Overview -At the beginning of January 2021 Hezbollah held a series of events and ceremonies within the Shi’ite community in Lebanon to mark the anniversary of the killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization in Iraq (January 2, 2020). Most of the ceremonies were held in south Lebanon (in the Shi’ite villages near the Israeli border). Some of them were held in the Dahiyeh, Beirut’s Shi’ite southern suburb, and in the Beqa’a Valley. The events were attended by Hezbollah parliament, military operatives and civilian functionaries, clerics and representatives of various Shi’ite organizations and institutions. Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon gave a speech at the ceremony in the southern Beirut neighborhood of Ghobeiry where he said that America’s withdrawal from the Middle East was a clear goal for Iran.
- The events were not massively attended because of the sharp rise in the spread of Covid-19, but they were widely covered by the media and exploited by Hezbollah for spreading propaganda, both its own and that of the Iranian-led “resistance axis.” The main themes included:
- Fostering Hassan Nasrallah’s personality cult (several ceremonies were exploited for Hezbollah operatives to swear loyalty to him).
- Glorification of Qassem Soleimani, nicknamed the “master of the resistance axis shaheeds.” Hezbollah thereby added Soleimani to its pantheon of shaheeds alongside its most important one, Imad Mughnieh.
- Stressing loyalty to Iran and its leaders, regarded by Hezbollah as its source of authority (Hezbollah operatives swore loyalty to Khomeini and Khamenei at a ceremony held in the town of Maroun al-Ras).
- Stressing the importance of cooperation between the “resistance axis” countries in the Middle East (Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen).
- Opposing normalization with Israel and calling for adherence to armed “resistance” against it, since that is the only path to victory.
- Threatening revenge against the United States for having killed Soleimani (claiming Khamenei determined who had killed him and said their fate would be “justified blood vengeance”).
- Calling for the removal of American forces from Iraq and the Middle East in general (a theme noted in the speeches of both Hassan Nasrallah and the Iranian ambassador).
- For a summary of the events and themes, see Appendix A. For a short summary of the criticism from opponents of Hezbollah in Lebanon see Appendix B. They said the ceremonies were Iranian in character, turning Lebanon into an Iranian hostage.
Events and ceremonies in the Shi’ite governorates
Positioning a large poster of Soleimani and al-Muhandas towards Metulla
- On January 3, 2021, the Lebanese Companies of Resistance to the Israeli Occupation held a flag-planting ceremony and erected an enormous sign with pictures of Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas and Imad Mughnieh on a hill opposite the northern Israeli village of Metulla (Twitter account of Ali Shoeib, January 3, 2021; Al-Ahad, January 3, 2021). They swore an oath of loyalty to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (YouTube channel of the RT news agency in Arabic, January 3, 2021).
Opening a nature reserve near the village of al-Taybeh
- On January 1, 2021, Hezbollah opened the Shaheed Qassem Soleimani Nature Reserve with 100,000 trees on a hill near the village of al-Taybeh (near the Israeli border). The opening ceremony was held with the sponsorship of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He was represented by Ali Fayyad, a Hezbollah member of the Lebanese parliament, who gave a speech in memory of Qassem Soleimani.
- In his speech Fayyad called Soleimani “master of the resistance axis shaheeds,” saying that the nature reserve looked out over the areas Israel had occupied: Palestine, the Shaba Farms and the hills of the village of Shuba in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and the Syrian part of Mt. Hermon. He praised Soleimani for his struggle against Israel, the United States and ISIS, and called for cooperation and mutual support of all the “resistance axis” in the region.
Opening the Qassem Soleimani nature reserve on a hill near the village of al-Taybeh (Alahad, January 1, 2021; Twitter account of Sajad Aboud, January 1, 2021).
Naming a road leading to the village of al-Taybeh for Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas
- On January 1, 2021, Hezbollah held a ceremony to name the al-Man road for Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, who was killed with Qassem Soleimani (the road connects the al-Nabatiye-Tebnine road to the village of al-Taybeh, near the Israeli border). The ceremony was held with the sponsorship of Hassan Nasrallah, who was represented by Hezbollah parliament member Ali Fayyad. Fayyad praised Hezbollah operatives’ fighting in the region [during the time Israel held the “security zone” and during the Second Lebanon War]. He also praised Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas and his role in the struggle against the United States (“the American takeover project”).
