Looking to invest in terror? Then Teheran is the best address for guidance. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent whirlwind visit to Lebanon confirmed that the decision of his predecessors nearly two decades ago to create and support Hizbullah turned out to be one of the Islamic revolution’s soundest, long-term investments.
Feted by Shi’ite crowds in Beirut and southern Lebanon, Ahmadinejad must have felt the exuberance of a proud father, as he heaped praise on Hizbullah’s supporters, while foretelling the demise of Israel, a sovereign UN member which he can only refer to as “the Zionist regime.” His threats may have seemed like tired rhetoric, but this time was different. He was not speaking at the UN, or in Venezuela, or on American television. What made this occasion chillingly different was his location, just a few miles from Israel.
Not since the days of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser has a head of state stood physically so close to Israel and threatened, repeatedly, its destruction. “The world should know that the Zionists will perish,” Ahmadinejad declared before thousands of Hizbullah supporters in Bint Jbeil near the border. “There is no option before the Zionists but to surrender to facts on the ground or return to their original countries.”
LANDING AT Beirut’s international airport, Ahmadinejad’s motorcade passed near the site where Hizbullah murdered 241 American marines and 58 French soldiers in dual suicide truck bombings in September 1982. These peacekeeping forces had been dispatched to monitor the exit of Yasser Arafat and the PLO, following the Israel-Lebanon war, and to assist in restoring peace to this small, battered country.
But the void left by the PLO departure, and subsequent withdrawal of American and French forces, was quickly filled by Hizbullah, born during that war. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, emboldened by the shah’s overthrow and eager to export their ideology across the Middle East, seized an opportunity to plant revolutionary seeds. Lebanon, a nation torn by civil war, was particularly vulnerable to outsider machinations, especially any seeking allies intent on Israel’s eradication as part of the larger crusade to spread radical Islam across the region.
While the Palestinians surrounding Arafat, mainly Sunni, had been viewed as transients, having relocated to southern Lebanon after Jordan’s King Hussein expelled the PLO in 1970, Hizbullah was homegrown.
Its popularity among the large Shi’ite population matched its affinity with Shi’ite Iran.
Thus, Iran’s proxy was entrenched and primed to act. Not just in Lebanon, but also, as needed, around the world. Argentine investigators have charged Iran and Hizbullah with the 1994 bombing of AMIA, the Jewish community center. Interpol is seeking the apprehension of several Iranian officials, including the current defense minister.
At home Hizbullah assembled a massive supply of armaments during the six years after Israel voluntarily left the security buffer it had established in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah leaders convinced themselves that terrorism forced the withdrawal. Such a mistaken conviction can lead to tragedy, and did in July 2006, when Hizbullah terrorists crossed the border, kidnapped several IDF soldiers and fired rockets into the Galilee, prompting a powerful response.
Though Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah brought tragedy to Lebanon by instigating a war, Iran took steps to assure the longevity of its original investment. It expended as much as $1 billion to rebuild southern Lebanon after the war, a gesture for which Ahmadinejad received a hero’s welcome.
The military investment was more. Circumventing a very weak UNIFIL, Iran and Syria have helped Hizbullah grow again into a formidable force, with some 40,000 rockets and missiles, no doubt to be used at a date uncertain against Israel. The failure to disarm and disband Hizbullah violates the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted after the 2006 war.
Lebanese parliamentarians who told the BBC that Ahmadinejad was seeking to transform Lebanon into “an Iranian base on the Mediterranean” were also speaking of Iran’s meddling in its internal affairs, important for protecting the Hizbullah asset.
Ahmadinejad publicly backed Hizbullah’s denial of responsibility for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, father of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The UN tribunal investigating the 2005 murder is expected to issue indictments soon, and naming Hizbullah could set off another, possibly violent, confrontation.
Curiously, during Ahmadinejad’s 48-hour visit Nasrallah did not appear
publicly alongside his benefactor. He remained in hiding, though he
reportedly met privately with Ahmadinejad at the Iranian Embassy in
Beirut. Staying hidden may enhance Nasrallah’s personal mystique, but
his absence left the Iranian leader enjoying the adulation alone.
So, President Ahmadinejad, thank you again for journeying to Lebanon.
Displaying the Iran-Hizbullah alliance, using that beleaguered nation as
the platform to berate Israel, should worry Western governments as much
as Iran’s nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad made clear that wiping Israel off the map is not just an
Arab cause, but needs to be a global Muslim project, one he so proudly
aspires to lead.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of communications.