Iranwire – Like others around the world, Lebanese people and political figures took to Twitter prior to the match between Lebanon and Iran on Thursday 10, 2021, at Rafic Hariri Stadium in the Lebanese city of Sidon, to speculate after suspicious pictures of Iranian football players’ luggage had surfaced online. The pictures showed each Iranian football star pushing three to four large bags through Beirut Airport, all bearing the logo of the Iranian Football Association. IranWire sources later confirmed the bags had not followed them to the hotel.
Bassam Mawlawi, the Lebanese Minister of Interior, sent a letter to airport security asking them to open an investigation into the baggage the Iranian team had brought with them to Beirut. Mawlawi confirmed in a tweet that the bags had not gone through a security check.
Some Lebanese citizens objected to the Minister of Interior’s decision, with one Twitter user calling it “naive, given that players usually carry their luggage, medicines, food, and exercise equipment when they travel”. Others suggested the minister was trying to placate Saudi Arabia after Lebanon’s recent diplomatic crisis with the Gulf states, or mocked the decision, with one user proclaiming: “This missile was found in the bag of one of the players.”
Lebanese TV station Al-Jadeed visited the stadium where the Iranian players were training for the match. The channel reported that the large bags the team members carried from the hotel to the stadium included sports and training equipment. The report concluded that what had been said about the luggage being suspicious was “false”.
Lebanese fans also circulated an audio recording of a Lebanese citizen named Abu Ali Qubeisi, who runs a WhatsApp news service. In the recording, Qubeisi called on Lebanese fans of the Iranian team to register their names in order to secure transportation to the after-party in case their favorite team won.
He declared: “This is our Iranian team, the team of Ali Khamenei, may his honorable presence last, and the team of the martyr Ghasem Soleimani. Our honorable audience, you know the Lebanese Football Federation is preventing the public from attending the match, and for those who are interested, we invite you to register your names for the celebration of our team’s victory over Lebanon. We will share with you the location of the celebration later.”
Lebanese writer and political analyst Chadi Saraya commented on the audio clip: “The betrayal we are witnessing from this party [Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic’s political proxy in Lebanon] and its audience has never been witnessed in contemporary history. It is a very serious issue that must be addressed.”
Fadi Nazzal, editor-in-chief of Al-Mulhaq news website, said: “Those who cheer the Iranian national team against their own team are stupider than those who believe the Iranian players smuggled items in their bags. In any case, we wish our Lebanese national team the best of luck in the match.”
“Dollar suitcases” is the term that Iranian observers have used to describe the possible content of the suspicious luggage. It hints at the possibility that the bags contained funds for Hezbollah. This is not a conspiracy theory, but perfectly plausible; the IRGC has given suitcases full of cash to groups it supports in the past.