Iran’s controversial President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Beirut on a planned three day visit today. Thousands of Lebanese turned out to greet Ahmadinejad, whose motorcade was showered with flowers and rice as it made its way from the airport to Lebanon’s Presidential Palace.
While support for Iran is strong in Lebanon, it is by no means universal, and the visit is causing alarm elsewhere as well. Ahmadinejad supports the group Hezbollah who are staunch enemies of Israel. In a move designed to press buttons, Ahmadinejad will visit the southern border of Lebanon and Israel, and plans to throw stones over the border in a ‘symbolic’ gesture.
Hezbollah, who enjoys strong support from Iran, has seats in the governing coalition’s cabinets and has its largest support base in Lebanon’s south. Many fear that the visit will only bring further troubles for Lebanon.
Ahmadinejad is set to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Harir as well as President Michel Suleiman, but all eyes will be on him when he meets with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
The US, as well as elements within Lebanon are concerned that Ahmadinejad is turning Lebanon into an Iranian outpost in the region, with the aid of Hezbollah. These concerns are also fired by Ahmadinejad controversial statement last month that he considered Lebanon a part of Iran’s ‘security belt.’ Iraq and Afghanistan were also named on the security belt list, which alarmed onlookers in the US.
The US as well as Syrian President Bashar Al Assad had quietly asked Lebanon to reconsider allowing the visit.