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Qana near the border with  Palestine;  He came, he saw, he conquered.

By Franklin Lamb — Veterans Today

As he watched the Iranian President blow kisses to cleaning workers at Beirut’s airport during his departure for Iran early this morning, a Lebanese Christian historian commented  “This Persian’s  glory at the moment is arguably greater than Caesars following Rome’s second conquest of Britain”.

Thousands of Lebanese took to the streets to greet Iran’s President Ahmedinejad as his 35 car motorcade moved slowly through the streets of Beirut. Image credit: Daily Mail

“If President Ahmadinejad asks my opinion, I shall tell him:  A stone? My dear brother, you are capable of throwing much more than a stone.”  Hassan Nasrallah  (AFP 10/12/10)

And the Iranian president did indeed throw much more than a stone at US-Israel projects for Lebanon, perhaps energized by the adoring public he encountered.  He declined to travel by helicopter to his meetings as US VP Joe Biden and visiting American officials regularly do and traveled  by car and by foot to greet those who came of to welcome him.

Support: The streets were lined with Iranian flags and covered in clusters of green, white and red balloons Image credit: Daily Mail

A grateful nation extended to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, what one Bishop claimed was  the greatest outpouring of popular support on the streets, all along this country’s sectarian divide, that the Republic of Lebanon  has ever witnessed including the May 10, 1997 visit of  Pope John Paul II.

Many waved Lebanese and Iranian flags, and giant posters of Mr Ahmadinejad towered over the road, while loudspeakers blasted anthems

An important reason for the massive outpouring of popular support  was the quarter century of Iranian assistance to Lebanon for social projects, and for rebuilding much of  Lebanon following the 1993, 1996 and 2006  Israeli aggressions. Massive aid that was detailed by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General in a recent speech  and the cost of which is  estimated to be in excess of one billion dollars.

Iran’s President  is widely believed in the diplomatic community here to have promoted sectarian unity in Lebanon, calmed the current political atmosphere, and delivered on offers of more desperately needed economic projects via 17 bilateral agreements.  A particularly appreciated offer throughout Lebanon is Iran’s  major pledge of an electrical complex that will deliver 7 times Lebanon’s current power  supply which in 2010 still sees power  cuts throughout Lebanon. The current deficiencies range from three hours to 12 hours daily power cuts everywhere in Lebanon plus total blackouts for days at a time in some areas. Iran’s President is widely believed to have achieved a major advancement for Lebanese stability, sovereignty, and independence.

The throngs were cheering,  waving, and shouting their admiration. Local media used descriptive words like  “rock star, rapturous, massive affection,” to describe his reception.

Wretched  Palestinian refugees,  tightly shoe horned into Lebanon’s squalid UN camps, denied even the most elementary civil rights by an apathetic international community and some of the local sects, could be seen along the route. Many with eyes moistened, perhaps by Nakba memories and tears of hope for the early liberation of their sacred Palestine  and the full exercise of their internationally mandated and inalienable Right of Return to their homes.   Refugees, plenty of them illegal, Iraqis, Afghans, Kurds  and others, urging the expulsion of  occupation forces from their countries and the restoration of their former lives waved and blew kisses.  Lebanese domestic ‘guest/slave workers’ from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Sudan, Philippines, Bangladesh, and other countries could be seen in the crowds along with Syrian construction workers. Also a sprinkling of Stendhal  “Le Rouge et le Noir” characters  who, seeking  secure advancement in life, have fixed themselves  to one or the other, both requiring that they be seen publicly at such an important  event.

Close to  750,000 people, or  approximately one quarter of  the total population of  Lebanon, (more than  75 million people if extrapolated to the US population) of all ages and stations in life,  appeared at the main road from Beirut’s airport and at other events during an intense two day  frenetic series of appearances.   Red, green and yellow rose peddles, the colors of Iran’s flag, greeted Lebanon’s guest. Due to time constraints, some events for which much preparation had been made  were “postponed”,  including  an “American Town Hall Meeting with President  Ahmadinejad. ” It was to include 15 Americans currently in Lebanon being academics, business people,  students, housewives, and NGO’s,  in a much anticipated US political campaign type format with Iran’s President joining an informal dialogue with his interlocutors.

At Al Raya Athletic field in South Beirut,  often used for popular Hezbollah events,  an estimated 150, 000 people crowded onto just the main field boundaries, , one Hezbollah source reporting that it was the largest gathering inside the field ever seen.  Thousands  of other attendees spilled onto the side streets where huge TV screens has been set up and vendors hocked roasted ears of corn, boiled balila beans,  kaak asrounye  (baked bread with filling) ) various treats, including chips, cotton candy and soft drinks.  Driving around the area on the mercifully cool autumn evening by motorbike, one could see thousands more gathered at several  dozen  Dahiyeh   outdoor cafes  and  store front shops where families and friends gathered to watch on the proprietors  outdoor TV screens.  Some of the adults smoked arguila water pipes and little kids played, happy to be allowed to stay up late while teenagers appeared contented  to get a day off from school and an evening without homework.

