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Ahmadinejad visit to Lebanon brings little rapture back home

Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is visiting Lebanon, wants to lead a regional 'axis of resistance.' But Iranians are focused on economic and political problems at home.

By Staff writer / October 13, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l.) shakes hands with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman (r.) upon Ahmadinejad's arrival at the Lebanese Presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 13.

Hussein Malla/AP


Istanbul, Turkey

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday with all the theater of a conquering hero. Arms up in triumph as his motorcade moved from the airport to Beirut, Mr. Ahmadinejad blew kisses to an adoring, flag-waving crowd organized by Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah militia.

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The arch-conservative Iranian president looked as if he were on the campaign trail again, hunting for votes back home in Iran.

But while Ahmadinejad sought to bolster Lebanon’s role as in the axis of resistance against Israel and its US and Western supporters – expressing Iran’s “unlimited” support for fellow Lebanese “students of justice” – Iranians are making different priorities.

That's because, during his two-day taste of regional triumphalism in Lebanon, largely rebuilt with billions in Iranian cash after a destructive war with Israel in 2006, Ahmadinejad left behind a host of problems.

“I don’t think the public at large is really that fascinated with Lebanon or the Lebanese resistance, [though] support for Hezbollah is wide within the Iranian population,” says an analyst in Tehran who asked not to be named. “But I’m not sure that anything is going to deflect [Iranians] from where we are right now, which seems to be a crisis. I don’t think it’s going to be that simple to cover it up with a two-day trip to Lebanon, no matter what kind of reception [there is].”

Iranians aren't sharing in the rapture

Indeed, back in Iran there are rising concerns about plans to severely curtail energy and gasoline subsidies (even a partial cut in 2007 sparked violence and the burning of gas stations); dramatic fluctuations in the value of the rial against the dollar in the past week; an economy squeezed by UN, US, and European sanctions; and a host of political battles – especially among conservative factions – that have been magnified by the president’s divisive style.

So Iranians have not shared in the rapture experienced by their president, who was showered with flower petals in Beirut.

“Internal issues have taken over everything else,” says the Tehran analyst. “The public is much more intrigued by what the final price of gasoline will be than where this [visit to Lebanon] will lead to.”

Axis of resistance

Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, leaders of the Islamic Republic have sought to “export” the revolution, and cast their country in recent years as head of an axis of resistance that includes Lebanese Hezbollah, Syria, and the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

That influence peaked in the aftermath of what Hezbollah called a “divine victory” against Israel in a 33-day conflict in the summer of 2006, with pro-Iranian leaders at the helm in Baghdad, and with United States military fortunes under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan.