regime for the first two decades, but he has declined in importance over the past few decades,” said Kamran Bokhari, director of analytical development at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington. “His death symbolizes that the generation of clerics, ideologues and leaders who founded the clerical regime have all but disappeared. (Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani are among the last of the top personalities of the founding generation who still exist. “
(This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Ali Khamenei. We regret the error.)
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