By Iranian and Hizbullah accounts, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit
to Lebanon next week will be a splendid affair.
The man who stole his
office and then killed his countrymen to protect his crime will be greeted as a
conquering hero. Billboards bidding him welcome and Iranian flags will line the
roads from the Beirut airport down to the border with
Ahmadinejad’s visit to southern Lebanon will be the highlight of
his two-day visit. In preparation for his arrival, in the border town of Maroun
a-Ras, Hizbullah has built a replica of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem festooned
with an Iranian flag. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to stand outside the structure
and throw stones at IDF forces patrolling what he has reportedly referred to as
“Iran’s border with Israel.”
Many Israelis are rattled by Ahmadinejad’s
trip to our neck of the woods. It is unsettling that the man who personifies the
Islamist goal of eradicating the Jewish people will be standing at our doorstep,
Before we lose our composure, it is far from clear that
Israel is Ahmadinejad’s primary audience.
By throwing stones at Israel,
Ahmadinejad will not be telling us anything we don’t already know about his
sentiments towards the Jews and our state. He won’t be signaling anything we
don’t already know about his proxy force Hizbullah’s capacity to make war on
So what new message is Ahmadinejad bringing with him? Who is he
communicating with? AHMADINEJAD’S VISIT must be seen within the regional
context. Specifically, it must be seen against the backdrop of Lebanese
politics. It must also be seen in the context of waning US power and influence
in the region. Finally, it should be evaluated in terms of Iranian domestic
affairs and Ahmadinejad’s ongoing struggle with his people who reject his
leadership. While Iran’s ill-intentions towards Israel remain static, all of the
other developments in the region are dynamic.
One aspect of Ahmadinejad’s
visit is abundantly clear. It is the diplomatic equivalent of a victory lap.
Iran’s ruler is using his trip as an opportunity to flaunt his position as the
colonial overlord of Lebanon.
That means that Iran now believes it is in
its interest to expose that Lebanon today is nothing more than an Iranian
colony. Lebanon’s independence is a mirage that Iran no longer believes it is in
its interest to maintain.
Moreover, not only does Ahmadinejad’s
triumphalist visit show that Lebanon has lost its independence and serves as an
Iranian vassal state. It exposes as a myth the popular Western tale that
Hizbullah is an independent Lebanese political and military force.
of Ahmadinejad’s visit, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have deployed in force
throughout Lebanon. Hizbullah is operating openly under the Revolutionary Guards
This is not the behavior of an indigenous Lebanese entity. It is
the behavior of a wholly owned and operated franchise of Iran.
past week, many regional commentators and officials have warned that
Ahmadinejad’s visit may be the prelude to the consolidation of Hizbullah’s
control of Lebanon. Recent events lend credence to these
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has not had a day of peace
since he bowed to Hizbullah pressure and formed a government in November 2009 in
which the Iranian proxy was given a veto over all government decisions. Hariri’s
move put him into the unenviable position of having to bow and scrape before the
Syrian and Hizbullah assassins who murdered his father, former prime minister
Syrian and Hizbullah culpability for Hariri Sr.’s murder in
February 2005 has been the focal point of the UN investigative tribunal charged
with investigating the crime. The latest reports indicate that the UN’s
investigators will name Hizbullah officers as responsible for the hit. The UN
tribunal is scheduled to announce its findings in the coming weeks.
Ahmadinejad’s visit comes just before his Lebanese proxy force is set to get
some serious egg on its chin. A UN pronouncement of Hizbullah culpability would
diminish both Hizbullah’s standing in Lebanon and its international
Iran has a clear interest in neutralizing the impact of the
TO THIS end, Syria and Hizbullah have steadily
escalated their demands that Hariri and his associates in the March 14 movement
disown the UN investigation and denounce all their colleagues who implicated
Syria and Hizbullah in the 2005 hit. Ratcheting up the pressure, on Monday Syria
issued arrest warrants against 33 senior Lebanese officials allied with Hariri
for what Damascus alleges are their false testimonies before the UN commission.
Hizbullah and its underlings in Lebanese politics have followed suit, demanding
that the government disown the UN tribunal and refuse to fund it.
the end of this week, Hariri and his allies are refusing to bow to this newest
round of pressure.
They recognize that if they submit, it will destroy
the March 14 movement as an independent political force in
Unfortunately for the March 14 forces, the fact of the matter is
that if they take a last stand, it will likely be an exercise in futility.
