Feb. 26, 2010 -- Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese radical Shiite group Hezbollah, came out of hiding Thursday night for dinner in Damascus with his two closest allies, the presidents of Syria and Iran.
The Hezbollah owned and controlled Lebanese TV station al Manar reported the first visit by Nasrallah to Damascus for many years. Since the conflict with Israel in 2006 he has been a virtual recluse for fear of Israel assassination attempts.
He normally appears only via a large video screen from a secret studio and rarely in public at all.
Iran and Syria have both supported his organization with money and arms despite U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 imposed to prevent Hezbollah rearming.
But there has been a steady flow of arms shipments including thousands of Iranian-made rockets to replenish those fired in 2006 at the towns and cities of northern Israel.
Lebanese defense sources estimate Hezbollah now boasts between 40,000 and 50,000 rockets including long range missiles capable of striking much deeper into Israeli territory.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also met Thursday with leaders of several different Palestinian factions based in the Syrian capital and yet again made threats against Israel.
"This criminal regime is doomed and the grand victory is imminent," he said.
Regional tensions have been running high in recent months. Israel, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have been making threats of waragainst Israel as the U.S. attempts to garner support for tougher economic sanctions on Iran over its furtive nuclear program.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad warned Israel against starting a new conflict.
"We believe we are facing an entity that is capable of aggression at any point and we are preparing ourselves for any Israeli aggression," Assad said.
The Obama administration has decided to appoint an ambassador in Damascus for the first time since 2005 in an effort to improve relations. Analysts detect an attempt to draw Syria away from its Iranian ally. Washington has also expressed support for a reopening of negotiations between Israel and Syria over the fate of the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.
U.S. Trying to Lure Syria Away From Iranian Alliance
Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus and the face time he is spending with radical Palestinian and Lebanese factional leaders may be an attempt to remind all of them who pays for their arms and equipment.
And in a pointed response to U.S. calls for Syria to move away from Iran, the Syrian and Iranian presidents announced Thursday an end to all visa requirements for their two peoples.