Thousands of Lebanese – mostly Hezbollah supporters – welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday as he made his way in a motorcade from Beirut’s airport to the Lebanese presidential palace. Onlookers waved Lebanese and Iranian flags under giant posters of Ahmadinejad while women sold Hezbollah flags and balloons to the crowd.
In a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman upon his arrival, Ahmadinejad hailed the Lebanese ‘resistance’ against Israel, saying that Lebanon and Iran are in the fight together. “We support Lebanon fully, and we call for the liberation of occupied lands in Lebanon and in Syria,” the Iranian president said. In thanking the people who came out in support of his visit, Ahmadinejad said, “I feel as though I’m at home, in my homeland among my brothers.” The two presidents also signed bilateral memoranda of understanding on economic, trade, environmental, and energy issues during their meeting.
A workman puts the finishing touches on a billboard of the Iranian president in a stadium in Southern Lebanon.
Later today, Ahmadinejad is expected to meet with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a rally in Beirut. Tomorrow, the Iranian president will visit towns in Southern Lebanon just a few miles from the Israeli border where Hezbollah fought a war with Israel four years ago. There, he is expected to throw stones at Israel’s direction as a “symbolic gesture.”
While much ado has been made of Ahmadinejad’s stone-throwing ceremony, it is only a small component of the trip. Indeed, it’s no surprise that Iran views Israel as enemy number one. Rather, Ahmadinejad’s visit must be viewed within the larger context of Lebanese politics today. As Fares Soueid of the pro-Western Lebanese March 14 Alliance noted, “Ahmadinejad, through this visit, is saying that Beirut is under Iranian influence and that Lebanon is an Iranian base on the Mediterranean… The Iranian president is here to say that Lebanon is a land of resistance and to reaffirm his project of a continuous war with Israel.” Reportedly, ahead of the visit, Iranian Revolutionary Guards were deployed throughout Lebanon to work with Hezbollah operatives.
With this visit, timed perfectly before Hezbollah operatives face being charged with killing Lebanon’s late prime minister Rafiq Hariri, Ahmadinejad is openly telling the world that he is confident that Iran, through Hezbollah, has finally consolidated control over Beirut. Indeed, this is a sad day not only for Lebanon’s freedom-loving citizens and Israel, but for democracy, freedom, and humanity worldwide.