Lebanese and Iranian flags were  fluttering everywhere without huge numbers of Hezbollah flags displayed in keeping with the message that this was an official state visit. President Ahmadinejad of Iran was invited by President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon on behalf of every Lebanese including the majority of Lebanese who live in the Diaspora.  Deployments of Suleiman’s Presidential guards  were the ones seen to be providing security for Iran’s President with Hezbollah security largely out of site, except for occasional fleeting glimpse of Hezbollah sharpshooters in windows throughout the assembly area. They also surfaced quickly  if a dispute  or argument flared up in the packed  crowds. In these few cases a representative of Hezbollah would   apologize for the crowded conditions and ask for patience and understanding during the event.

At one stop near the blue line in South Lebanon he  smiled broadly, winked to the media contingent and adoring villagers surrounding him and, gazing deep into occupied Palestine, as if posing for a Marlboro Country billboard advertisement,  Iran’s charismatic President made many a heart flutter when he spoke softly, almost whispering  to some villages, and  with a twinkle in his eye ,  as if someone were eavesdropping:   “ Now isn’t this one fine view?”, as he discretely pointed.  “I like it over there, don’t you?”

Almost everyone laughed at his joke.

A  young lady  wearing a full length black covering called a Chador (a women wearing one is called a ‘Chadori’ in Persian and  Lebanese resistance culture) , with some of her school mates in tow who were volunteering as hostesses and Farsi, Arabic, and English interpreters, offered arriving American guests  enthusiastic greetings: 

“ Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s new border with Palestine! ”

Almost everyone laughed at her joke.

Then, exuding an easy self confidence and speaking American accented English while obviously having a good time, the student noticed one seemingly horror struck humorless  lady wearing a light brown business suit and heels who a security guy later confided was suspected of being a US Embassy plant.  “Just teasing”,  she assured the  woman, as she offered her hand in friendship to the flinching guest who glared uneasily at the hostesses’ hand as if it held a dead rat or might bite hers.   “Why are you Americans so serious”? the loquacious hostess smiled. “Do you agree Iran and America are destined to be good friends after our countries are  finished with this problem?”, and she gestured with her head south toward Tel Aviv.

“Please tell me what do Americans think?  I read a few days ago in preparation for my work today-I should not say work, it’s really fun- a report that ninety percent of Americans in a recent poll said they did not favor attacking Iran unless Iran attacks Israel first.  This is very good news  because I am sure Iran, unlike Israel’s record,  will never be the first to start a war.  Iran will retaliate naturally and that could mean World War III, but there will be no war involving Iran unless Iran, Syria, or Lebanon is attacked. We in the Resistance Alliance are “one for all and all for one” but we really want to be friends with the American people.” And she offered the woman a small ribbon tied, party wrapped, cellophane pouch with Iranian pistachios and candy attached to a small Iranian flag.  “No thanks”, the American answered as she walked away.

The American Embassy warned Americans to avoid  Ahmadinedjads “provocative and potentially dangerous visit because the Lebanese government cannot protect US Citizens.” Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, complained  to the pan-Arab Al-Hayat on 10/13/10: “Why is the Iranian president organizing activities that might spark tension? We are taking steps to lower tension while Ahmadinejad is doing the opposite.”

Nevertheless,  there were plenty  of Yanks in attendance  at all of Ahmadinejad’s appearances.

During his Qana visit, the Hezbollah Parliamentary delegation, friends with many Americans here, must have tipped off the Iranian President that Americans were sitting near them.  The reason for this hunch is that he could not have been more gracious, making frequently eye contact and touching his forehead as a greeting and salute and thanking them for coming. He assured the American guests that eventually Iran and America will be good friends and perhaps allies.

Shortly before the Iranian President’s  35 car convoy carrying his delegation and various Lebanese  officials  arrived  at Qana, his  fourth largest gathering, an  Israeli Air Force MRPV  circled lazily yet provocatively above the site of the 1996 Qana massacre.  Some in the more than 15,000 person crowd pointed skyward, some kids squealing “Israel!”.  From their experience, “Qanains”  as Ali, who grew up in this village explained some locals call themselves, were able to give  foreigners fairly precise details of the MRPV’s specs and capabilities.  This Israeli provocation ended according to a Hezbollah security source when the MRPV’s  controllers realized that a  Resistance  laser guided  missile had locked on to the uninvited intruder.  The same source divulged that Hezbollah did not intend to shoot it down and would only monitor the threat. This was because the Resistance did not want  to mar the Iranian Presidents tour.  In addition, he explained,  that Lebanon’s resistance  wanted to maintain “tactical and strategic ambiguity”  concerning its array of  anti-aircraft weapons until the moment war comes.

Lebanon’s people, army and resistance ignored provocations from this country’s southern enemy, including assassination threats like the one made by the Nakba denying Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad , more blustering from Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, and PM Netanyahu,  the beefing up of Israeli forces along the blue line, efforts to crack  Hezbollah communications and send SMS threats via hacked mobile phones,  conducting a chorus of US officials in  childish criticisms of the visit, and Israeli spokesmen like Mark Regev and political extremists in Congress issuing threats.

Israeli warplanes on Friday carried out intensive, mock air raids over south Lebanon as if to send the message, “He is gone but we are still here!”
The state-run National News Agency said Israeli jets staged mock air raids at medium attitude over Nabatiyeh, Iqlim al-Tuffah, Marjayoun, Khiam and Arqoub.

Another signature Israeli taunt  during Iran’s Presidents visit was the  launching of  hundreds of  blue and white balloons to catch the air current north to Bint Jbeil when Ahmadinejad was appearing.  Some with insults written on them by children with magic markers and others reportedly  smeared with human feces.  The spreading of the latter being an IDF insult employed over the past 45 years of incursions into Lebanon and Palestine when during occupations of Lebanese and Palestinian homes some Israeli soldiers create what they call “poop art” on walls, mattresses and other surfaces.

Analyst’s will write about  Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s historic visit for months to come and what the visit  means for the two countries, for the Question of  Palestine, strategic alignments in the region, and consequences for China, Russia and  the wider international community.

A perhaps too early,  road weary, sleep deprived photo snap of his visit’s effects would  warrant the following brief and tentative evacuation,  as Lebanon’s guest has just departed Beirut airport to return to his country. His midnight departure followed a visit at the Iranian Embassy with Hassan Nassrallah during which the Hezbollah Secretary-General gave the Iranian President an Israeli rifle taken from an Israeli soldier during the July 2006 war.

Ahmadinejads visit  achieved  more than a symbolic  consecration of a new local and regional reality that encompasses  a third way, separate from the US-Israel-Saudi or Syrian path. Some here think we are witnessing a new era of growing and uncompromising  Resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation  and ethnic cleansing of Palestine as well as America’s occupation and exploitation of Arab natural resources.

Some analysts are speaking about a six member  Axis of  Resistance led by  Iran and Turkey and including  Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Lebanon that is the rising regional power.

For many Lebanese,  from all of  17 non-Shia sects, despite a nearly unprecedented five year US-Israel  vilification campaign against his person and his country, Iran’s President appears to be underestimated in Washington and Tel Aviv and is increasingly  perceived in Lebanon as he is in his own country.

Members of his entourage describe him as a simple, devoutly religious uncomplicated man who personifies universal aspirations for justice, resistance to occupation and privilege,  and who is committed to the liberation of Palestine. According to some of his aides, who work with him daily, as well as some tough and experienced Iranian journalists, some critics of their President, he is much respected and loved by Iran’s seniors for his work over the years on their behalf. His other main base of political support comes from  working families for his  advocacy and funding for nutritious lunch programs including restrictions on excessive junk food availability at schools.  According to UNICEF it  is among the most progressive child nutrition programs anywhere.

Iranian journalists explained during deep background sessions what much of what is reported about him  in the West is not accurate. They cite the  claimed 10/25/05 statement by President Ahmadinejad that Israel must be wiped off the map as well as his alleged statement that  he denied  rather than merely calling for more study of  some aspects of the Holocaust  were themselves disinformation projects from the  Nakba denying Zionist lobby amplified by the compliant US and western media,  and still unfortunately, repeated this week by Reuters in Beirut. Examination of the transcript of Ahmadinejad’s  speech to the 2005 Tehran Conference reveals  that his exact words were, “ This regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” A view widely held throughout the world as serial Zionist crimes increasingly erode support for the idea of a Jewish  fascist theocracy violently implanted into the Middle East.   The word “map” was never used.  As writer Narash Norouzi has documented,  The Persian word for map, “nagsheh”, is not contained anywhere in his original Farsi quote, or, for that matter, anywhere in his entire speech. Nor was the western phrase “wipe out” ever said. Yet we are led to believe that Iran’s President threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”, despite never having uttered the words “map”, “wipe out” or even “Israel”.  What  Iran’s President appeared to call for was regime change, a popular concept in Washington DC the past couple of decades.

This reminds one of the distortion of Ahmadinejad’s  call for an impartial international inquiry into the event of 9/11 and the over reaction by President Obama and his comments that the Iranians analysis was “hurtful.” Increasingly American citizens are calling for the same thing to Ahmadinejad to answer the scores of key questions not adequately considered by the rushed US inquiry.   On the subject of ADL and Israel lobby charges that Iran and its President are anti-Semitic, one Jewish Iranian sociologist pointed during his visit to Lebanese University  that Iran’s  25,000 Jews have been shown to have a far better life, without discrimination , than many Sephardim Jews, and virtually  all Arabs, in Israel.

Media FAIL Again: Ahmadinejad & 9/11

What  seems quite evident is that Iran’s President and the large delegation of business people comprising his entourage have  opened a new era of bilateral relations  between the two countries.  His positive personal  and political connections with virtually all Lebanon’s leaders, including compliments from rightist Christian politicians including Samir Geagea, will likely lead to massive  joint economic projects, the Iranian arming of the Lebanese Armed Forces, and strategic political cooperation, starting now.

Dr. Franklin Lamb is Director, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, Beirut-Washington DC, Board Member of The Sabra Shatila Foundation, and a volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Lebanon. He is the author of The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon and is doing research in Lebanon for his next book. He can be reached at [email protected]

Images credit: Daily Mail

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