A noticed visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Lebanon

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was visiting Lebanon this week. The event was widely reported and commented in the Lebanese and the international press, and this because of national and regional issues it raises. In the words of Fares Souhaid, Secretary General of the March 14 coalition, « Iran said that Gulf security is in his hands, he also have a hand on Israel through Hamas and Hezbollah, and finally also on Lebanon, through his rejection of the STL – Special Tribunal for Lebanon, editor’s note »(quoted in« Aux yeux de la majorité, Ahmadinejad a « deux discours »l’Orient le Jour, 15/10/2010).

More than a head of state it is as a hero that Ahmadinejad was greeted by the crowd in Lebanon. The country has lived at a slow pace for two days. Within the Lebanese anti-Syrian majority, however, the visit of Iranian President was viewed with caution. Many have highlighted the double speech held by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a visiting head of state want to reinforce the ties between his country and Lebanon on one hand, and as the sponsor of Hezbollah on the other. Besides his visits to official bodies, the Iranian head of state had indeed a long talk the leader of the Shiite party Hassan Nasrallah.

If the visit did not present direct risks to the fragile Lebanese stability, it crystallized the positions on the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon which indictment should be released soon. Hezbollah, feeling that some of its members will be blamed for their involvement in the murder of Rafik Hariri, denounced a manipulation of the Tribunal by Israel. During his stay in Lebanon, Ahmadinejad gave on open support to Hezbollah’s position. But the opposition is not the only one to doubt on the usefulness of the Tribunal court; a lot of people fearing it would only serve justice and finally deserve peace (Le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban, un bienfait ou une malediction ?Le Monde, 12/10/2010).

Regionally, the highlight of the visit of the Iranian leader was undoubtedly his speech in the town of Bint Jbeil located in southern Lebanon a few kilometers from the border with Israel. The city suffered greatly during the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, and Iran has helped a lot in its reconstruction. Ahmadinejad took advantage of this highly symbolic place to revive his old slogans calling for the « disappearance of Zionism. » Israelis considered the Iranian President’s visit in South Lebanon as provocative, and interpreted it as a demonstration of the control of Iran on the Northern border of Israel. It also underlines the growing influence of Hezbollah and shows the erosion of the pro-Western position in Lebanon.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should have gone home satisfied with this demonstration of strength and the controversy it has caused among his detractors. As for Lebanon, the Iranian president has certainly helped to make the fragile balance that prevailed in recent years even more precarious. With the results of the Special Tribunal on Lebanon, the near future will tell us if the Lebanese people have enough resources to withstand the power struggles and to preserve the national unity.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée