“By the same means that we got weapons and other stuff, money came as well,” the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, exclaimed to roars of approval from the crowd. “All of this has been achieved through Iranian money!”
Iran’s eagerness to shower money on Lebanon when its own finances are being squeezed by sanctions is the latest indication of just how worried Tehran is at the prospect that Syria’s leader, Bashar Assad, could fall. Iran relies on Syria as its bridge to the Arab world and as a crucial strategic partner in confronting Israel. But the Arab revolts have shaken Tehran’s calculations, with Assad unable to vanquish an uprising that is in its 15th month.
Iran’s ardent courtship of the Lebanese government indicates that Tehran is scrambling to find a replacement for its closest Arab ally, politicians, diplomats and analysts say. It is not just financing public projects, but it is also seeking to forge closer ties through cultural, military and economic agreements.
The challenge for Iran’s leaders is that many Lebanese — including the residents of Tannourine, the site of the proposed hydroelectric dam — squirm in that embrace. They see Iran’s gestures not as a show of good will but as a stealth cultural and military colonization.