You wouldn’t know it from reading the international media – definitely not the Belgian ones, whose entire foreign news section today and yesterday is dedicated to the good news story of the Chilean miners – but the president of Iran has just crossed through Beirut in an open motorcade and refused to stand behind the bulletproof glass cases provided while he gave his speeches. I would like to see a US or Saudi leader do that in Lebanon… It is hardly surprising that crowds lined up in Dahiyyeh to give him a hero’s welcome, of course. What is surprising though are statements by the likes of Samir Geagea and Antoine Zahra congratulating him on his ‘moderate’ statements and even sunni arch enemies Jamaa al Islamiya claiming that ‘Ahmadinejad’s calm speech in Lebanon will positively reflect on the domestic situation after his visit ends.’ Sounds like either some bags of dollars have been changing hands or the Lebanese Forces have – for the first time in their history – made a political choice that actually makes sense and could be to the advantage of the people they claim to represent. Those international media that do mention the visit predictably concentrate on Ahmadi Nejad’s announced tour of the southern border and Israel’s equally predictable reaction to this ‘provocation’. For some more considered thoughts and reporting, read Qifa Nabki: ‘This is a very circuitous way of saying that I found myself wondering today, as I listened to Nasrallah’s speech welcoming Ahmadinejad to Beirut, whether Iran is trying to step out of Hizbullah’s shadow in Lebanon. That sounds odd to hear, given the nature of their relationship. But I think that it’s not that far-fetched to imagine that Iran’s ambitions include winning over non-Shi’a Lebanese through a mixture of investment projects, military aid, assistance in energy exploration and infrastructure development.’
Or read the Leveretts: ‘If Iran today has substantial soft power in the Middle East—as we believe it does—it has that power in no small part because it has picked winners rather than losers as its allies in key regional theaters. Whether we speak of Hizballah in Lebanon, HAMAS in Palestine, or Shi’a Islamist parties in Iraq, Iran’s regional allies are genuine political forces—that is, forces that win elections because they represent important and unavoidable constituencies with legitimate grievances. And, in many cases, those allies engage in what their constituents believe is thoroughly laudable resistance against what those constituents see as America’s (and Israel’s) hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East.’
Juan Cole is spot-on too: ‘On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed large and adoring crowds in the southern Shiite suburbs of Beirut, which had been intensively bombed by Israeli fighter jets in summer 2006, and then subsequently rebuilt, in part with Iranian aid. Ahmadinejad pledged that Iran will support Lebanon in any future case of aggression against the small Levantine state of 4 million persons. Americans who are surprised at Lebanese appreciation of Iran should remember that when the Israel-Hizbullah war broke out in summer 2006, the Bush administration initially actively opposed a ceasefire that could have saved hundreds of Lebanese civilian lives and could have spared billions of dollars in infrastructure. When someone is being intensively bombarded from the air and you attempt to put off a ceasefire, you are not a friend of the country being bombed.’ Cole also wrote this op-ed at Truthdig: ‘Ahmadinejad has just pledged to invest nearly half a billion dollars in Lebanon’s electricity and water systems to aid the economy, which has grown 8 percent this year and has made impressive strides in rebounding from the disastrous effects of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. Iran is a major backer of the Hezbollah Party, though it does not need Tehran to function. Hezbollah is a bona fide Lebanese political party and is part of the current national unity government, with two Cabinet seats and influence over policy. Its small paramilitary of a few thousand fighters, backed by an arsenal of small rockets, has been recognized by the Lebanese government as a sort of national guard for the south of the country. A crisis between Hezbollah and the government of the Sunni Muslim prime minister, Saad Hariri, looms, since a tribunal may blame Hezbollah operatives for the 2005 assassination of the prime minister’s father, Rafiq Hariri. Ahmadinejad may hope to broker an agreement that would forestall civil conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.’
And now go back to the rescued Chilean miners.