Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is visiting Lebanon this week. The visit is soaked with regional significance: Ahmadinejad will visit Israel's border, from which Iran-supported Hizbollah has launched several conflicts with Israel; the visit coincides with the struggling Israel-Palestine peace talks, in which Israel is wary of anything that could reduce its defenses against Iran; and, Iran, pressured by international sanctions for its nuclear program, is reaching out to any ally it can find. Iran has cultural ties to Lebanon's sizable Shia community. Here's what Ahmadinejad's visit signifies for the Middle East and its many complexities.
- Iran Expressing Cultural Dominance The pseudonymous IraqPundit writes, "Iraqis say Ahmadinejad went to Beirut to show how much more influential he is in the Middle East than, say, Saudi Arabia. You don't see crowds of that size cheering the Saudi King. In other words, he's trying to say what Iran wants in the region goes, and everyone must get over it."
- Hizbollah Moving Lebanon Away From West Foreign Policy's Hanin Ghaddar writes, "The reception for Ahmadinejad was arranged not only because the Lebanese wanted to be good hosts, but as a statement by Hezbollah and its ally, the predominantly Shiite Amal Movement, of their political weight. ... There are bigger plans for Ahmadinejad's two-day trip, ranging from investments in energy and development to military and humanitarian aid. ... But many believe that these deals are more political than practical. 'It doesn't matter if the Lebanese accept these offers or not; it is just a message to the West,' said Lokman Slim, a Shiite activist who works in the southern suburbs. 'These agreements will be used by Hezbollah as a counterbalance against other agreements Lebanon had previously signed with other countries, namely with the West.'"
- How Lebanese Became Anti-American Liberal blogger Juan Cole explains, "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."
- Will Lebanon Accept Becoming 'Iranian Protectorate'? BBC's Wyre Davies writes, "The next stage of the Iranian leader's controversial visit is to Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon - an act described by Israel as a commander reviewing his troops and the transformation of Lebanon into an Iranian protectorate. ... But many inside Lebanon and outside see this trip as nothing short of inflammatory - upsetting Lebanon's fragile political system and provoking another conflict with Israel."
- Visit Inciting International Outrage Slate's Ruthie Ackerman writes, "This is Ahmadinejad's first visit to Lebanon, and he couldn't have picked a better time to provoke outrage. Israel and the United States have criticized the timing of the visit, which comes in the middle of the Middle East peace talks. (Rumor has it he will also throw a stone at Israel—not exactly a gesture of peace.) But tensions were already rising around expectations that the U.N. tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will indict members of Hezbollah soon. For the last month, friends have warned me that another war could break out between Hezbollah's Shiite allies and current Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Sunni supporters if and when the indictment comes down (Saad Hariri is the son of Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a car bomb in February 2005.)"