Iran's President Praises Hezbollah

BINT JBAIL, Lebanon — He never did throw any stones. But the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clearly relished the moment as he stood a few miles from the Israeli border and delivered a fiery speech in support of his Hezbollah allies on the second day of his first state visit here.

(The New York Times) BINT JBAIL, Lebanon — He never did throw any stones. But the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clearly relished the moment as he stood a few miles from the Israeli border and delivered a fiery speech in support of his Hezbollah allies on the second day of his first state visit here.

The remarks were familiar, echoing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s many previous tirades against Israel, complete with some apocalyptic touches about the coming of the Messiah and the “raising up of the oppressed.” He called for “the Zionists to be wiped out” and praised Hezbollah as a model for Lebanon and the rest of the world.

It was the setting that was new. This town, almost destroyed by Israeli bombs in the war with Hezbollah in 2006, has been rebuilt in part with Iranian money. It is a stronghold of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group backed by Iran, and Mr. Ahmadinejad’s appearance here was clearly intended to be “provocative,” as the White House put it on Wednesday. Rumors had circulated for days that Mr. Ahmadinejad would go all the way to the border and throw stones at Israel, but Hezbollah officials made it clear that would not happen.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke during a rally organized by Hezbollah in the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, on Thursday.

The Iranian president was treated like a hero, with billboards and signs bearing his face all over Beirut, the capital. Iranian flags lined roads throughout southern Lebanon, where he flew from Beirut by helicopter on Thursday afternoon after meetings with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Suleiman. After speaking here at an outdoor stadium, he visited the nearby town of Qana, devastated by Israeli bombs in 1996 and 2006, where Hezbollah has built a memorial to the dead.

It must have felt like a vacation. Mr. Ahmadinejad faces criticism from conservative rivals at home, and his government is embarking on painful economic reforms that could cause prices to skyrocket. Here, he basked in adulation from Hezbollah and its supporters, who seized the opportunity to defy Western and Arab critics of an “Iranian project” in Lebanon and the region.

On Thursday, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks during a visit to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the site of the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. “The best answer was given here 62 years ago,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Hezbollah supporters waved Lebanese and Iranian flags as they gathered to listen to a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran on Thursday in the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon.

He added, “All those people who think that Zionism will disappear — not only is it not disappearing, but it is growing stronger.”

Mr. Netanyahu said that Israel would continue to build and to defend itself. As if to underscore the point, the Israeli military said that its air force and the Hellenic Air Force had held a combined training exercise in Greece this week.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, described the area south of Beirut as “Hezbollah-stan,” while Uzi Landau, the minister of national infrastructure, told Israel Radio, “The lesson we should learn from Ahmadinejad’s visit is that Iran is on the northern border of Israel.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visited Bint Jbail, Lebanon, on Thursday, an event celebrated by an ally, Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group.

For Hezbollah, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit was a chance to make a show of strength at a time when it is feeling threatened. The international tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister and the father of the current one, is widely expected to indict members of Hezbollah. The group has warned of dangerous consequences if that happens.

More broadly, the visit was a moment of pride for many of Lebanon’s Shiites, who have historically been the country’s most disadvantaged and are now rapidly rising in wealth and numbers. They have an ancient connection to Iran through shared faith, and Iran’s financial and military support for Hezbollah has inspired gratitude.

Iran's president delivered a fiery anti-Israel speech in Bint Jbail.A few miles from Bint Jbail, in the border town of Marun al Ras, visitors relaxed in a park built with Iranian money last year and gazed out at Israel. Posters of Mr. Ahmadinejad adorned the walkways, along with pictures of Iranian ayatollahs and signs thanking Iran for its support. A replica of the Dome of the Rock, the historic mosque in Jerusalem, gleamed in the sun.

“It’s a visit to Lebanon, but it means more to us as Shiites,” said Ibrahim Darwish, 36, who had come from Beirut with his wife and three children in the hope of glimpsing Mr. Ahmadinejad. “We feel it’s a new day of victory for us.”

Nearby, a group of young men on horseback chanted slogans of loyalty to Mr. Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader.

“It’s a historic day,” said Hussein Awada, one of the riders, as he showed off a scar on his elbow that he said he had received in the 2006 war. “We have Ahmadinejad on the border of Palestine. Yes, this is Palestine, not Israel, and God willing, Israel will soon vanish with the blessing of this man.”