Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here

A demonstration of Tehran's clout in the region

While opinion in the United States is divided over the exact significance of the visit to Lebanon of Iran's president, its importance is not in dispute.

WASHINGTON // While opinion in the United States is divided over the exact significance of the visit to Lebanon of Iran's president, its importance is not in dispute. In public, US officials play down the event, characterising it as a sovereign Lebanese issue. But the US, which yesterday urged its citizens in Lebanon to remain vigilant during the high-profile visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be watching.

The official view in Washington is that Iran is a destabilising factor in the Middle East in general, and in Lebanon in particular, especially in view of Iran's strong ties with Hizbollah. The Lebanese Shiite group is part of Lebanon's coalition government, but the United States defines it as a terrorist organisation. Curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions, meanwhile, remains a top US policy objective.

A state visit to Lebanon of an Iranian president therefore constitutes a "public demonstration" of the Islamic republic's influence in the region, said Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank on US national security and defence issues. "That he can travel there and be received as a head of government is a ceremonial demonstration of Iranian influence in Lebanon and how the whole political order there has to acknowledge the geopolitical weight of Iran in the region."

That the United States was unable to prevent the visit, according to Mr Kaplan, is also a sign of continued weakness in US sway in Lebanon. "The US is not powerless to counter Iran's influence in the region. But one thing it can't do is micro-manage Lebanese internal politics." The general assumption is that Iran's influence in the Middle East is negative, pervasive and growing. "We've said many times that Iran's policies in the region increase tension and violence and are antithetical to peace," a State Department official said last week.

But some observers say Iran's regional role has been exaggerated and Hizbollah misunderstood. "Iran becomes important when the US makes mistakes in the region," said Mark Perry, an independent military analyst based in the US capital. He pointed to what he called a long line of such mistakes by the administration under George W Bush as one reason for the perceived growth of Tehran's influence. "Our incompetence undercuts us. But when we are competent, Iran doesn't get that much traction."

US opinions about Iran have to a large degree been shaped in recent years by Mr Ahmadinejad himself, whose public statements are often received by US pundits and the public alike as provocative. Reports indicate that Mr Ahmadinejad may have added to that perception by announcing that during his Lebanon visit he would go to Lebanon's border with Israel and throw stones across, something Mr Kaplan, who characterised Mr Ahmadinejad as "less crazy than many Americans think", dismissed as a public relations stunt.

"Trying to humiliate the US with provocative statements is not helpful," said Mr Perry. He suggested that Mr Ahmadinejad had been built into a bogeyman in the US by people opposed to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and said US officials also needed to be wary of "inflammatory language. "The US is having difficulties in the region. We need to lower the temperature." 


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National