Visiting Lebanon for the first time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “was given an ecstatic welcome by supporters of Hezbollah“:
Thousands of cheering supporters thronged the road that leads from Beirut’s airport to the city, waving Iranian flags, throwing flowers, and chanting greetings in Persian as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s convoy slowly passed. [...]
After his arrival, Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared at a news conference alongside the Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman, announcing several bilateral agreements on energy, water, and other issues. Iran, which has long provided arms and training to Hezbollah, has also offered repeatedly to help equip the Lebanese Army if the United States cuts off its military aid here. Iranian money was crucial to the rebuilding effort after the 2006 war with Israel, an array of reconstruction projects directed by Hezbollah but whose benefits — apartment blocks and roads — were not limited to its followers.
The substantial political success of Hezbollah’s Iran-funded reconstruction of southern Lebanon is a major focus of my friend Thannasis Cambanis’ great new book, A Privilege To Die, which he discussed at an event at the Center for American Progress last month.
Looking at Ahmadinejad’s Lebanon visit in an article for Foreign Policy, Now Lebanon’s Hanin Ghaddar writes that, while “Iranian inducements have so far proved sufficient to muster an outwardly impressive public display of support for Ahmadinejad… the true feelings of the Lebanese are more complicated“:
“People are not stupid; they know how he suppressed the Green Movement in Iran,” said Mona Fayyad, a Lebanese Shiite researcher and writer. “He does not represent a democratic or fair leader for them, no matter how much Iran supported Hezbollah and the resistance.” Behind those Iranian flags and posters in Beirut lies no small amount of ambivalence.
Given the pressure he’s under domestically from both critics and erstwhile allies for his poor handling of Iran’s economy, now exacerbated by Western sanctions, it’s unsurprising why Ahmadinejad is seeking accolades abroad. But it’s also worth pointing out that one of the very few, if any, other countries where he receives this sort of welcome is the new Iraq.