Lebanon is a "university of Jihad," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a Hizballah General Assembly meeting held in his honor Wednesday.
Ahmadinejad's comments during the visit have so far been split between provocation and conciliation, in speeches addressed as much to the adoring Shia Lebanese crowds as to Israel and its Western allies. According to ABCNews, "Analysts believe Ahmadinejad's visit is designed to boost Hezbollah's standing and send warning signals that Iran's allies in Lebanon enjoy powerful backing from Tehran."
In an opening speech with Lebanese President Michael Suliman, Ahmadinejad addressed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning that "The United States supports the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon. We reject any efforts to destabilize or inflame tensions within Lebanon." He declared that, "we [Iran] seek a united, modern Lebanon, and we stand by the Lebanese government and people."
However, he stated in reference to the West and Israel, "our region does not need the interference of regional or outside powers." He also repeated controversial statements calling for a "neutral investigation" into the "truth" of the September 11 attacks, noting that "these events were merely a pretext for presence in the region and pursuing colonial goals."
In addition, Ahmadinejad's tone during an evening speech before Hizballah's General Assembly was markedly more aggressive. He attacked Israel as the "Zionist regime" that had carried out "the massacre of innocent people" and "violations of international law." His comments were followed by those of Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who defended Iran's support of Lebanon and the Palestinian resistance that was being vilified by the West.
Nasrallah said Ahmadinejad's "guilt is that he expresses this with transparency and honesty, in the UN and wherever he goes… The West has set itself against him because he says that Israel is an illegitimate state and must disappear."
Ahmadinejad's visit continues Thursday, when he is expected to travel to historically important sites of conflict between Lebanon and Israel. In addition to traveling to Qana and Bint Jbail, Hizballah's so-called "capitol of liberation and resistence," Ahmadinejad is anticipated to symbolically throw stones at the border with Israel.