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What Lebanon will get from Iran deal

Asia - Vicino Oriente

By Jean Aziz


Much of Lebanon seems optimistic about the potential benefits of the nuclear deal reached between Iran, the six world powers and the European Union. These hopes are linked to the economic weight of Iran in the region and the relations between Tehran and political forces in the Lebanese arena, most notably the Shiite forces led by Hezbollah.

Economist and editor of Al-Imar Wa Iktissad magazine Hassan Mokalled explained to Al-Monitor the basis of such hopes. He said there are several fields that the Lebanese can count on as a result of their economic, developmental and investment cooperation with the Iranian state. Among these fields is the issue of power generation. This has been a pressing issue in Lebanon since the end of the civil war 25 years ago, as Lebanese authorities have been unable since then to consistently provide electricity to some regions. To cope with the situation, some citizens are using private generators during outages.

In 2010, Lebanese government officials — including then-Minister of Energy Gebran Bassil and then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri — visited Tehran to discuss possible offers. The Ministry of Energy prepared studies on the subject, especially regarding the possibility of Iran building electric power generation plants in Lebanon. However, that project was frozen because of Iran’s international legal status and the sanctions imposed on it. At the time, Lebanon feared it could be affected by the sanctions if it cooperated with Iran, even in peaceful and civilian fields, according to Mokalled.

Beirut and Tehran may consider power generation a priority now, since Iran's experience in this area is extensive, and so is the potential. According to Mokalled, Iran has a surplus of 8,000 megawatts in electricity production because of its many hydraulic and thermal power plants. He said Lebanon has only about half the electric power generation capacity it needs. In addition, Electricite du Liban incurred debt last year of about $2.3 billion. While that figure is expected to drop to about $1.8 billion in 2015, the difference is a result of lower international fuel prices, not progress.

Another field that could see Iranian-Lebanese cooperation is the newly discovered gas field in Lebanon. Iran has one of the largest gas reserves in the world, which prompted it to develop expertise and enormous potential in all fields associated with this wealth, including survey, deep-water and land drilling, exploration and extraction. Lebanon needs that expertise.

Mokalled also talked about the prospects of Iranian-Lebanese cooperation in terms of arming the Lebanese army. The issue here goes beyond loans or investment projects, and falls within the scope of donations.Iranian officials have, on more than one occasion, expressed their willingness to provide weapons to the Lebanese armed forces, free of charge, to meet all of their requirements, Mokalled said.

Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel visited Tehran in October and discussed the subject with Iranian officials. After his return, Moqbel referred the matter to the Council of Ministers. The latter left the issue pending, fearing UN and Western sanctions, Mokalled said. Mokalled noted that the Lebanese government might re-examine the matter soon and attempt immediate action, especially since the Lebanese armed forces are engaged in fierce battles with terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, on the Syrian border. The agreement between Iran and the six world powers expressly stated that Iran reserves its right to import and export weapons within the framework of the fight against terrorism, he said.

The fourth area of direct cooperation between Lebanon and Iran is the financial and banking field, Mokalled said. Lebanon enjoys important advantages at this level, given its highly sophisticated banking sector, which is widespread at the regional and international levels. This is exactly what Tehran needs now, according to Mokalled, as Iran’s banking sector is unable to meet the country’s economic needs and expansion ambitions due to the sanctions that had been imposed.

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei mentioned Lebanon as one of the friendly countries that will benefit from the nuclear deal, according to Mokalled. Delegations of Iranian economists, bankers and businessmen in different fields started visiting Beirut even before the July 14 announcement of the nuclear deal, he said. He stressed that he personally met with a number of the delegations and confirmed they already are preparing for cooperation in more than one field — and Lebanon is already reaping the benefits

source of the article : AL MONITOR

 

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