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Nasrallah’s Coughing Speech and the Question of His Successor

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s coughing speech on May 25, 2021, and especially the long absence that preceded it, raised quite a few question marks as to his health condition. Hezbollah claims that this is an insignificant allergy or medical defect and there is no basis for rumors of a deterioration in his health.

There have been rumors for a long time that he is ill and that he has undergone treatments in Iran. The very special and even strange event that he coughs and continues to read stubbornly the speech proves that he has some health problem. For instance, it could be coronavirus or post-corona symptoms.

The Lebanese daily newspaper Al Joumhouria reported that Nasrallah is recovering from pneumonia and seasonal allergies. Nasrallah’s health is “improving” and “is now better than it was during his latest TV appearance,” sources close to him have said to journalist Imad Marmal, who is close to Hezbollah and works for its Al-Manar TV. Naim Qassem, his deputy, said Nasrallah just needed 2-3 days to recover and that not going forward with cough-filled public address would have raised even more questions

It is possible that Nasrallah decided to give a long speech of more than an hour and a half, despite his dire health condition, because he wanted to boast about the Hamas “victory” against the Israeli operation in Gaza, and even take some credit for what he presented as a victory of the Resistance.

Though Hezbollah did not play an active part in the fighting, three barrages of rockets were fired from Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon toward Israel during the Gaza battle, probably by some Palestinian group which received the green light from the organization for the symbolic operation.

Daily protests by members of Hezbollah and Palestinians in Lebanon, took place along the frontier with Israel in solidarity with Gaza, one of which was killed when Israel opened fire to push back against protesters who tried to break through the border fence.



The wave of rumors has spread further and during the night of May 31 information in social media have been circulating that Nasrallah is dead.

On this backdrop, the question of his successor, in case of Nasrallah’s death, becomes a serious issue.

The guess is quite difficult because the secrecy surrounding the organization’s top leadership and the internal election process.

Nasrallah has the same deputy secretary-general since 1992, Sheikh Naim Qassem, one of the founding members of Hezbollah. When Abbas al-Musawi became secretary-general, Qassem was chosen as his number two. Six months later, however, al-Musawi was assassinated in 1992 by Israel and Hassan Nasrallah (only 32 years old at the time) replaced him as secretary-general. The decision to bypass Qassem and choose Nasrallah, who was seven-years his junior and less experienced in political affairs, remains a topic of controversy until the present. It is believed that this was the doing of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei due to Nasrallah’s connections to Tehran.

Qassem is more of an ideologue; in addition to his political office, he is the media man for the organization, dubbed the “Hezbollah intellectual” for the numerous books and articles that he has authored, in addition to the interviews and seminars that he gives speaking often in place of Nasrallah. In 2006 he published the book Hezbollah: The Story from Within, a history of Hezbollah that included an autobiographical account of his role in the organization.

Naim Qassem doesn’t seem to be the strong leader who can manage the complex Hezbollah social, economic and especially military empire.

It was more natural for the successor to be Imad Mourniyeh, also a founding member and number two in Hezbollah’s leadership. Nasrallah stated that, “Hajj Imad is among the best leaders and commanders in the Lebanese arena. He had an important role during the occupation [of southern Lebanon by Israel] by 2000. But as for his relationship with Hezbollah, we maintain the tradition of not discussing names.” General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has described Moughniyeh as “the legend of our time,” grief caused by whose loss was only second to that of Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Soleimani stated that what made Moughniyeh unique was not his expertise in guerrilla warfare but “his attachment to something superterrestrial.” Moughniyeh was the arch-terrorist responsible for the deadliest attacks the organization and Iran staged worldwide against the United States, Israel, the West, and some Arab regimes. But he was killed in 2008 in Damascus by what was described as an Israeli American operation.

Nasrallah’s first title, before that of Secretary-General of Hezbollah, is “personal representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in Lebanon.” The Hezbollah Program, published in 1985, stated that The Party of God‘s supreme authority is Ayatollah Khamenei, according to the Vilayat-e Faqih (the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) concept, not the President or the Parliament of Lebanon.

There is no doubt that the Iranians, Ayatollah Khamenei and the Gen. Esmail Qaani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), will play a decisive role in appointing Nasrallah’s successor.

Possibly Nasrallah will not speak publicly in the coming weeks. But once he recovers (if he recovers), he will want to show that the coughing speech was a passing event.

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