Iran's Ahmadinejad Gets Hero's Welcome Near Israeli Border

Iranian president visits Hezbollah stronghold just 2 miles from Israel.

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon Oct. 14, 2010— -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a hero's welcome in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil today, just miles from the Israeli border.

Tens of thousands of cheering supporters packed a Lebanese soccer stadium to greet him, many waving Iranian flags.

His visit here is seen as a provocation by both Israel and the U.S. Bint Jbeil is a stronghold of his militant Islamic ally Hezbollah, and it is just two miles from Israel's northern border.

Over the years it has seen some of the fiercest fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah fighters, particularly during the conflict of 2006.

Ahmadinejad praised Lebanese confrontations with Israel, calling Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel a "role model" for others in the region.

"The world should know the Zionists are mortal ... today the Lebanese nation is alive and is a role model for the regional nations," he stated.

"Occupied Palestine will be liberated from the filth of occupation by the strength of resistance and through the faith of the resistance," the Iranian president stated.

Iran has been a major patron of Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad has overseen the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild homes damaged by fighting here and in nearby towns.

That money has also been spent to rearm Hezbollah with up to 40,000 rockets and missiles, all pointed towards Israel.

His presence so close to the Israeli border has drawn sharp criticism from Israeli politicians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel knows how to defend itself.

"We heard today the cursing and invectives from the Lebanese border. The best answer to the deriders was given here 62 years ago -- the state and all that we've built and created since," Netanyahu said. "Look what a nation, what a state and what an army the state of Israel has. We will continue building, we will continue to create our state and we will know well how to defend ourselves."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Ahmadinejad's regime on ABC's "Good Morning America" today, citing its nuclear program and its "support of terrorism."

"So when the Iranian president goes to Lebanon, and we know that they are supporting financially and in every other way Hezbollah, which is on the border of Israel and the border of the Palestinian areas, then that is a volatile situation," she told "GMA."

Ahmadinejad On Israel's Border

Ahmadinejad arrived in Lebanon Wednesday, and tens of thousands of his supporters lined his route from the airport into Beirut. Huge posters hung from every lamp post and as he passed by in his open topped car, people threw sweets and rice in traditional gestures of welcome.

At the Presidential Palace he met Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and shook hands with Prime Minister Saad Harriri. He heads a fragile coalition government which includes the radical Islamic group Hezbollah.

The U.S. has backed a part of the Lebanese government that accuses Hezbollah of running a state within a state. The Hezbollah militia is widely recognized as being the strongest military force inside the country.

Analysts believe Ahmadinejad's visit is designed to boost Hezbollah's standing and send warning signals that Iran's allies in Lebanon enjoy powerful backing from Tehran.

Despite that, a group of 250 Lebanese politicians, lawyers and activists have written a letter of protest against the visit accusing the Iranian president of stirring up old divisions and pushing the country towards another conflict with Israel.

"Your talk of changing the face of the region starting with Lebanon.... and wiping Israel off the map makes it seem like your visit is that of a high commander to his front line," the letter said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report