The Connected Geopolitics of AfPak and Middle East -The Upcoming Visit of Ahmadinejad to Lebanon

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Context

250_assad-plans-weekend-talks-with-ahmadinejadIran and the US have a long history of political animosity, mistrust and a war of words worthy of a couple of bound volumes. Recent statements from Washington say that the military option in the case of Iran is still on the table. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised the hackles of Israel and the US with his upcoming two-day visit to Lebanon, beginning October 13. This article presents the impact of the visit on the AfPak Theater.

Analysis

In responding to American threats, Ahmadinejad promptly prayed that the “undertaker bury…your table” making a new chapter in the war of words, but how serious is the US about a military undertaking, and what would be the costs of such a move, the benefits?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised the hackles of Israel and the US with his upcoming two-day visit to Lebanon, beginning October 13. The visit will include a trip to the Israel-Lebanon border in the south of Lebanon, where the president plans to throw stones, as a symbolic gesture, across the border into Israel.

Ahmadinejad met privately with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who reportedly urged his Iranian counterpart to call off the ill-timed visit, which will only serve to increase tensions in the region. Al Assad may have had other motives as well, given that he and Saudi Arabia recently moved to reassert Sunni dominance in Lebanon with a State visit, so the move by Ahmadinejad is stepping on his toes as well.

Iran and Syria have long been considered friends, however in the past months Syria has positioned itself a few degrees away from Iran, probably in a bid to counter Iran’s growing presence in the region; certainly the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia are feeling the increase of Iranian influence with a measure of uneasiness. This restlessness has caused the Gulf States to go on an arms-buying spree. Kuwait, Oman, Qatar the UAE and Saudi Arabia have recently ordered arms worth $123 billion from the US.

Ahmadinejad’s brazen call that he considered Lebanon a part of its ‘security belt’ along with Iraq and Afghanistan has raised alarm bells in neighboring countries, but nowhere more so than in Israel.

With a hostile northern border with Lebanon, the last thing Israel wants to hear is that this is considered Iran’s security belt. Israel will be watching the border very closely in the days leading up to the visit, but with the recent settlement issues in the West Bank and the uncertain future of continued peace talks with the Palestinians, the timing of Ahmadinejad’s visit couldn’t really be worse. Ahmadinejad’s strong anti-Israel voice in the vicinity will only increase the tensions between Israel and her neighbors.

The US has expressed their disapproval of the visit, privately asking Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman to cancel the trip. While the Lebanese authorities may not be overjoyed about the upcoming visit, they are nevertheless reluctant to go head to head with Iran, and so have said they are preparing for Ahmadinejad’s arrival.

With temperatures running high in the AfPak Theater and the Pacific realm, US can hardly afford affairs worsen in the Middle East. US would prefer tackling these global hot spots in an order of its liking. The country needs Iran’s help in settling Afghanistan and as a counterbalance to the Sunni Jihadist threat. Therefore, it would want to keep matters related to Middle East and Israel, on a low burner for the time being. However, Iran by visiting Lebanon is signaling otherwise.

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