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Patrick Galey

Patrick Galey

Posted: February 28, 2010 09:28 AM

Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad's Banquet of Defiance

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The image is like all the others. Two smartly dressed, middle-aged politicians, languidly seated, apparently discussing something of vague significance. It's like all the other images, except for one thing: the two men seated in Damascus on Thursday night were the most influential Shiite politicians on the planet.

Hezbollah Leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad banqueted together and discussed "the latest developments in the region, and Zionist threats against Lebanon and Syria," according to Lebanese Al-Manar television, in reference to Tel Aviv's saber rattling hinting at a fresh conflict with Hezbollah.

It is impossible to know exactly what was said between the two men - both vocally and ideologically opposed to the existence of Israel - but conclusions can be drawn from the manner, location and timing of the meeting.

Nasrallah lives every day with a threat on his life. Even before the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah's military commander, Imad Mughniyeh (in Damascus, as it happens) the Sayyed has lived underground, either pre-recording speeches to his partisans in Beirut's southern suburbs or delivering them remotely.

Ahmadinejad, as president of a country whose unique brand of diplomacy appears to revel in frustrating (Western) international pressure, travels from Iran rarely, and is surrounded by enforcers when he does.

It is known that the two men regularly speak by telephone, as a large proportion of Hezbollah's funding, strategic instructions and - in all probability - weapons, come from or through Tehran.

But to meet in such an open, brazen manner - and at such a point in time - represents a major show of defiance to Israel, especially considering recent events in Dubai.

The first official Nasrallah-Ahmadinejad meeting since 2007 (reports occasionally spring up about clandestine summits) comes closely after the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, allegedly at the hands of Israel's murky security agency, Mossad.

It is not certain whether or not Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal attended Thursday's meeting, but reports suggest several Palestinian officials were present.

Either way, Israel had more or less every enemy of importance together in one place on Thursday, should it have chosen to act (although this seems far-fetched).

The logistics of getting Nasrallah over to Damascus undetected, across a highway which bisects a country peppered with Israeli agents, are mindboggling. That these men met with such impunity sent a very clear message to Tel Aviv: we are unintimidated and unaffected by whatever stick you are waving over us.

The meeting had wider regional significance; it demonstrated solidarity between Israel's three main opponents. It is difficult at this point not to consider the context of Israeli threats which have been hurled in the direction of Damascus and Beirut with increased intensity in recent weeks.

If Lebanon is involved in another altercation with Israel, Syria and Iran may well be induced to a greater degree and in 2006. Weapons continue to flow across Lebanon's porous border, much to the annoyance of the US and others and this meeting demonstrates that ties between Iran and its proxy on the eastern Mediterranean are only strengthening.

This time around, Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah would likely be far more overt and potentially far more destructive.

Should another assault begin, Thursday's meeting was the strongest indication yet of with whom Israel would really be picking a fight.

 

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