netanyahu - Tomer Appelbaum - Sept 12 2010
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Thursday that Lebanon was turning into an "extension of the ayatollah regime in Iran".

Netanyahu made his remarks hours after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concluded a visit to Israel's northern neighbor, focusing his trip on the Hezbollah strongholds south of Beirut.

"This is a tragedy for Lebanon, but Israel knows how to defend itself," Netanyahu said in a private meeting.

Speaking at the Independence Museum in Tel Aviv earlier Thursday, Netanyahu declared that the very existence of the State of Israel discredited those seeking to destroy it.

"The best response to scorners was given in this auditorium 62 years ago," he said. "And since then, look at what a nation, what a state, what an army we have. We will continue to build and to create, and we will know how to protect ourselves as best as we can."

When asked whether Israel had considered assassinating Ahmadinejad during his visit to Lebanon, Netanyahu would not answer directly. "We consider with reason what needs to be done to protect the state."

Ahmadinejad told thousands of supporters Thursday at a rally along the Lebanon border that Israel would disappear, while they would thrive.

Seaking in the border town of Bint Jbeil to a crowd brandishing Iranian flags and cheering, Ahmadinejad praised Hezbollah and its southern stronghold as "the foremost shield of Lebanon."

Bint Jbeil was the location of fierce fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War of 2006, and the location of a victory speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah after Israel ended two decades of occupation of south Lebanon.

"You are the heroes that guard Lebanon's sovereignty," Ahmadinejad told supporters. "You have proven that no force in the world can beat you. The resistance of the Lebanese nation, drawn from faith in God, can stand up to any Israeli force – planes, tanks and ships."

The U.S. and Israel have called Ahmadinejad's visit to Bint Jbeil, located just a couple miles from the Israeli border, an intentionally provocative move. Oil-rich Iran has invested heavily in helping to rebuild the town.

"The Zionists planned to destroy this village, but it stood strong against the occupiers," Ahmadinejad said. "The world should know the Zionists are mortal ... today the Lebanese nation is alive and is a role model for the regional nations," Ahmadinejad said.

"The whole world should know that the Zionists will eventually disappear and Bint Jbeil will remain alive," he said.