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French Version


Bekaa housing company builds anew

Destroyed by israel, dalal steel hustles to fill contracts with us military

Interview

Of all the industrial plants destroyed by Israel in its 34-day bombardment of Lebanon, one target, Dalal Steel Industries, stands out.

The prefabricated housing company is arguably the single commercial target hit during the war with the most regional strategic significance, since its main client is the US military - Israel's unyielding patron.

Dalal Steel, located in Taanayel, 50 kilometers from Beirut, is also the only one of the five Bekaa-based industrial companies that were destroyed to have begun rebuilding its manufacturing facilities. It has already resumed production, providing temporary facilities for US military bases in the region and now for United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon troops stationed in the South.

Unlike other Bekaa businessmen, Toufic Dalal is not waiting for the government to compensate him for damages, instead financing the entire $25 million rebuilding out of his own pocket, with the help of bank loans.

"Its frustrating because we [local industrialists] are not involved in these politics, we are just trying to work and to provide employment to people in the Bekaa who rely on agriculture," Dalal told The Daily Star on Saturday morning from his offices in Hamra.

"The government is like my insurance company," Dalal said. "If you have fire insurance and your factory burns down, you expect the company to pay you back. If they don't you'll go with another insurance company. If the government does not compensate me for a mistake that they made, I'll move to another country."

Despite the progress on the reconstruction of Dalal's production facilities - rebuilding is 50 percent complete and is expected to be finished within two months - Dalal's back-up plan, in the event that he is not reimbursed for his losses, is to shrink local operations and establish facilities in Saudi Arabia.

But Dalal says he is loathe to leave Lebanon, especially the Bekaa, where there is an abundance of inexpensive labor and where he can easily access key export markets.

He started Dalal Steel Industries from scratch in 1989 from a small 2,000-square-meter facility in Beirut. Now it is one of the biggest companies in the Middle East, according to Dalal, occupying 65,000 square meters of land in the Bekaa. The company manufactures temporary housing facilities for fast-moving armies and displaced victims of natural disasters, and employs between 250 and 600 workers, depending on level of demand, Dalal said.

Dalal's biggest customer is the US military, which accounts for 80 percent of sales. The US buys pre-engineered buildings for army bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait from Dalal. Before the United States became embroiled in Iraq, Dalal had contracts with international oil companies in Iraq, the United Nations' Oil for Food Program, and the Iraqi government, he said.

Regardless of the outcome in Lebanon, Dalal says he will build a large factory in America to be managed by his son, also an engineer. Though he had not planned on leaving during the war, the day after his plant was destroyed he evacuated Lebanon on a US naval ship to purchase new machinery. For Dalal the trip to America was the only positive outcome of the war because it alerted him to a new potential market, where there is a huge demand for prefabricated homes. The states also promise a less risky investment environment.

"I went to try to buy new machinery in the States and the salesman asked me why I was placing such a large order all at once. When I told them planes bombed my factory they didn't believe me," Dalal recalls with a laugh. "The man said to me 'yeah right, maybe you were dreaming, maybe it was a UFO.'

"There is a different reality in Lebanon."

Though Dalal is still demanding government compensation, he is busy filling back orders. First he is focusing on a delayed contract with the Iraqi government - financed with the US military - to provide housing for engineers for the South Oil Company.

Beirut 25-09-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star



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