Iran hosts Lebanese defense minister

Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lebanon's visiting defense minister on Sunday, telling him that Beirut and Tehran should work toward unity to confront the west and Israel, the country's official news agency reported.

The visit comes amid an apparent move by Tehran to strengthen its regional ties, as it faces both pressure from the West over its nuclear program and the possible loss of a key ally, Syria's President Bashar Assad.

Ahmadinejad told visiting Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn to "resist the plots" of "domination-seeking powers," IRNA said.

Ghosn is a member of the Christian political party Marada, which is allied with Tehran's main partner in Lebanon, the Shiite Hezbollah movement. Marada and Hezbollah are also closely linked to Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad, who is traditionally a major power-broker in Lebanon but faces an uprising against his rule.

"Friendships and brotherhood should be improved," Ahmedinejad said. He claimed Israel would carry "a massacre against all nations of the region" if it could. "Therefore, we should support and stand by each other more than before."

Ghosn said "Lebanon will never forget that Iran stood by them in great difficulties." He said Israel would fear Iran's reaction, should it consider moving in ahostile way against any regional country.

Israel and Iran consider each other arch-enemies, and tensions have risen dramatically as Tehran pushes ahead with uranium enrichment and other aspects of its nuclear program. Israel and the West say Iran wants to develop weapons, while Tehran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

Tehran has blamed the recent assassinations of nuclear scientists on Israel. It also faces the possibility of Israeli airstrikes against its nuclear facilities. Israel says the military option must remain on the table.

Israelis say that Iran may retaliate against such a strike through proxy, by pushing Hezbollah to use its arsenal of rockets against the Jewish state.

Such an action however risks triggering another Israeli-Lebanese conflict, such as the 2006 border war between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

Ghosn also met Sunday with Iran's defense minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi. "Strengthening Lebanese army is among strategic policies of Iran," the Iranian minister said. "Lebanon should have a strong army to defend its interest in the region."

In return Ghosn said, "Right now there is a complete coordination between army and the resistance," a term often used by Hezbollah to refer to itself.

Earlier on Saturday, Gen. Vahidi said that an Israeli attack on Iran will lead to the collapse of the Jewish state.

Iran has also recently hosted visits by leaders from the Palestinian militant movement Hamas. Iran has been alarmed by Hamas' outreach to Sunni Arab states in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, which have brough Islamists to political prominence and pushed Hamas leaders to relocate from their longtime headquarters in Syria.

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