Opening a tourist site named for Qassem Soleimani near the village of Houle
- Sheikh Hassan Izz al-Din, Hezbollah parliament member, attended the ceremony opening the “jihadi tourist site” named for “the shaheed, the commander Qassem Soleimani.”
- After short speeches there was a tour of the site, which recounted the history of Hezbollah’s combat against Israel, and marked locations where Hezbollah operatives were hit. In addition, some of the weapons Hezbollah used to fight Israel were displayed. The opening ceremony included a drawing competition with the theme “the jihadi history of shaheeds Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas” (Ya Tyre website, January 5, 2021).
Right: Sheikh Ali Yassin, chairman of the union of Islamic sages in Tyre cuts the ribbon opening the site. Left: Participants tour the site (Ya Tyre website, January 5, 2021).
Display in the village of Arab Salim
- On January 1, 2021, a display was exhibited in the village of Arab Salim, north of Nabatiyeh, simulating the death of Qassem Soleimani. The subject may have been chosen because of the special significance in Khomeini’s Shi’a Islam for the moment of a shaheed’s death (the moment of shahada) (Twitter account of the Hezbollah Youth, January 1, 2021).
Display in the village of Arab Salim simulating Qassem Soleimani’s death as a shaheed (Twitter account of the Hezbollah Youth, January 1, 2021).
Holding a loyalty oath-taking ceremony to Hezbollah and Iran leaders in the village of Maroun al-Ras near the Israeli border
- On January 2, 2021, Hezbollah held a loyalty oath-taking ceremony in the village of Maroun al-Ras. Participants swore to continue along the path of the shaheeds Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas (al-Nur Radio, January 2, 2021). Fatah representatives from the Tyre region also participated (Wadi Press website, January 2, 2021).
- Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, a member of Hezbollah’s Central Council, gave a speech in which he called Qassem Soleimani “a source of pride for the Iranian Islamic Revolution and the entire [Muslim] nation.” He said that “the fingerprints of the shaheed Soleimani [still] shine on all the victories throughout our region.” He added that “[the shaheed Soleimani] left after him an army of a million men of the resistance [who are] trained, armed and eager for shahada [death as a shaheed].” He stressed that “the blood of Haj Qassem [Soleimani] will never dry or turn cold.”
- The ceremony was attended by graduates of the Shaheed Qassem Soleimani course of the fighters of Hezbollah’s General Popular Mobilization. They swore loyalty to the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah (Alahad News website, January 2, 2021).
- Commander: We answer the call! We promise you –
- Soldiers: [Wave Hezbollah flags and shout] Khomeini!
- Commander: We swear out loyalty to you –
- Soldiers: Khamenei!
- Commander: We swear by Allah –
- Soldiers: and by the Qur’an!
- Commander: We keep out promise –
- Soldiers: Nasrallah!
Hezbollah operatives who participated in the ceremony
(al-Nur Radio, January 2, 2021; Ya Tyre website, January 2, 2021).
Political-ideological seminar in Tyre
- On December 30, 2020, the so-called Palestinian Islamic Organization held a political-ideological seminar in Tyre to mark the 56th anniversary of the founding of the “Palestinian resistance” (i.e., Fatah) and the first anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas. The seminar was attended by Sheikh Hasan Izz al-Din, Hezbollah parliament member; Khalil Hussein, who holds the Palestinian portfolio for the region south of the Litani River in Hezbollah; Sheikh Sayid Qassem, chairman of the Palestinian Islamic Organization; and representatives of Lebanese political parties and Palestinian factions (Ya Tyre website, December 30, 2020). In addition, pictures of Soleimani and al-Muhandas were spread around Tyre (Alahad, the Lebanese News Agency, January 2, 2021).
Seminar held in Tyre to mark the first anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, and the 56th anniversary of the founding of Fatah (Ya Tyre website, December 30, 2020).
Picture of Soleimani and al-Muhandas positioned at the southern entrance of Sidon
- On January 3, 2021, a picture of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas was placed in Sidon [a Sunni city] for the first time. The picture was placed at the southern entrance to the city. A ceremony was held under the aegis of Sheikh Maher Hammoud and Sheikh Ziyad Dhaher, responsible for Hezbollah in Sidon, and attended by senior Hezbollah figures. Sheikh Maher Hammoud spoke about Soleimani’s role in the “resistance” to Israel and his support for the “resistance axis,” and stressed that the deaths of shaheeds reinforce the “resistance campaign” and broaden Soleimani’s vision (saida.net website, January 3, 2021).
