July 30, 2010
Lebanon-Iran Foreign Relations
Iran and Lebanon have actively pursued positive relations since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Following the formation of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s revolutionary elite, including Ayatollah Khomeini, began reaching out to the Shi’a community in Lebanon offering both financial and spiritual support. Iran’s presence and influence in Lebanon expanded dramatically in 1982 when it deployed 1,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to the Bekka valley in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The IRGC provided military training to Shi’ite Lebanese militias and was the driving force behind the formation of Hezbollah. The Islamic Republic continues to act as Hezbollah’s “chief outside sponsor” providing funding, arms and military support. Hezbollah is known to have organized and executed several terrorist attacks on American interests abroad.
As of 2011, the Lebanese government is dominated by Hezbollah and its allied bloc. In recent years, the governments of Iran and Lebanon have taken additional steps to enhance economic and diplomatic cooperation. Since assuming office in 2008, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has been notably active in encouraging bilateral ties, personally meeting with several high-ranking Iranian officials, including the president. In 2011, Suleiman appointed Hezbollah-supported Najib Mikati as Lebanon’s prime minister. Given both Iran’s animosity towards Israel and Lebanon’s history of conflict with the Jewish state, Tehran’s political interaction with Beirut is often related to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Iran has been accused of manipulating the Lebanese parliamentary elections in 2009 through the use of Hezbollah proxy candidates.
Iranian and Lebanese officials have held several meetings since 2009 to discuss economic issues of mutual concern. Most recently, the two allies inked a $50 million Memorandum of Understanding to increase cooperation in the energy sector. While official bilateral trade has continued to expand— increasing from $78.4 million in 2006 to $180 million in 2010—the overall volume lags significantly behind that of other regional partners, such as the United Arab Emirates, Syria, and Iraq. The full extent of economic cooperation between Iran and Hezbollah is unknown, though the U.S. Department of Defense has estimated that Iran provides $100 million to $200 million per year to its Lebanese proxy.
Lebanon has been supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, stressing that it views Iran’s program as peaceful. The Lebanese government has urged a diplomatic resolution to the ongoing conflict between the Islamic Republic and the international community over its nuclear efforts. In 2010, Lebanon abstained from voting on a UN Security Council Resolution calling for additional sanctions on Iran.
September 7, 2010: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced that banks in Lebanon must act in accordance with UN, U.S. and European Union sanctions on Iran. Salameh elaborated: “It is up to the Lebanese banks to act in accordance with their interests and be sure, if they have to make an operation, that it’s an operation that can’t be contested internationally.”
June 10, 2010: The Lebanese government abstained from voting on UN Security Council Resolution 1929 calling for further sanctions on Iran. Following the Security Council vote Lebanon’s representative said that “Iran [has] a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy as well as an obligation to adhere to the safeguards regime.” This statement conflicted with Lebanese State Minister Jean Ogassapian’s remarks that his government’s abstention equaled a rejection of sanctions.
December 14, 2009: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri expressed support for “Iran’s right to nuclear energy.” He further emphasized that “dialogue with Iran is the only way to reach solutions.”
August 20, 2004: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri expressed his support for Iran’s nuclear program and its alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons during a meeting with Shi’ite religious and political leaders: “This meeting is taking place as threats are increasing against Iran's nuclear program, and ... if they do possess the atomic bomb, then I support their initiative.”
August 3, 2011: Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi said Iran is “ready to cooperate with Lebanon” in gas exploration and offered to provide Lebanon the assistance of its gas experts.
July 20, 2011: Iranian and Lebanese officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate in the energy field.
March 2, 2011: Iranian Commerce Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari and Lebanese Economy Minister Mohammad Al Safadi met in Beirut to discuss bilateral trade.”
October 27, 2010: Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi boasted that “considering the economic characteristics and strengths of the two countries, the trade volume between Lebanon and Iran has the potential to increase to USD10 billion annually.”
October 14, 2010: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Lebanese counterpart Michel Suleiman signed seventeen trade agreements between their countries in the sectors of oil, gas and trade.
October 13, 2010: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon, drawing large crowds of supporters. At a joint news conference with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Ahmadinejad stated “I came at the official invitation of the government…. Our message is one of unity and cooperation.”
August 27, 2010: In advance of his trip to Beirut, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered to provide military equipment to the Lebanese army. Ahmadinejad’s made his statements while the U.S. was deliberating over its own future aid to Lebanon’s military.
August 3, 2010: According to the U.S. Treasury, the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon (ICRL) has provided financing for Hezbollah’s infrastructure, communications network, and construction arm. ICRL’s director, Hessam Khoshnevis, is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s personal representative in Lebanon. Iran also provides money to the Hezbollah-run Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (IKRC) in Lebanon, which runs youth camps that serve as recruitment centers for Hezbollah operatives. Damascus-based Iranian official Razi Musavi serves as “a key conduit for Iranian support to Hezbollah” in Lebanon.
June 3, 2010: The Lebanese Foreign Ministry’s Director of Economic Affairs Mustapha Hamdan and Iran’s Housing and Urban Development Minister Seyyed Ali Lotfizadeh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) during a follow-up committee meeting at the sixth joint economic commission held in Tehran. The MoU stipulated that the Iran-Lebanon committee would continue to meet every four months to discuss economic cooperation between the two states.
May 29, 2010: Managing Director of Iran’s Saderat Bank Mohammad Jahromi and Lebanon Central Bank Governor Riad Salame met in Beirut to discuss the development of financial ties between the two countries. During the meeting, Salame offered his support for the increased capitalization of Saderat Bank’s Lebanon branches. The sides also discussed ways to utilize $100 million in loans granted to Lebanon by Iran. The U.S. has sanctioned Bank Saderat for its involvement in transferring funds to terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah.
