Tags: ahmadinejad lebanon israel

Ahmadinejad Visit to South Lebanon Angers Israel

Thursday, 14 Oct 2010 06:53 AM


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to travel to villages near the Israeli border on the second day of his Lebanon visit, wooing the Shiite community of the Arab country while angering Israel.

Ahmadinejad will visit Qana and Bint Jbeil in south Lebanon, after yesterday attending a Beirut rally organised by the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement, a member of Lebanon’s national unity government. He also held talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally.

The planned trip to south Lebanon, which was occupied by the Israeli military between 1982 and 2000, has been criticized by Israel and the U.S. The region is a bedrock of support for Hezbollah, which is mounting a growing challenge to the U.S.- backed Hariri almost a year after joining his coalition.

As well as boosting Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad’s trip sends “a provocative message to Israel,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, author of a forthcoming book, “The Iran Connection: The Alliance with Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.” “Ahmadinejad is considered synonymous with the call for the eradication of Israel.”

Amos Gilad, an official at Israel’s Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio today that “Iran wants to turn Lebanon into a branch of Iran,” and said the visit “proves Lebanon’s orientation toward Iran, especially southern Lebanon.”

The Iranian leader was greeted in Beirut yesterday by thousands of cheering Lebanese who waved Iranian flags and threw rice at his motorcade. Pictures of Ahmadinejad with words of welcome in Farsi and Arabic lined the roads.

‘Against the Tyrants’

Speaking to Hezbollah supporters in a stadium in the southern suburb of Dahiyeh late yesterday, Ahmadinejad praised Lebanon’s “resistance and perseverance against the tyrants of this world,” and said Israel must leave Palestinian land and allow all refugees to return.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, speaking via video link for security reasons, said that “the West can’t put up with the Iranian president because he speaks the truth and declares that Israel is an illegitimate state and must disappear.”

Hezbollah, backed by Syria as well as Shiite-ruled Iran, is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel. It won popularity in Lebanon by helping force Israel’s army to withdraw from the country in 2000.

The group has clashed with Hariri over a United Nations probe into the 2005 killing of the premier’s father, Rafiq Hariri, amid speculation members of Hezbollah may be among those indicted. Hezbollah says the tribunal is biased, has been misled by “false witnesses,” and should be abolished.

Budget Row

The row is undermining Lebanon’s efforts to pass budget plans through parliament, as Hezbollah threatens to block funds allocated for the UN probe. The International Monetary Fund in a report last week urged the country to tighten fiscal policy and avoid “overheating” an economy that has defied the global crisis. Gross domestic product increased 9 percent in 2009 and the IMF forecast growth of at least 8 percent this year.

Ahmadinejad’s visit to south Lebanon comes as he faces criticism from both conservatives and reformists in Iran, said Robert Powell, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York.

His administration has cracked down on opposition groups who staged protests when the president was re-elected last year, saying the vote was rigged. Ahmadinejad also faces economic challenges, with growth slowing due to weak domestic demand according to the IMF.

“He has travelled to one of the very few places in the region where he is always likely to get a warm welcome,” Powell said.

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