- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon is adding pressure for Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to withdraw his government’s support for the U.N. investigation into who killed his father — Lebanon’s previous leader — in a 2005 car bombing, Western analysts say.

Mr. Ahmadinejad arrived Wednesday in Beirut to throngs of supporters, who mostly belong to Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported militia and political party that has sought to derail the tribunal process for fear its senior members will be blamed for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“I think it’s clear that Ahmadinejad’s visit is intended to show support for Hezbollah at a time when it’s facing the prospect of indictments in the murder of Hariri and is engaged in a campaign to undermine and derail the tribunal,” said Ash Jain, a former Middle East specialist at the State Department’s policy-planning staff.

The visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly has called for the destruction of Israel and has hosted Holocaust denial conferences, in some ways was particularly provocative to the Jewish state, which Lebanon borders on its south. In Israel, a right-leaning member of parliament, Aryeh Eldad, suggested that someone ought to assassinate the Iranian leader on Wednesday.

Lebanon is the school of resistance and perseverance against the bullying forces of the world and is like a university for jihad, for adventure in the way of the noble, human causes,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in Beirut.

In recent years, via Syria, Iran has armed Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon with advanced rocketry capable of hitting Israeli cities. Earlier this year, U.S. diplomats formally protested shipments of missile components in Syria that U.S. officials claimed were headed for Hezbollah.

As of press time, it was not clear whether Mr. Ahmadinejad would visit Lebanon’s southern border region, an act that would signal Iran’s proxies were on Israel’s border.

“The question is, will the political leadership in Lebanon try to dissuade Ahmadinejad from going to the border?” said Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush.

Another pressing issue during the visit will be mounting pressure on the current government with regard to the U.N. tribunal into the Hariri assassination. Lebanon’s participation in the tribunal is key, because the government provides 49 percent of the funding for the body, and four of the 11 tribunal judges come from Lebanon’s judicial system.

In September, Saad Hariri said publicly it was a mistake to blame Syria, as he had in the past, for the killing of his father. The statement was seen as a major concession to the Syrians, who effectively ran Lebanon from 1991 until civil disobedience after the Hariri assassination forced the Syrian military out of the country.

The United States under the Bush and Obama administrations has strongly supported the U.N. tribunal process.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley reiterated that support: “It has to be clear that there can be no impunity for the kind of political assassination that we saw with the death of former Prime Minister Hariri.”

Mr. Jain said: “I think the Obama administration to its credit has expressed firm support for the tribunal and the ongoing investigation. In the last couple of weeks, they have repeatedly emphasized the tribunal will not be subject to political influence or negotiations.”