Arabic media reports this week claimed that Hariri and his allies may be seeking
Saudi and Egyptian support for Christian and Sunni militias that may be attacked
by Hizbullah in the anticipated post-Ahmadinejad visit showdown.
official responses to these stories indicate that no one is willing to do more
than express rhetorical support for the Lebanese. On Thursday, Egyptian Foreign
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit denied that Egypt is aiding the militias, but he also
pointed an accusatory finger at Iran. After calling the reports “a lie,” Aboul
Gheit added, “Some people in Lebanon want to have a single control over the
country and this issue is linked to Iran.”
This lack of Arab support for
Hariri and his allies is a direct consequence of the US’s effective abandonment
of the March 14 forces. While the Bush administration arguably did the most
damage when it forced Israel to seek a cease-fire in 2006 and then did nothing
to defeat Hizbullah’s coup in May 2008, the Obama administration has exacerbated
the damage with its abject fecklessness.
First there is the
administration’s stubborn maintenance of its massive support for the Lebanese
military, despite overwhelming evidence that today the Lebanese army acts as a
Hizbullah proxy. In order to maintain that support, the administration faced
down a wave of congressional pressure after the Lebanese military’s
assassination of IDF Lt.-Col. Dov Harari (res.) on the border in
Then there is the US administration’s preening and scraping
before Syrian President Bashar Assad. The administration’s obsession with the
so-called peace process between Israel and its neighbors has made it impossible
for Washington to take a concerted stand against Syria, which it hopes to
convince to negotiate with Israel. Even as Assad visited Teheran and declared
his undying devotion to Iran, the administration hosted his deputy foreign
minister, Faisal Moqdad, in Washington and cooed that Syria is “absolutely
essential” for “comprehensive peace” and regional stability.
And on the
subject of US strategic incompetence, there is US President Barack Obama’s
senior counterterrorism adviser John Brennan’s laudatory comments on Hizbullah
from this past May to consider. In a public lecture, Brennan referred to
Hizbullah as “a very interesting organization.”
Ignoring completely the
fact that Hizbullah is controlled by Iran, Brennan said that the US seeks to
“build up the more moderate elements” of Hizbullah at the expense of those
“elements of Hizbullah that are truly a concern to us.”
The US descent
into strategic imbecility has convinced Arab leaders that they should avoid
getting on Iran’s bad side. With the US even standing aside as Iran paralyzes
Iraq’s post-election government, no one can take US guarantees seriously
anymore. And if anyone had any doubts about this state of affairs, the fact that
the US has no leverage with which it can compel the Lebanese government to
cancel Ahmadinejad’s visit reinforces the glum reality.
The last target
audience for Ahmadinejad’s visit is the Iranian people. As some commentators
have noted, his victory lap in Bint Jbail and Maroun a-Ras is a message to his
On the one hand, it shows the Iranian people, who seek the
overthrow of their despotic regime, that Ahmadinejad is a rising star
On the other hand, Hizbullah’s expected violent consolidation
of its control over Lebanon is a signal that the Iranian people should be very
afraid. Just as its Lebanese proxy will not hesitate to murder its fellow
Lebanese to advance the interests of the Iranian regime, so the Iranian regime
will not hesitate to use all force necessary to quell any domestic
IF INDEED, Ahmadinejad’s target audiences are Lebanese,
pan-Arab and Iranian, then should Israel be concerned about his visit? The
answer to this is yes, and not because his visit, in and of itself, increases
the likelihood of war. With its complete control over southern Lebanon and its
40,000 missiles, Hizbullah can open a war with Israel at any time. Ahmadinejad’s
visit neither adds nor detracts from this grim reality.
The reason that
Israelis should be concerned is because Ahmadinejad’s visit can negatively
impact perceptions of the likely political outcome of a war with
In October 1973, Egypt knew that it did not have the wherewithal
to defeat Israel militarily.
Israel’s strategic advantage over Egypt was
But events preceding that war – including Egypt’s move from the
Soviet to the US side of the Cold War – convinced president Anwar Sadat that he
could use a limited military victory to gain a strategic political victory
His gamble paid off as a year later, the US forced Israel
to withdraw from much of the Sinai Peninsula.
The insecurity of the Arab
states, the rise of Iran in Lebanon and throughout the region, the waning of US
regional power, and the voices of sympathy for Hizbullah in the Obama
administration all form a political climate that increases the likelihood that
Iran will wage another war against Israel though Hizbullah.
options in this context are limited.
Obviously, it must prepare for war
and commit itself to defeating Hizbullah as a fighting force and delivering a
paralyzing blow to Syria in the event that war breaks out. Israel must also take
what political steps it can to impact the political calculations of various
Having Ahmadinejad on the border is
But to properly prepare and contend with the threat he poses,
we must understand what he is doing there.