There are two sides to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit of Lebanon; firstly there will be the official meetings and discussions with the [Lebanese] president, government, and the agreements [that will follow this]. The second aspect, whose precise arrangements remain a secret, has preoccupied Ahmadinejad’s attention, and this is the public reception that has been organized for him by Hezbollah in the southern suburbs of Beirut, as well as the specifics of arranging a meeting with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah – who has remained in hiding and not appeared in public since the 2006 war – and arranging a visit to southern Lebanon.
This may seem a little strange in comparison to the recognized protocols of state relations and official visits, but this is consistent with the reality of the situation in Lebanon where “the state of Hezbollah” exists in parallel to the official state. Hezbollah is stronger, practically, and in terms of arms, than the official state institutes, and so Hezbollah is able to make major decisions on issues such as war or peace, with these decisions being imposed upon society as a whole.
The arrangements for Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit suggest that there will be two visits, rather than one. The first is an official visit of the Lebanese state, while the second – and more important visit – is of Iran’s ally, the state of Hezbollah, which receives financial and military support from the Iranian regime.
This is not the first time that an Iranian president has visited Lebanon, for Iranian President Mohammed Khatami visited the country in 2003, although this trip did not take place at a controversial and divisive time within Lebanon, unlike the current visit. Indeed Khatami was an accepted figure both regionally and internationally, and he enjoyed positive regional relations, at a time when Lebanese circumstances were different. However, regarding the current situation, it seems that Ahmadinejad is actually a factor in the internal Lebanese division. Lebanon is divided between those claiming to be ‘Lebanon’s resistance’, and on the other side, those who consider that claim to be a mere slogan, which draws Lebanon into a larger struggle, between Tehran and Western powers, regarding [Iran’s] nuclear file.
Signals and statements from Lebanese political parties do not hide Ahmadinejad’s “two visits”. It was the Hezbollah Secretary General who came out to urge the Lebanese to welcome Ahmadinejad, and consider him as the guest of the entire nation, and for people to line the path from the airport in order to welcome him. This move was outside established protocol, and it usurped the role of the state in conducting arrangements for a foreign guest’s visit. On the other side, it appears that the March 14 alliance are concerned that during this visit, Lebanon will be nothing more than a platform for Ahmadinejad to send messages to southern Lebanon, the Beirut suburbs, Israel, and even the international community; highlighting that Iran has a presence on the shores of the Mediterranean.
In an article published in Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, Ataollah Mohajerani, wrote that there was another dimension to this visit, and that is the domestic economic crisis in Iran, and the need for Ahmadinejad to make a diplomatic appearances abroad in order to strengthen his popularity within Iran.
Whatever the factors, or whichever group feels provoked by this visit, the internal dispute surround this visit – or two visits – should not return the country into renewed crises and open conflicts. For the guest is only visiting for a few days and leaving, whilst it is the Lebanese – with their different sects and beliefs – who are the true owners of the country and its interests. They are the ones who are living in Lebanon, and Lebanon’s prosperity or demise is in their hands, with regards to their agreement and reconciliation. The most important feature of agreement and internal peace is commitment to the institutes of the state, so that these are stronger than everything else, and not to allow any party to form a parallel state.