A Very Hezbollah Welcome
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's state visit to Lebanon Wednesday garnered headlines in Thursday's Washington Post (by way of the Financial Times), Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and made waves in the blogosphere. The three newspapers' reporting was relatively uniform: The visit comes at "a time of increased tension" between Hezbollah (supported by Tehran) and Lebanon's Western-backed prime minister over expectations that a UN tribunal will indict the accused terrorist group over the assassination of former–prime minister Rafiq al-Hadiri. Still, "Tens of thousands" showed up to hear the Iranian president speak at a "raucous evening rally." And while Israel and the United States remained concerned, the papers note that they have tamped down their reaction to Ahmadinejad's appearance and remarks in order to keep other Arab countries—who also view Iran as a potential threat—on their rhetorical side.
The Times added context to their story by noting that a group of butchers prepared "to slaughter 2 camels and 10 sheep in Mr. Ahmadinejad's honor." He was scheduled to travel to southern Lebanon Thursday morning, where Israeli soldiers are stationed across the border, remaining "vigilant," although no trouble is expected. (No mention of an earlier rumor that Ahmadinejad planned to throw a rock across the border.)
Juan Cole says the Lebanese reception of Ahmadinejad should come as no surprise, given that Washington opposed a ceasefire in Israel's war with Hezbollah in 2006 that "could have saved hundreds of Lebanese civilian lives and could have spared billions of dollars in infrastructure." Cole also reports that at least one Israeli news outlet reported that Ahmadinejad's visit cements Lebanon's transformation into an "Iranian protectorate." Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett think that his visit is a shrewd display of "soft power," and note that Ahmadinejad may be the only leader in the Middle East—let alone the West—who would dare move about Beirut in an open motorcade. Here at TNI online, Jacob Heilbrunn warns that Iran might not be the paper tiger some have claimed it to be. Elder of Ziyon points out that while Lebanese Sunnis are wary of Tehran's influence, Palestinian Sunnis have hailed the president's visit, which, he says, is evidence that Iran is just using Lebanon as a conduit for "resistance" against Israel. And Jonathan Tobin says Ahmadinejad's reception is proof of President Obama's failed Middle East policy.
Speaking of Middle East policy, the New York Times finds evidence of a rift within the Israeli leadership over West Bank settlements. And on the op-ed page, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren calls on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state if they truly want a "foundation" for peace. New Republic contributing editor Yossi Klein Halevi, writing in the Wall Street Journal, agrees that recognition of Israel is the real issue and says there's no way Israel would abandon its settlers unilaterally. The Washington Post reports that the Palestinian Authority has countered the settlement-freeze-for-recognition offer by saying they would agree to such a deal as it pertained only to pre-1967 Israel, without Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, for some nonpolitical news about the state sharing Lebanon's northern border, look no further than this Times article on the drought that has devasted Syria's once-thriving farmers.