Ceremony placing the pictures of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas at the southern entrance to Sidon (saida.net website, January 3. 2021).
Events in the Beqa’a Valley
Qur’an-reading evening and military display in Baalbek
- On December 28, 2020, the Lebanese Companies of the Resistance to the Israeli Occupation held a Qur’an-reading evening to mark the anniversary of the death of Qassem Soleimani at the Sayyida Khawla Shrine in Baalbek (Twitter account of Muhammad al-Ghad, December 28, 2020). Hezbollah also held a ceremony in Baalbek that included a military display (Alahad, the Lebanese News Agency, January 2, 2021).
Ceremonies in Baalbek and other villages in the Beqa’a Valley
- On January 3, 2021, Hezbollah held ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas in Baalbek and several villages in the Beqa’a Valley. Signs bearing their pictures were hung in public places and monuments to them were erected (al-Nur Radio, January 3, 2021)
- Hezbollah representatives in the Lebanese parliament gave speeches at the ceremonies. Hussein al-Haj Hassan praised the important role played by Soleimani and al-Muhandas in strengthening the “resistance axis” “from Palestine to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and everywhere the resistance exists…” He attacked the [Israeli] normalization agreements, calling them “choosing humiliation and disgrace,” saying “resistance is the correct choice and will lead the nation to victory.”
Ceremony in the city of Hermel in the northern Beqa’a Valley
- On January 2, 2021 Hezbollah held a ceremony in Hermel in the northern Beqa’a Valley to mark the anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas. It was attended by Hezbollah parliament member Ihab Hamadeh as well as Hezbollah operatives, civil defense operatives of Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Organization and leaders of Hezbollah’s al-Imam al-Mahdi scouting movement.
- Ihab Hamadeh said that compensation for the blood that had been shed would be “rooting out the Americans from the Middle East. Revenge for the blood of Soleimani and al-Muhandas will come and will be as great at this [Muslim] nation, from which the two great commanders [Soleimani and al-Muhandas] came” (al-Nur Radio, January 2, 2021).
- For the anniversary the al-Batoul Hospital in Hermel, run by Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Organization, held two “health days.” During the health days all those insured by the organization were examined for free and discounts of between 30% and 50% were given for laboratory tests, medical imagining and emergency medical treatment (al-Nur Radio, January 2, 2021).
The ceremony in Hermel
Ceremonies in the Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern Shi’ite suburb
Qur’an-reading evening at the grave of Imad Mughnieh
- On January 2, 2021, a Qur’an-reading evening has held a the grave of Imad Mughnieh in Beirut’s Shaheed Garden, Hezbollah’s central cemetery (Alahad News website, January 2, 2021).
Qur’an-reading evening to mark the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas held at the grave of Imad Mughnieh in the Shaheed Garden cemetery (Alahad News website, January 2, 2021).
Display in the cultural center in the al-Ghobeiry neighborhood in south Beirut
- On January 3, 2021, Hezbollah’s Media Unit launched the Qassem [Soleimani] Display in the Risalat Theater, the cultural center of the al-Ghobeiry municipality. Present at the opening were Haj Muhammad Ra’ed, chairman of the Hezbollah faction in the parliament; Mohammad Jalal Firouznia, Iranian ambassador to Lebanon; Abbas Khame, cultural advisor to the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon; Muhammad Dhargham, chairman of the association of municipalities in the Dahiyeh; and Haj Ma’an al-Khalil, mayor of the al-Ghobeiry municipality. Also present were diplomatic representatives from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, Algeria, Syria and Palestine (Lebanese News Agency, January 4, 2021). There were scenes related to Soleimani’s life (Twitter account of Gemayel Shoeib, December 29, 2020; Alahad, January 3, 2021).
Pictures from the Qassem display of the public activity unit in the Risalat Theater (Twitter account of Jamal Shoieb, December 29, 2020; Alahad, January 3, 2021).
