Iran General NewsIran rebuilds Lebanon to boost Hizbollah

Iran rebuilds Lebanon to boost Hizbollah


Daily Telegraph: In the blazing heat of south Lebanon, men drenched in sweat labour over a cratered road. The sun is relentless and so is the pace of work in the village of Ghandouriyeh. The Daily Telegraph

By Kitty Logan in Ghandouriyeh

In the blazing heat of south Lebanon, men drenched in sweat labour over a cratered road. The sun is relentless and so is the pace of work in the village of Ghandouriyeh.

One year after the war with Israel, triggered by Hizbollah’s cross-border rocket attacks, Lebanon’s roads are still in desperate need of repair.

But the task of reconstruction has become doubly important. The rebuilding now taking place across the country is an intensely political race for the support of Lebanon’s people.

Almost unnoticed by the outside world, Iran has seized the chance to win popular approval.

“From the people of Iran to the people of Lebanon”, reads the slogan carried on countless hoarding, all trumpeting achievements like “200 projects” and “510 km of roads”.

Iran’s old ally, Hizbollah, was also an early entrant into the race, handing out cash to people with war-damaged homes within days of the ceasefire in August last year.

“Iran can’t live in stability and peace when others are being targeted by aggressors,” said Hussam Khoshnevis, the local Iranian official representing the reconstruction drive. “We can’t stand back and watch. There was an urgent need for us to be present here and act quickly to help the Lebanese people get back to normality.”

So far, Iran has rebuilt 200 schools, 150 places of worship, 30 clinics and 25 bridges. The official budget for this year is about £60 million and the key priority is repairing the national road network.

Israel’s air strikes last summer left large craters in southern Lebanon’s roads, already pot-holed by years of neglect. In many places, they became almost impassable.

But Iran’s motive is not solely humanitarian. With Lebanon’s presidential elections due in September, the key aim is to bolster Hizbollah and increase Teheran’s direct influence.

“Iran ultimately would like to see Hizbollah play a major role in Lebanese politics,” said Prof Hilal Khashan, a political scientist from the American University of Beirut.

“Hizbollah is a strategic ally and in order for it to emerge as a political player, it needs support.”

Many ordinary Lebanese have already been won over.

Hussein Subeiti, who lives in Ghandouriyeh, said: “We’re expecting the Iranians to do a good job.

“I think now the road will be much better than before. We are very grateful to the Iranian government for their contribution.”

The failures of Lebanon’s own government under Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, have also helped Teheran’s ambitions.

“Had the government been able to drive reconstruction, Iran couldn’t have penetrated the political system,” said Prof Khashan. “But the government has neglected the south for years and Iran did not miss an opportunity.”

Hizbollah runs most of the local councils in the areas where the projects operate. Here, construction work is given to local companies – but only those managed by Hizbollah supporters.

One contractor said there was no contest for a lucrative Iranian deal – he was simply called and offered the job.

“I’m very frightened by this meddling,” said Misbah Ahdab, a pro-government MP. “The money channelled through Hizbollah and backed by Iran is ensuring that everything is being done to undermine the Lebanese state.”

Mr Ahdab added that the government was powerless to prevent Iran from funding independent projects.

“The money is going directly to Hizbollah, so we can’t stop it. What they are doing is working on their own state, which is not part of Lebanon.”

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