In speech in Lebanese border town, Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric targets Israel

By Alia Ibrahim and Joel Greenberg
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 7:41 PM

BINT JBEIL, LEBANON - In a fiery speech two miles from Lebanon's border with Israel on Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised a cheering crowd that the "Zionists will disappear" and that "occupied Palestine will be liberated."

On the second day of a visit to Lebanon, Ahmadinejad traveled to this border town in the southern Shiite heartland, which was hard hit by fighting during Israel's 2006 war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas. Iran contributed generously to the cost of rebuilding the town and other Lebanese communities devastated by the war, and the Iranian president used his trip to the border area to voice support for the fight against Israel.

A crowd of thousands waving flags of Iran and Hezbollah greeted Ahmadinejad in the stadium in Bint Jbeil, where he said that the local people had given Israel "the taste of bitter defeat."

"You proved that your resistance, your patience, your steadfastness, were stronger than all the tanks and warplanes of the enemy, "Ahmadinejad told the throng.

"The entire world should know that the Zionists will disappear," Ahmadinejad said as a pair of Israeli helicopters flew along the border within sight of the stadium. "Today the Zionist occupiers have no choice but to surrender to reality and return to their homes and countries of origin."

"Rest assured that occupied Palestine will be liberated from the filth of the occupation by the power of the resistance and through the faith of the resistance," the Iranian leader said, bringing a roar from the crowd.

Ahmadinejad went on to lay a memorial wreath in the village of Qana, where an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 war killed 28 civilians and an artillery shelling in 1996 killed more than 100 people sheltering in a U.N. compound.

The Iranian president's visit raised the prospect that the position of pro-Western factions in Lebanon would be further eroded, and U.S. and Israeli officials have called it a provocation. The visit also deepened fears among many Sunni and Christian Lebanese that Iran and Hezbollah are expanding their influence and could drag the country into another confrontation with Israel.

Ahmad Fatfat, a Lebanese lawmaker who is critical of Hezbollah, cited concerns during a television interview that "Lebanon will become an Iranian base on the shores of the Mediterranean."

In Israel, officials denounced the visit.

"Iran's domination of Lebanon, through its proxy Hezbollah, has prevented Lebanon from being a partner in peace and turned Lebanon into an Iranian satellite and a hub of regional terror and instability," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

An Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely said that Ahmadinejad had gone to Lebanon "as a commander coming to inspect his troops, the Hezbollah terrorists who serve as Iran's military arm in the region."

Despite the visit's political sensitivity, Israel's border with Lebanon was quiet as Israeli helicopters and drone aircraft kept a watch over the area.

In Bint Jbeil, a carnival atmosphere prevailed as loudspeakers blared songs in Arabic and Persian. When Ahmadinejad arrived, hundreds of balloons in the red, white and green colors of Iran's flag were sent skyward, toward the Israeli frontier.

"This is like a miracle from God, seeing the president set his foot here," one woman said.

On the roads south from Beirut, posters and banners welcomed the Iranian president as part of a reception organized by Hezbollah. The political thrust of one banner was unmistakable.

"Welcome to the protector of Lebanon," it read.

Greenberg reported from Jerusalem.

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