Hizbollah has trumped both the UN army and the Lebanese government by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars – most of it almost certainly from Iran – into the wreckage of southern Lebanon and Beirut’s destroyed southern suburbs. Its massive new reconstruction effort – free of charge to all those Lebanese whose homes were destroyed or damaged in Israel’s ferocious five-week assault on the country – has won the loyalty of even the most disaffected members of the Shia community in Lebanon.
Hizbollah has made it clear that it has no intention of disarming under the UN Security Council’s 1701 ceasefire resolution and yesterday afternoon, Major-General Alain Pellegrini, the commander of the UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon – which the Americans and British are relying upon to seize the guerrilla army’s weapons – personally confirmed to me at his headquarters in Naqoura that “the Israelis can’t ask us to disarm Hizbollah”. Describing the ceasefire as “very fragile” and “very dangerous”, he stated that disarming Hizbollah “is not written in the mandate”.
But for now – and in the total absence of the 8,000-strong foreign military force that is intended to join Unifil with a supposedly “robust” mandate – Hizbollah has already won the war for “hearts and minds”. Most householders in the south have received – or are receiving – a minimum initial compensation payment of $12,000 (£6,300), either for new furniture or to cover their family’s rent while Hizbollah construction gangs rebuild their homes. The money is being paid in cash – almost all in crisp new $100 bills – to up to 15,000 families across Lebanon whose property was blitzed by the Israelis, a bill of $180m which is going to rise far higher when reconstruction and other compensation is paid.