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From Hezbollah, Iran president gets hero's welcome

Growing support for Hezbollah in Lebanon is partly due to the funding it receives from Iran.

On a warm night earlier this week, a 70-year-old former Lebanese Army man said he is not a Muslim and doesn’t care for Hezbollah ideology. But, he said, he is worried for the security of the state. Hezbollah is well armed, well trained and operates a formidable intelligence machine.

“Just because I want to be against Israel, I support Hezbollah,” he said.

Hezbollah’s surge in popularity began two years ago, after a cease-fire ended a month-long war with Israel. The group suffered crushing losses, but was largely viewed as victorious in Lebanon. After the war, funds from Shiite ex-pats and supporters at home flowed into the Hezbollah coffers. The group now has a micro-credit company and a banking system.

“People saw them as heroes,” Harik said. “And worthy of funding.”

The Iranian president’s visit to Lebanon this week is also billed as an official state visit, boosting the organization’s credibility. Iran is a major donor to Lebanon and last week pledged to invest $450 million in Lebanon’s flailing water and energy sectors.

Many are skeptical about Iran’s motives in Lebanon. Early this month, Fares Soueid, the coordinator of the Western-backed March 14 movement, Lebanon’s ruling parliamentary coalition, accused Iran of attempting to establish a base in the Mediterranean. “The message is that Iran is at the border with Israel," he told AFP.

But at a quiet bus station in East Beirut, one 17-year-old high school student said that perhaps the rumors of eminent war are overblown, and that Iran might help his family have running water for more than six hours a day.

“I have been hearing rumors all summer,” said Elio, grinning. “Maybe there will be war tomorrow. But I don’t see any signs of war.”