Friday, July 07, 2006

In Last Six Months 60,888 Iranian Visited Lebanon

Mehran Riazaty: Iran Analyst
On July 6, 2006, Iran Mania reported that the Lebanese Tourism Ministry's Research Center said that some 60,888 Iranian tourists visited Lebanon in the first half of 2006. A press release, a copy of which was made available to IRNA, said that Iranian tourists topped the list of Asian nationals visiting Lebanon in the period. It said Philippine, with 12,391 tourists, followed Iran in the list. In April alone, 20,986 Iranians visited Lebanon.

Analyst Comment: In last six months somewhere around 330 to 340 Iranian visited Lebanon daily. There are no Shiite Muslim popular Shrines in Lebanon. Why Iranian are visiting Lebanon? READ MORE

The Shiite clerics in Iran have had a longstanding interest in the Shiite population of Lebanon. The communities of Shiite clergies in Lebanon were trained in Iran before Iran’s Revolution and intermarriage between clerical families in both countries had been occurring for several generations. Lebanon’s most prominent Shiite cleric, Imam Musa Sadr, who mysteriously disappeared in 1978 while on trip to Libya, was born in Iran into a clerical family with relatives in Lebanon. Musa Sadr was a political activist, like so many clerics of his generation trained in Qon and Najaf, and he succeeded in politicizing the Lebanon Shiite. The main constraint on Iran’s political involvement in Lebanon was Amal, the political organization established by Musa Sadr, and Dr. Mostafa Chamran who was born in Iran and devoted his life to Iran’s Revolution. After Sadr’s disappearance and the death of Dr. Chamran in 1981 in the Iran/Iraq war, Amal had fallen under the influence of secularized Shiites who preferred the political integration of the Shiite community within a pluralistic state and regarded the Iranian vision of Islamic revolution as inappropriate for Lebanon. After the invasion of southern Lebanon by Israel in 1982, the Iranian government got an opportunity to circumvent Amal’s domination of the Shiite in Lebanon. Syria permitted a contingent to several hundred Pasdaran members (Member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard) to enter Lebanon ostensibly to help fight against Israel. The Pasdaran established posts in the eastern Bekaa Valley and from there proselytized on behalf of the Islamic revolution among poor and uprooted Shiite young people. Just like what Iranian agents are doing today in a Sadr city and rest of Iraq. The support of Pasdaran provided these groups with direct link to Tehran and this permitted Iran to become one of the foreign powers exerting influence in Lebanon.

On July 2, 06, Christopher Albritton from Beirut reported that on the streets of Harat Hreik, a mainly Shiite suburb of Beirut, the signs of Iranian influence are everywhere. Posters of the late Ayatollah Khomeini adorn storefronts and lampposts. A huge Iranian flag with the names of Iranian soccer players stretches across a major intersection. Hezbollah run -- and Iran funded -- charities, hospitals, construction companies and schools provide services that the rural poor of the south and the Bekaa Valley depend on. Iran's activities in Lebanon are part of its larger plans for the region. By working through and with local Shiite communities, which are found in Bahrain, Iraq, eastern Saudi Arabia and stretching through Syria to Lebanon and Israel's northern frontier, Tehran is well on its way to creating a "Shiite Crescent" -- a regional axis that allows it to hold most of the cards in any confrontation with the United States or Israel.

Mehran Riazaty: a former Iran analyst for the Central Command of the Coalition Forces in Baghdad.