The Lebanese Village of Maroun al-Ras Is an Attraction for Iranian leaders and Iran’s Beachhead into Israel
A large plywood cutout of Qasem Soleimani pointing toward Israel was unveiled on February 15, 2020, by Hizbullah in the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras, near the town of Bint Jbeil. The two Lebanese towns are infamous for their concentrations of Hizbullah fighters, bunkers, and even a command center. During the 2006 War in Lebanon, intense combat took place there between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hizbullah.
The latest Iranian activity in Maroun al-Ras is only the latest of many actions that are part of Iran’s colonization of Lebanon.
Iranian leaders and commanders of pro-Iran Iraqi militias are frequent visitors to the border area opposite the Israeli town of Avivim. On October 14, 2010, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited, spoke in the border town of Bint Jbeil, and was filmed by Al Jazeera. While there, Ahmadinejad also dedicated the “Iran Garden,” a park dedicated to glorifying Iran’s support for Hizbullah and the Shiites of southern Lebanon. He declared, “The world must know the Zionists are to be gone” and the “people of Bint Jbeil have made the Zionists taste the bitter taste of defeat.”
The signs above the park’s entrance say “Iran Garden” and “Happy New Year.” In the background, the golden dome is a large reproduction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. (Jerusalem is “Al Quds” in Arabic, and the name was given to Soleimani’s Iranian Special Forces – the “al Quds Brigade.”) Ironically, the Dome of the Rock plays no role in the Shiite tradition, other than to stick a finger in Israel’s eye.
Besides the location of the Soleimani statue, the Iran Garden is a center for Hizbullah and Iranian self-aggrandizement. The park contains replicas of Hizbullah bunkers, an obstacle course for tourists, and even a paintball attraction. The centerpiece is the replica of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, adorned with tiles shaped into the Iranian national symbol. The streets in Maroun al-Ras are named after Iranian cities.
The Iran Garden and the 2011 Palestinian March of Return
The Palestinians have declared May 15 as “Nakba Day” – the day of national catastrophe, commemorating Israel’s founding and their displacement. On Nakba Day 2011, protests and demonstrations were mobilized on all of Israel’s borders. In the cases of the Syria and Lebanon, Hizbullah played an essential logistical role, busing tens of thousands of Palestinians from Lebanese refugee camps in 1,000 vehicles to the Lebanon-Israel border.
Maroun al-Ras’ Iran Garden was their staging area. After gathering at the site, they marched to Israel’s border where hundreds tried to storm Israel’s defensive fences.
Road signs were erected to direct buses (and the press) to the Maroun al-Ras staging area. (Photographs of Nakba Day demonstrations were found on Arab social media and blogs.) Thousands descended on Israel’s border fence where many attempted to break through.
Few observers realize that the Nakba march on Israel’s fences on the Lebanese border served as a rehearsal for Hamas’ “Great March of Return” along the Gaza fences that began on March 30, 2018.
Iranian Officials’ Visit Southern Lebanon and their “Garden”
Not long after Ahmadinejad dedicated the park, Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi visited the “Garden of Iran” Park, which was built by the Iranian government. (In 2015, Rahimi was sentenced to five years imprisonment by an Iran court for his involvement in a billion-dollar money laundering and embezzlement conspiracy.)
Ebrahim Raisi, Chief Justice of Iranian Judicial system, touted as a successor to Khamenei, toured the Lebanese-Israeli border on January 30, 2018.
At Qasem Soleimani’s funeral on January 6, 2020, Raisi was seated next to Khamenei, shedding tears together. Observers saw his proximity to the Supreme Leader and surmised that he was a candidate to replace Khamenei, who suffers from prostate cancer. (Screenshot, YouTube)
Mohammad Reyshahri, Iran’ minister of intelligence (1984-1989) and now member of the Supreme Leader’s Assembly of Experts, visited the Iran Garden on March 15, 2016. Note the Iranian symbol on the “Dome of the Rock” structure. “This visit, specifically to this region,” Reyshahri said, “reaffirms the good and strategic relationship between Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Iran has always had white hands towards the Lebanese people, and has always done a lot for them, and this garden attests to this.”
On December 9, 2017, Qais al-Khazali, the Baghdad-born commander of the Iraqi Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), toured southern Lebanon along the border with Israel accompanied by Hizbullah commanders. Next to the border fence at Fatima Gate, the Iraqi commander of the Shiite Asaib Ahl al-Haq declared, “I‘m here with my brothers from Hizbullah Islamic Resistance. We announce that we’re fully prepared and ready to stand as one with Lebanese people with Palestinian cause in the face of unjust Israeli occupation.”
Al-Khazali’s militia joined other Iranian-supported proxies in the attempted storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019.
Iranian Colonization of Lebanon
The Iran Garden at Maroun al-Ras is a relatively “little patch of Iran” inside Lebanon, but it is only a tiny fraction of Lebanon that has fallen under Iranian control. Hizbullah bases, factories, facilities, mosques, schools — and some would argue Lebanon’s government, ministries, and even the army — are today Iranian subsidiaries controlled by Iran’s regional manager, Hassan Nasrallah.
Two final pictures provide firm evidence.
An Iranian soldier (wearing Iran and Hizbullah patches on his sleeve) stands next to a sign from “The Iranian Authority for Participation in the Lebanon’s Reconstruction” in southern Lebanon in 2014.
The same sign “The Iranian Authority for Participation in the Lebanon’s Reconstruction” appears on the “Victory Road” statue of Khamenei below, possibly made in the same workshop that produced the Qasem Soleimani statue.
In the event of Hizbullah terrorism or military activity against Israel from southern Lebanon, there’s little doubt that the Iran Garden will become a stack of matchsticks in seconds.