Some Iranians not happy with help for Hizbullah

"I feel sympathy for the Lebanese but at the end of the night, would I put my head on the pillow without eating?"

iranians 88 (photo credit: )
iranians 88
(photo credit: )
Political science student Mahmoud Erfani believes his government has no choice but to support Hizbullah. Otherwise, he says, "we would have to fight Israel inside Iran." But unemployed chemist Samira Izadi would rather see the money go to create jobs at home. Newspapers and TV here closely followed the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, mostly with strong support for the Lebanese Shiite movement that the government of Iran helped create in the 1980s. But among ordinary Iranians, the opinions have been more complex at a time when their country faces intense international pressure over both its links to Hizbullah and its disputed nuclear program. "If Lebanon was the first and the only case of concern, I would share my pocket money with them," said taxi driver Rasoul Hosseini, interviewed recently. "But for the last 27 years, every time the government finds an international issue, it demands people contribute. Sometimes they raise funds for Palestine, sometimes for Bosnia, sometimes for Lebanon. "I'm fed up with these endless demands," Hosseini said. Government-sanctioned rallies in support of Hezbollah were held nearly every day during the conflict in Lebanon. But most attracted only a few thousand people - except for those held after Friday prayer services, which drew more substantial crowds. For its part, Iran's cleric-led government has repeatedly denied that it still provides money, weapons and training to Hezbollah. "Hizbullah is a legitimate body in Lebanon," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said recently. "They have their own economic resources and popular support there." That position was echoed by Hizbullah's representative in Teheran, Abdullah Safieddin, who insisted his group does not need support from Iran or any other country. "We are independent and do not need anybody's weapons and military training. Our relation with Iran is just a friendly relation," said Safieddin. "Our relation with Iran is like Lebanese Christians with the Vatican. It is a spiritual relation because our religious leader is in Iran." Overall, the nature and extent of Iran's ties to the Lebanese guerrilla movement stir nearly as much debate and emotion in Teheran as in Western and Arab capitals. Many Iranians themselves don't believe their government's denial of support for Hezbollah. In addition to whatever the government gives, Iranians also are encouraged to contribute to fund-raising drives to help Lebanese who suffered through the 34-day war. Iran's Red Crescent and some non-governmental organizations have been soliciting donations, setting up bank accounts where Iranians can send contributions. Some ordinary Iranians here do clearly take pride in Iran's role backing fellow Shiite Muslims in Lebanon and elsewhere. "Our religion has told us to support oppressed people anywhere," said Hamid Dehaghi, a young Muslim cleric. "We are just doing our religious task. Our government is a religious government so it has to follow principles of the religion." Erfani, the political science student, thinks that if the government is funding Hezbollah, it's money well spent considering what he - and many other Iranians - see as a threat from Israel and America. "If we don't support them, then we would have to fight Israel inside Iran. Hezbollah was the bravest part of the Islamic world, which defused the West's plots," Erfan said. And Layla Zand, who suspects the government is bankrolling Hezbollah, believes it needs to keep issuing denials to protect the country from U.S. and Israeli pressure. "I think the government intentionally does not announce its support to Hezbollah because it could cause trouble for Iran," the 19-year-old student said. But other Iranians consider their government's support for Hizbullah - as well as for other Islamic causes - a financial burden. They wish more of the nation's treasure would stay at home. "The government should spend money to create job opportunities in Iran and not in Lebanon," said Izadi, who holds a chemistry degree but can't find work. "I feel sympathy for the Lebanese but at the end of the night, would I put my head on the pillow without eating?" he asks. Denials aside, there is little question where official sympathies lie. Nearly all Iranian newspapers have praised Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, for their "brave resistance." The Teheran city government has installed hundreds of large posters of Nasrallah along the streets of the capital as part of what it calls a beautification campaign. That prompted one Iranian blogger, Zobin Nassiri, to jokingly ask what city fathers might call a campaign to erect posters of actresses like Catherine Zeta-Jones. For school teacher Kazem Riahi, support for Hizbullah is a source of national pride. "Iran is expanding its influence in the Middle East," he said. "Iran is a regional superpower. So it supports Hezbollah and any other movement that challenges other powers like Israel."