In Continuing Defiance of U.S., Syrian President Meets With Leaders of Iran and Hezbollah
As the administration prepares to send an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in five years, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate hearing last Wednesday that Assad’s close relationship with Iran and his support for Hezbollah in Lebanon were among the issues on which it was pressuring Assad.
The next day, Assad welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for talks, and ridiculed U.S. attempts to split the decades-old Damascus-Tehran alliance, instead taking steps to strengthen it. He then invited Nasrallah to join him and Ahmadinejad, again directly defying U.S. appeals.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the three leaders discussed the latest developments in the region and “Israeli threats against Lebanon and Syria.”
Hezbollah’s al-Manar television called the meeting of the three men over an “intimate and friendly” dinner “historic,” noting that it was the first, at least in public, since the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war.
The Hezbollah mouthpiece quoted an official Syrian source as saying, “Why is it possible for the United States and the Israeli enemy to establish a strategic alliance that’s public directed [against] our region and people and at the same time we’re forbidden from facing this alliance?”
Lebanese media said it was relatively rare for Nasrallah to travel abroad because he could pose a target for Israel.
Some Lebanese politicians expressed disquiet at the sight of Nasrallah meeting with Assad and Ahmadinejad in what had the appearance of a three-way summit discussing issues including Lebanon’s security.
“The Lebanese people are sick and tired of wars, but the issue is not in their hands since Hezbollah has been deciding when Lebanon should be destroyed,” Sami Gemayel, a lawmaker from the Phalangist Party and member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s March 14 coalition, was quoted as telling the weekly newsmagazine, Watan Al Arabi.
The Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi’ite group’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers in 2006 sparked the war which affected the whole of Lebanon.
Hezbollah members and their allies control one-third of the seats of the Lebanese cabinet that emerged from elections last year. Despite U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for the disarming of Hezbollah, Hariri’s U.S.-backed government, like its predecessor, has been unable or unwilling to do so.
Hezbollah is the organization blamed for a series of suicide attacks in Beirut in 1983, including blasts at the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks that killed more than 300 people, most of them Americans; and one targeting French soldiers, 60 of whom were killed.
Iranian leaders at the weekend hosted the heads of Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and reaffirmed support for their campaign against Israel.
Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mashaal and Islamic Jihad secretary-general Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, both of whom are based in Syria, met with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and others, and also took part in a “Palestine” solidarity conference.
The Fars news agency quoted Khamenei as telling the terrorist leaders that the “the resistance shown by the Palestinian people will eventually defeat the United States.”
Referring to Israel, Ahmadinejad told the conference that “unity and readiness of the Palestinian people are the only ways to control this evil demon and send it to the bottom of hell,” Iran’s Press TV reported.
Hamas leader Mashaal said conditions in the region had changed.
“Resistance is the only way to victory and all of us are united and unified,” the official Iran Daily quoted him as saying.
“Those who seek to create rifts within the resistance front will not get anything,” Mashaal continued. “In the same way that a few days ago we heard Iranian and Syrian presidents say, the approach, rationale and objective of the resistance front is clear and unified.”