Ahmadinejad's Lebanon visit a message to US: analysts



BEIRUT, Rana Moussaoui- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought through his controversial visit to Lebanon this week to send a clear message to Washington that Tehran is a key player in the Middle East, analysts say.
"Iran has become an actor that cannot be ignored because it has some major cards to play in the region," political analyst Amin Kammurieh told AFP.



Ahmadinejad's Lebanon visit a message to US: analysts
"Tehran's presence in southern Lebanon through Hezbollah, and in the Gaza Strip through Hamas, is a message that US attempts to isolate it are useless," he added, referring to Islamist groups blacklisted as terrorist organisations by Washington.
The United States and its allies have been locked in a long-running dispute with Tehran over its nuclear programme and have sought to isolate the Islamic republic on the international scene through sanctions.
Oil- and gas-rich Iran insists that its nuclear drive is for peaceful purposes, aimed to produce electricity for its growing population.
Analysts said that Ahmadinejad's two-day official visit to Lebanon, which included a jaunt to the country's volatile southern border with Israel, served as a reminder that Iran had a say in the region through key ally Hezbollah.
"The Americans are being told: 'If you isolate Iran, Iran will corner you in Lebanon and elsewhere'," political commentator Rafiq Khoury said in an editorial in the independent Arabic-language daily Al-Anwar.
"The message is that if Washington wants solutions in the region... it must knock on Iran's door."
Mohammad Saleh Sedghian, head of the Tehran-based Arabic Centre for Iranian Studies, said Ahmadinejad's Lebanon visit was a reminder to Washington that key issues in the Middle East could only be addressed with Iran's help.
"The trip sent a clear message to the US administration that no security or political deal can be inked in the region without Iran's participation," Sedghian told AFP.
"It also sent a message to Israel that Lebanon is no longer its backyard and that it could not interfere in Lebanon's internal affairs as it used to," he added.
While in Lebanon, Ahmadinejad was given a hero's welcome by supporters of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel and is considered a proxy of Iran.
The visit, however, did not sit well with members of Lebanon's parliamentary majority who saw it as a bid by Tehran to portray the country as an Iranian base on the Mediterranean.
The United States and Israel also criticized the visit as a provocation and a threat to regional stability.
Ahmadinejad, who has questioned the Holocaust and described Israel as a "tumour," reiterated his trademark tirades on the inevitable demise of the Jewish state during his trip and hailed Hezbollah as a role model.
"Even though the Americans are making a lot of noise about the visit and about Iran, the reality is that they cannot cope without Tehran's support when it comes to Lebanon, Iraq and some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Rime Allaf, an analyst with the London-based Chatham House think tank.
"Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon has shown on the regional level the huge importance of the balance of power in the Middle East."
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Saturday, October 16th 2010
Rana Moussaoui
           


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