On the Road with
Ahmadinejad in Lebanon

"Isn't This One Fine View?"

Franklin Lamb
In the village of Qana, Lebanon
October 15-17, 2010

He came, he saw, he conquered.

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 Caesar’s following Rome’s second conquest of Britain”.

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

A grateful nation extended to Makmoud 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.

An important reason for the 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 shoehorned 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

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,) 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 petals, 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 as 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 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 Ahmadinejad’s
“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
mar the Iranian Presidents tour. In addition, he explained, 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

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 allegedly
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

Analysts will write about Iran’s Makmoud 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.

Ahmadinejad’s 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.

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 big joint economic projects, the Iranian arming of the
Lebanese Armed Forces, and strategic political cooperation, starting now.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at
[email protected]