Robert Fisk: Lebanon and Hizbollah ready to welcome Ahmadinejad

Iran's leader is coming to town in the hope of a propaganda victory
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The Independent Online

So he – with a capital 'H' – is coming this morning. Be on the Beirut airport road, they tell us. He will receive our plaudits. An open-top car? Perhaps. Ahlah wa sahlan, it says on the posters in Arabic, which the Hizbollah have thoughtfully put up for us. And then: Hush amdid in Persian. They both mean "welcome". But is He? President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the President of Iran, not of Lebanon. A protocol, you may say. One friend calling on another, as Henry VIII was said to call on Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. But is this a friend?

The airport road will see him loved, perhaps garlanded, certainly feted by the Shia Muslims of the southern suburbs of Beirut through which his airport journey will take him. And the Shias of Lebanon are the largest minority in this country. Their Lebanese parliamentary leader, Nabih Berri – speaker of parliament, no less, dinner host of Mr Ahmadinejad tonight – will speak honeyed words to the President of Iran (and let us not mention the dubious election results in Iran last year), as will the President of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Christian (as it is his duty to be under the sectarian constitution of Lebanon). But then let's get down to the point.

The Shia Muslim Hizbollah militia, most powerful enemy of Israel, is armed and financed by the Iranians. Mr Ahmadinejad is the President of the country which maintains this militia and arms it. He will speak at the great sports stadium in Beirut tonight, and all of the Lebanese capital are asking the same question: will Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hizbollah – which drove the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2006 – dare to risk his life beside Mr Ahmadinejad? Since the Israelis have put him on their assassination list, Nasrallah is a bit cautious about public appearances. So will we see him? Or will he appear, as usual, on a video screen, larger and higher than his financier?

Probably, he will turn up himself. Nasrallah has been giving speeches for months as if he is the president of Lebanon. He has already announced the Iranian President's tour d'horizon of Lebanon. No, Mr Ahmadinejad will not throw stones over the Lebanese border into Israel. Yes, Mr Ahmadinejad will be visiting the mass grave of the 106 Lebanese (most of them Shia) civilians killed by Israeli shellfire at a UN base at Qana in southern Lebanon in 1996 – and more children killed by the Israelis in the village in 2006 – and he will speak in the village of Bint Jbeil where the Hizbollah destroyed so many Israeli tanks in 2006 (after Bint Jbeil was destroyed by the Israelis following the Hizbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers after crossing the border – thank you, Mr Ahmadinejad).

All in all, then, it's a bit of propaganda, flagrant for the Israelis – who are waiting for next spring's war with the Hizbollah – and a bit of propaganda for the Hizbollah, which is also waiting for next spring's war with the Israelis. And as a reminder to the Lebanese, that Iran decides the future of Lebanon. Israel too, of course. And America – which will remain largely silent when the President of Iran arrives in Beirut today to celebrate the Lebanese "democracy" of which the Bush administration spoke so highly in 2005.

The US embassy has been doing its ritual work: telling American citizens to stay off the streets of Lebanon's cities. Watch this space, then in April or May of 2011.