Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Beirut on Wednesday, being greeted enthusiastically by large crowds (probably mostly Shiites) who lined the streets as his retinue came into the city from the airport.
The Iranian president said before he left Tehran that “Lebanon is the focus point of resistance and standing against those who demand too much …”
Some 250 Lebanese notables signed a letter to Ahmadinejad condemning his visit and what they saw as an attempt to position Lebanon as an Iranian military base abutting Israel. The signatories favor the Future movement of PM Saad Hariri or one of his political allies, often called “March 14” after the date of the large demonstrations they mounted in 2005 in favor of a Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon (a wish they got.) Although Lebanon at the moment has a national unity government, since 2005 the Shiite fundamentalist, pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Hizbullah Party has often been in the political opposition to Hariri. Rumors are swirling that a tribunal may implicate persons with Hizbullah ties in the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the father of the current prime minister, and many fear Sunni-Shiite strife were such a conclusion to be publicized.
Ahmadinejad called Saudi King Abdallah, Syrian president Bashar al-Asad and Jordanian king Abdallah II before coming. The Saudis consider Lebanon a part of their sphere of influence and Sunni prime minister Saad Hariri is widely seen as a Saudi surrogate in the country. (The late Rafiq Hariri had made his money in Saudi Arabia and became close to King Fahd before becoming prime minister in the 1990s). Ahmadinejad may have been attempting to calm Saudi nerves about the visit and to assure Riyadh that Iran had no intention of taking over Beirut all together (the Hizbullah and Amal Parties that organize Lebanon’s Shiites are as favorable toward Iran as Hariri is toward Saudi Arabia.)