Not wanting to detract from significant opposition inside Lebanon to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit there on Wednesday, Israel took a low official profile on a trip it deems highly provocative, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not publicly addressing it.
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Netanyahu’s silence, however, should not be interpreted as a lack of concern in Jerusalem regarding the symbolism of the trip, or what it presages for Lebanon and – by extension – for Israel.
Ahmadinejad in Lebanon is “like a landlord coming to inspect his domain,” Foreign Minister spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
“He is bringing a message of violence and extremism, and his presence makes it even clearer that Hizbullah, at the order of the Iranians, has built a state within a state,” he said. “This is far removed from Lebanese interests.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said that “Iran’s domination of Lebanon, through its proxy Hizbullah, has prevented Lebanon from being a partner in peace and turned Lebanon into an Iranian satellite and a hub of regional terror and instability.”
One of Israel’s main concerns is that the Iranian president’s visit will embolden the extremists inside Lebanon, something that could trigger another round of internal violence there that could easily spread across the border. If there was hope in the past that Lebanon was in the moderate Arab camp, this visit – according to sources in Jerusalem – shows that it is an Iranian satellite on Israel’s northern border.
“Anyone concerned with Lebanon’s real interests wants to keep the border with Israel quiet,” the official said. Iran, with its extreme ideology, has an agenda divorced from Lebanon’s interests, spurring concern in Jerusalem that Teheran may be more ready to heat up the border with Israel, because it has little real concern about the price Lebanon would have to pay, the official added.
Sources in Jerusalem said the visit demonstrates that Lebanon – thanks to Hizbullah – has turned into an Iranian client state firmly in the axis of extreme countries that support terrorism and are opposed to peace.
The US administration slammed Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon on Wednesday, suggesting it threatens the stability of the small, religiously fragmented country.
“We reject any efforts to destabilize or inflame tensions within Lebanon,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in response to a journalist’s question posed while she was in the Balkans.
“We would hope that no visitor would do anything or say anything that would give cause to greater tension or instability in that country,” she said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the visit, which includes a trip near the border with Israel, a continuation of Ahmadinejad’s “provocative ways.”
Gibbs also touched on a sensitive point in Lebanon – whether Hizbullah is more committed to the sovereignty of Lebanon or is a means of giving neighboring countries control in the country when he said, “I think that it also suggests that Hizbullah values its allegiance to Iran over its allegiance to Lebanon.”
Clinton emphasized that the US supports “the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon.”
She added that while her words might not “have any influence,” the message that the world opposes those who would destabilize Lebanon is one “the world needs to convey to the Iranians.”
The security establishment sent a business-as-usual message, but behind the scenes, Israel is closely monitoring the visit.
“This visit shows Hizbullah’s growing dependence on Iran,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “The IDF’s eyes are wide open.”
The defense minister was touring the Golan Heights where he met with soldiers and inspected tanks.
“Lebanon could cease being an independent country, and we must follow what is taking place from the intelligence and military perspectives,” he added.
The security services are expected to keep close tabs on Ahmadinejad’s tour of southern Lebanon and Hizbullah strongholds like Bint Jbail, just a few kilometers from the border with Israel, and the scene of intense clashes between the Golani Brigade and Hizbullah terrorists during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The Iranians have deliberately created a fog around Ahmadinejad’s exact travel plans for Thursday, and it remains unclear whether he will appear right at the border at the Fatma Gate (the Good Fence Crossing), where he had previously vowed to throw a stone at Israel, according to reports.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said on Wednesday that the IDF should kill Ahmadinejad if he visits the border with Israel.
“The history of mankind would be different if in 1939 somehow, a Jewish soldier had succeeded to kill Hitler,” Eldad said.
He continued, “If even for one moment, Ahmadinejad is in the IDF’s sights on the day that he comes to throw stones at us, he cannot be allowed to return home alive.
“The State of Israel was established so that the Jewish people can be responsible for their own destiny,” Eldad said.
“He is a media creature; this is what he is looking for,” said Amir
Melzer, deputy head of the Metulla Regional Council, which is the
northernmost town in Israel, situated 30 meters from Lebanon. “Every
minute he appears in the media just makes him bigger and he is laughing
at us,” Melzer, who is an attorney, added.
“His visit to Lebanon doesn’t interest me. We know this is an
arch-terrorist, and the source of evil ideology, weapons proliferation,
and most worrying, funds for global terrorism. What does concern me is
the stage this sick man receives at the United Nations after he calls
for the destruction of the Jewish nation, and after he violates the UN
Charter by calling for the destruction of a member-state,” Melzer said.
“This man threatens world peace. His own people do not want him. The
Iranian people are an enlightened nation with a great culture, and they
are controlled by a few men in robes stained with their own people’s
blood,” he said.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.