March 12, 2009: Iran and Lebanon held a joint economic commission in Beirut. Speaking on Iran-Lebanese relations, Iran’s Housing and Urban Development Minister and head of the commission Mohammad Saeedikia said, “there are lots of grounds for the growth and expansion of commercial, industrial, infrastructure, and tourism cooperation between the two countries, and our relations have to expand on a daily basis.”
December 15, 2008: Iranian officials announced that they would provide $600 million in “election financial aid” to Lebanese Hezbollah in the run up to Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in 2009.
November 2, 2006: Kassam Allaik, a senior Hezbollah official, stated that Iran provided Hezbollah “with money to help fund its reconstruction activities in Lebanon” during the country’s reconstruction efforts following its recent armed conflict with Israel.  He added that “Iran also had its own groups in Lebanon, rebuilding bridges, roads and mosques.” Lebanon’s Finance Minister Jihad Azour confirmed that Iran was funneling money to Hezbollah during this period.
July 22, 2011: Iranian Parliament Vice-Speaker Reza Bahonar reiterated the Islamic Republic’s support for Lebanon and Hezbollah during a meeting in Beirut with Hezbollah Secretary General Seyed Hassan Nasrallah.
June 27, 2011: Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili declared that Lebanese resistance is the key to its security: “Lebanon's resistance against aggression, occupation and terrorism has strengthened the country's position in the region and has turned it into a stable country on the international scene.”
April 7, 2011: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri criticized Iran for its “flagrant intervention” in the internal affairs of Lebanon, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
November 29, 2010: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Iran. During their meeting Khamenei called on Lebanon to “consolidate relations” with the Islamic Republic in order to form a deterrent “against the occupying Zionist regime.”
August 11, 2010: In a joint meeting in Lattakia, Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Syrian President Bashar al Assad reiterated their support for Lebanon “following the Israeli aggression against Lebanese sovereignty.”
July 30, 2010: Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani stated that his country “takes pride” in its support for Hezbollah. Larijani claimed that "Hezbollah nurtures the original ideas of Islamic Jihad." He rejected depictions of the organization as a terrorist group, saying that "the real terrorists are those who provide the Zionist regime with military equipment to bomb the people."
April 18, 2010: Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali al Shami during a conference on nuclear disarmament in Tehran. Larijani praised Lebanon, calling it “a shining country in confronting Zionists' expansionism, and the Lebanese popular resistance to repel the Zionist regime' aggression should be praised and admired.”
March 24, 2010: Former Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in Beirut to discuss improving bilateral ties.
January 22, 2010: General David H. Petraeus said that in April 2008, “…a message was conveyed to me by a very senior Iraqi leader from the head of the Qods Force, Kassim Suleimani, whose message went as follows. He said, ‘General Petraeus, you should know that I, Kassim Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan.’”
January 18, 2010: President Ahmadinejad’s deputy Mohammad-Reza Mir-Tajeddini met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Mir-Tajeddini stressed Lebanon’s “unity, sovereignty and independence” during his meeting with Suleiman. The Iranian deputy also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. While speaking with Hariri, Mir-Tajeddini emphasized “the unchanging principles of Iranian foreign policy which... are reflected through our embrace of and support for all resistance against the enemies of Arab and Islamic nations, primarily the Zionist entity.”
May 30, 2009: In the run up to the 2009 Lebanese Parliament elections Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that “the Islamic Republic of Iran and in particular Ayatollah Khamenei will not hold back on anything that could help Lebanon be a strong and dignified state, and without conditions.”
December 21, 2009: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki urged Lebanon and Iran to expand bilateral ties, adding that Iran would “spare no effort to improve peace and security in Lebanon." The foreign minister was in the Lebanese capital for the ground-breaking ceremony of a new Iranian embassy building. During a press conference the following day, Mottaki again praised the two countries’ ties: “Today the opportunity for cooperation between Iran and Lebanon is greater than ever.”
November 5, 2009: Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denied accusations that Iran had interfered in Lebanon’s attempts to form a national unity government. During a press conference with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, Mottaki stated that the “people and leaders of Lebanon are wise enough to reach a consensus in their country’s important decisions through constructive negotiations…and our regional cooperation continues with the purpose of [creating] stability and peace in the region and strengthening regional convergence.”
October 18, 2007: The U.S. Senate approved resolution 353 [110th], criticizing both Iran and Syria for interfering in the Lebanese presidential elections. The resolution states, the U.S. Senate “condemns the Governments of Syria and Iran for their undue material interference in the internal political affairs of Lebanon, including in the election of a new president, and for their repeated violations of the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and calls on the Governments of Syria and Iran to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, particularly with respect to preventing unauthorized shipment of arms into Lebanon.”
February 5, 2011: Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi announced that the Islamic Republic is prepared to begin defense cooperation with Lebanon, adding “Lebanon is our friend. If we receive any demand [for equipping their Army], we have full potential to help them…. [Lebanon] needs military equipment to defend its borders against Israel.”
August 6, 2010: Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said Lebanses Hezbollah has an arsenal of more than 42,000 Iranian and Syrian-supplied rockets and missiles.
April 27, 2010: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with rockets and missiles of ever-increasing capability . . . we’re at a point now, where Hezbollah has far more rockets and missiles than most government in the world.”
November 26, 2008: Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked Iran to provide his country with “medium-sized” weapons. Suleiman stressed that the weapons were for internal security and were not intended for offensive purposes.