By Mara Vigevani
Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline Iranian cleric who is considered to be in the running to replace Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, reportedly visited the Lebanese-Israeli border two weeks ago.
According to Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former Military Secretary to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Raisi toured the Lebanese-Israeli border on January 30 amid Israeli warnings against Iranian plans to build high precision weapons in Lebanon and its military build-up in Syria.
Raisi proclaimed, according to a paper published in the JCPA, that “Jerusalem’s liberation is near” and praised Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese society as an Islamic movement that does not limit itself to military and defense matters, devoting as well efforts to building an Islamic culture in Lebanon.
Raisi’s border visit delivers several messages, Shapira said: Borders have no meaning for Iran which wants to be a dominant player in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; Iranian leaders can come and go to Lebanon as they please and Iran wants to show Israel it is not afraid of its warnings.
“Iranian government officials arrive in Beirut, and from there Hezbollah takes them as if it is their country,” Shapira told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) “They do not come as guests of the President of Lebanon. They do not recognize either Lebanese sovereignty or borders.”
Officials in Jerusalem have said on numerous occasions in the last months that Israel “will not tolerate” an Iranian military build up on its northern and eastern borders. IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis also warned Lebanon in a rare op-ed on a Lebanese opposition website against increasing Iranian activity in the country and urged its citizens to stand up to Tehran and Hezbollah’s meddling in the country and prevent the outbreak of war.
“The timing of the visit comes to tell Israel that they are ignoring all their threats and warnings. ‘We are here looking at Palestine and Jerusalem which will be liberated soon,’ they say. That’s the message,” Shapira said
In Lebanon, Raisi met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah; Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri; and the chairman of the Shiite Islamic Council, Abdul Amir Kabalan. Raisi also visited the family homes of the deceased terrorist leaders Imad Mughniyeh and Mustafa Badr al-Din.
Visits by Iranian officials to the Israeli-Lebanon border are not a new phenomenon, Shapira said, but what is new is that the officials visit the border zone are much higher ranked than those who have visited in the past.
”The Iranians have always come to Lebanon, they regard it as their protectorate,” Shapira said.