Ecstatic Welcome to Ahmadinejad in Lebanon

AP Photo/Hussein Malla
By Manar Rachwani

In the end, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon went contrary to the fears that preceded or accompanied it. 

In his speeches, Ahmadinejad chose his words carefully to avoid any perception that he was trying to intervene in the Lebanese internal politics. On the other hand, and despite his usual rhetoric against Israel, the Iranian President did not go to Fatima Gate on the borders with Israel, and did not throw a stone into Israel as has been announced before.

Nevertheless, one should pay more attention to one aspect of Ahmadinejad’s visit, which might summarize its real goal, and the possible negative implications it has on the mid or long run. This aspect is the “ecstatic welcome”, according to The New York Times, that was given to the Iranian President in Beirut and, of course, in Hezbollah’s stronghold in Southern Lebanon.

It is well known that Hezbollah was founded by Iran in the early 1980s. Since then, the party has received financial, military and political support from the Islamic Republic. But this fact alone does not explain or justify the exceptional welcome Ahmadinejad received in Beirut.

If it is about Iran the state, the godfather of Hezbollah, then why was such a welcome never given to Mohammed Khatami, the first Iranian president to visit Lebanon in 2003?

One of the explanations is the willingness of Hezbollah to show strength in the current “cold civil war” that it wages against other Lebanese parties over the international tribunal that was established to investigate the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri in 2005. Another explanation could be the need of Hezbollah to compensate its inactivity on the borders with Israel since the 2006 War, though the party still insists that the outcome of that war was a “Divine Victory” over Israel.

Both explanations could be true. But when one adds other indicators, it becomes more accurate to explain this “ecstatic welcome" in the context of the dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme and, most importantly, the fears of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

In addition to the slogans describing Ahmadinejad the “guardian of the resistance”, in his welcome speech to Ahamadinejad via video link, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, reiterated his “deep faith in Guardianship of the Jurist” (Wilayat Al Faqih). This means a full obedience to Ali Khamene’i, who occupies this position (Al Wali Al Faqih) as the Supreme Leader of Iran.

As a result, Hezbollah is obliged to follow the orders of Khamene’i, and to take the Iranian side in any coming conflict or attack, mainly by Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities. But such religious relationship is not enough for a Lebanese party to take Lebanon as a whole to another war with Israel, especially on the behalf of Iran. Here, we can find out why public cover, as expressed in the streets of Beirut, is badly needed.

By mobilizing its supporters, and allies from different sects, during Ahmadinejad’s visit, Hezbollah will be able to proclaim in the any coming war between Iran and Israel, that the majority of Lebanese admits that it owes Iran for it is support during the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. And, as a result, fighting with the Islamic Republic or on its behalf is a mere payback to the “Guardian of the Resistance”.

The logic of this conclusion can be drawn from the fact that any endeavour by Hezbollah to distance itself from any war between Iran and Israel, or the US, would mean the demise of the party. This is true not only because such an act would mean the end of the Iranian support, but also because of the perception, in Lebanon and in the region as a whole, that Hezbollah is not able, or at least not willing, to fight Israel anymore; which constitutes the reason of the very existence of the party and for keeping its weapons after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

But if this is the calculation by Iran and Hezbollah, then the main outcome of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon would be making Hezbollah the main, if not the only target for Israel in dealing with the rising Iranian threat.

Bearing in mind the difficulties that face any Israeli attack on Iran, the other Israeli alternative to undermine Iran’s influence in the region is to eliminate its proxies (and Hezbollah on top of them), who constitute the direct threat to Israel. Thus, rather than defending Iran, Hezbollah is re-inventing Lebanon as the alternative battleground between Israel and Iran.


9 November 2010

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla