After a day watching his words during a state visit to politically fragile Lebanon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to rhetorical form Wednesday night with a fulminating attack on the United States and Israel.
Given a hero’s welcome at a rally attended by thousands of Hezbollah supporters in Beirut’s southern suburbs, President Ahmadinejad said that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an excuse for the US and its allies to pursue “colonial goals.”
“When we look at the dimensions of what the occupiers have done in Afghanistan, Iraq, and recently in Pakistan, we realize well that their goal is not to discover who executed the Sept. 11 events. Rather, these events were merely a pretext for presence in the region and pursuing colonial goals,” he said speaking in Farsi. He paused every few sentences to allow his words to be translated into Arabic for the benefit of the audience.
Hezbollah supporters had hoped that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah would appear at the rally but the Hezbollah leader, who has made only a handful of public appearances since the 2006 war with Israel, instead addressed the crowd via the now customary giant video screen. In a short speech before Ahmadinejad took to the podium, he praised Iran’s support for Lebanon and the Palestinian cause and defended the outspoken Iranian president.
“This president’s guilt is that he expresses this with transparency and honesty, in the UN and wherever he goes,” Nasrallah said. “The West has set itself against him because he says that Israel is an illegitimate state and must disappear.”
Although Ahmadinejad’s presence in Lebanon is categorized as a formal state visit, it resonates most deeply with the Lebanese Shiites. This is partly because of historic cultural relations between the two countries, but more particularly because of Hezbollah’s deep ideological, military, financial, and logistical ties to Iran.
Hezbollah adheres to the same politico-religious system adopted by Iran in 1979 following its Islamic revolution. Known as wilayet al-faqih – the guardianship of the jurisprudent – it confers absolute authority over religious, social, moral and political matters to a senior Shiite scholar. In Iran, the wali al-faqih, or jurist, is the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was Iran's first, and he was succeeded by Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
Although Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran, his relationship with Hezbollah is confined to a shared ideology – Hezbollah looks to the supreme leader for guidance, not to Iran's president.
Hezbollah freely admits that its ultimate authority is Ayatollah Khameini, which provokes accusations that the Lebanese group is nothing more than an Iranian proxy.
In the presence of Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah insisted that Iran had never instructed Hezbollah to act against the interests of Lebanon.
“In my position of responsibility in Hezbollah, I bear witness before you that Iran, which has always supported us and still does, has never demanded of me that I take a particular stance,” he said. “It has never issued a command and never expected thanks from us, although we take pride in our deep faith in the guardianship of the just, wise and courageous jurisprudent."