- The Iranian ambassador to Lebanon gave a speech in which he called Soleimani’s assassination “the height of crime” of the American administration, carried out to protect the “Zionist entity.” He called an American retreat from the Middle East a clear and absolute Iranian goal, adding that from the beginning Iran had stressed it would avenge the American “crime” (al-Manar TV, January 4, 2021).
Statue of Soleimani unveiled in the al-Ghobeiry neighborhood in southern Beirut
- On January 5, 2021, a statue of Soleimani was unveiled in the al-Ghobeiry neighborhood. It was erected by the municipality on a street which was named for Soleimani in September 2020 and leads to the Beirut airport.
Right: The unveiling of a statue of Qassem Soleimani on the street named for him by the municipality of al-Ghobeiry (IMLebanon, January 5, 2021, from an MTV video). Left: A sign reading “Shaheed Haj Qassem Soleimani” in al-Ghobeiry (Alahad News website, September 6, 2020).
Statements from Senior Hezbollah Figures
Speech by Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah
- To sum up the events held for the anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech with three central themes (al-Akhbar, Lebanon, January 4, 2021):
- Qassem Soleimani’s killing put the American forces on a course of pulling out of Iraq and the Middle East in general.
- The revenge for those who carried out the killing will be just, since the Imam Khamenei determined exactly who they were. Iran will be responsible for avenging Soleimani’s killing and Iraq for avenging al-Muhandas’ death. In addition, vengeance is the “responsibility of every noble free person.”
- Qassem Soleimani’s killing increased the determination of the “resistance axis” to support Palestine and the Palestinian people, and to help them as far as possible.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaking on the first anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas (al-Mayadeen TV, January 3, 2021).
Speech by Hashem Safi al-Din, chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council
- Hashem Safi al-Din, chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, participated in the ceremony held at Tehran University to mark the anniversary of the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas. The main themes of his speech were the following (al-Mayadeen, January 1, 2021):
- The American president assumed that the killing of Soleimani would lead to the dismantling of the “resistance axis” and enforcing the “deal of the century” on the Palestinian people. Hezbollah members who arrived in Tehran assure Soleimani and Iran leader Ali Khamenei that the “resistance” will not surrender.
- Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas rescued the Middle East and the entire world from ISIS, and therefore they should be thanked. The “resistance” in the Middle East is strong and victorious in “Palestine,” Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
- Ali Khamenei is a strong leader who stands up against American cruelty. The deaths of Soleimani and al-Muhandas will be avenged. The end [of the revenge] will be “eradicating of the enemy” and his expulsion from the region.
Internal Lebanese criticism
- Internal Lebanese criticism was heard in response to Hezbollah’s campaign marking the anniversary of the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandas, especially because of the “Iranian” nature of the events, which were represented as contrary to Lebanese interests. For example:
- Samy Gemayel, chairman of the Phalange Party, called Lebanon an Iranian hostage through Hezbollah (al-Quds al-Arabi, January 2, 2021).
- According to the social media, people objected to the display in Arab Salim because “we are not an Iranian village” (Twitter account of Muhammad Samaha, an employee of the al-Amana gas station company, which belongs to Hezbollah’s Shaheed Institution, January 2, 2021). Criticism was also posted to the social media because the ceremonies were not in Lebanese interest and contradicted Lebanon’s internal identity. It was fitting, according to the social networks, that Iran and not Lebanon should mark the anniversary of the death of Soleimani and hang his pictures (Kuwait Live Hub website, January 3, 2021).
- According to a report, on January 3, 2021, the pictures of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas were set on fire in the village of Brital in the Beqa’a Valley (al-Nashra, January 3, 2021).
- Luqman Salim, director of the Assembly Documenting Center, criticized the ceremonies in Lebanon and was concerned the country would become identified with the Iranian axis. He said, “Lebanon is a particularly successful experimental field for the axis. In Syria no ceremonies were held for Qassem Soleimani, while in Lebanon it’s possible. Hezbollah makes Lebanon bear the burden of Qassem Soleimani and his wars” (al-Markazia, January 3, 2021).
- After pictures and statues of Qassem Soleimani were placed in the Shi’ite regions, @AlBayda19 tweeted an attack on Hezbollah and its double standard. He wrote, “When Hezbollah first appeared it blew up statues of poet Khalil Mutran and Gamal Abdel Nasser on the excuse that Islamic law forbids them! And today, Hezbollah puts up statues of Soleimani and al-Muhandas! Statues of al-Muhandas and Soleimani are permitted but Khalil Mutran is forbidden? What does that riffraff think?!” (Twitter account of AlBayda19, January 4, 2021).
- The Lebanese news website Asas posted articles strongly critical of the erection of statues of Soleimani:
- “…At the same time as the mayor of al-Ghobeiry permits the erection of a statue of Soleimani, at a distance of two kilometers from Beirut, whose residents consider him responsible for the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri…Lebanese angrily watch as the streets of their capital are occupied by this Iranian person who brought them nothing but war and promises of endless wars…” “At the same time, Soleimani’s heirs are trying to force all Lebanese to prostrate themselves before the statue in al-Ghobeiry and worship him with slogans glorifying him or by agreeing…” (Lebanese news website Asas, January 5, 2021).
- “…Over the past years Hezbollah has worked to promote the symbolic Iranization in Lebanon by hanging signs and pictures, and renaming town squares and streets for senior Iranian and Hezbollah figures. They have done that to the point of naming a street for Mustafa Badr al-Din [a senior Hezbollah operative with a long terrorist record, accused of planning the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri]… Hezbollah has completed the Iranization of the Lebanese community with symbols and by playing with public sentiment, scare tactics and calling anyone who opposed them a traitor…” (Asas, January 6, 2021).
 The events dealing with the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and al-Muhandas were held under the shadow of the serious health, political and economic crises facing Lebanon on the eve of a three-week general lockdown caused by the sharp rise in Covid-19 infection. As of January 5, 2021, Lebanon had 58,301 confirmed active Covid-19 cases and 1,529 coronavirus-related deaths. ↑
 For further information, see the July 28, 2019 bulletin, Hezbollah’s Iranian identity: Ceremony of Hezbollah operatives in southern Lebanon with conspicuous personality cult of Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei.” ↑
 The Lebanese Companies are a volunteer military unit established by Hezbollah at the end of the 1990s. The unit is open to all sects and not only Shi’ites. Its establishment was meant to create the image that the resistance to Israel is pan-Lebanese and not only Shi’ite. The image was intended for propaganda purposes because in reality Hezbollah is a sectarian organization based on the Shi’ite population. ↑
 Its importance comes from hadiths (the Muslim oral tradition) and popular Shi’ite customs of supporters of the Iranian axis (such as collecting the shaheed’s belonging, making a pilgrimage to the site of his death, etc.). Hezbollah fosters the shaheed cult in the areas under its control. ↑
 The forces of the Popular Mobilization are a kind of reserve Hezbollah army. According to the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen TV channel, they are volunteers who belong to the Hezbollah organization. They normally work at their given professions and join the ranks as Hezbollah fighters when Israel initiates a war on Lebanon or when the country is in danger. According to al-Mayadeen, Israeli reports state that there are between forty and sixty thousand Popular Mobilization fighters (article by Muhammad Zakariya Abbas entitled “Mobilization forces: Hezbollah’s reserve army,” al-Mayadeen TV, November 30, 2020). ↑
 Sheikh Maher Hammoud is a Sunni cleric and imam of the al-Quds Mosque in Sidon. He is also the secretary general of the Union of the Religious Sages of the Resistance, and loyal to Hezbollah and Iran. He is an opponent of the Future Trend, Sa’ad al-Hariri and Saudi Arabia (Wikipedia in Arabic). ↑
 Sayyida Khawla was the daughter of the Imam al-Hussein and the great-granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Her grave is situated at the southern entrance to Baalbek in the Beqa’a Valley and is a so-called “jihadi tourist” site. For further information, see the October 7, 2019 bulletin, “Jihadi tourism: visits to battle legacy sites and shahid tombs as an indoctrination tool for spreading Hezbollah’s ideology.” ↑
 The unit directs Hezbollah’s vast media operations. For further information, see the September 1, 2019 bulletin, “Hezbollah’s Media Empire.” ↑
 For further information about the Lebanese Arts [risalat] Association and how Hezbollah uses it for inculcating its ideology, see August 1, 2019 bulletin “Art and culture used by Hezbollah as instruments of indoctrination.” ↑