Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on his first visit to Lebanon, a trip widely viewed as provocative.
The visit comes amid mounting Western concerns about arms deals and political collaboration between Iran and the militant group Hezbollah.
Ahmadinejad visited Bint Jbeil, a Lebanese village along the Israeli border, where he spoke at a rally in a stadium. The rally attracted thousands of cheering Hezbollah supporters.
Iran is the main patron of Hezbollah, the most powerful military force in Lebanon. The United States and Israel have called the visit intentionally provocative, and meant to emphasize Iran's support for Hezbollah's fight with Israel.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon also highlights Iran's efforts to help rebuild the nation after the 2006 war.
Indeed, rather than worrying about Iran supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the West should pay attention to how Iran brings the region under its control through a different strategy, says James Denselow, a writer on Middle East politics and security.
“The Iranian deals are far more interesting in terms of the welfare aspect,” he said. “They spent over a billion dollars reconstructing large parts of southern Beirut. Yesterday there was an energy deal signing between the Iranian foreign minister and the Lebanese energy minister that could provide much-needed gas and oil supply to electrical infrastructure here in Lebanon… I think that is much more interesting in terms of Iran’s use of soft power to improve its relations with Lebanon rather than simply weapons alone.”