Decision to waive entry stamps for Iranians landing in Lebanon likely to be overturned

Visa requirements between Iran and Lebanon were waived in 2015 following the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Thursday 21/06/2018
A general view shows Beirut international airport, Lebanon, on June 19. (Reuters)
A general view shows Beirut international airport, Lebanon, on June 19. (Reuters)

TUNIS - The decision to allow Iranians to enter Lebanon without a passport stamp is to be reviewed following an outcry from many Lebanese politicians.

The decision to forgo passport stamps for Iranians arriving in Lebanon in favour of a landing slip was made by Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, which is charged with oversight of the country’s airports.

However, politicians, wary of the growing influence of the Iran-linked Hezbollah, reacted angrily to the move. The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Christian party, the Lebanese Forces, characterised the move as an attempt to help Iran send forces to Syria through Beirut or avoid US sanctions in channelling funds to Hezbollah.

Wehbe Katicha, a lawmaker with the Lebanese Forces, which practically doubled its representation in Lebanon’s recent parliamentary elections, told Reuters he was confident the Interior Ministry would overturn the new measure.

“This does not need discussion,” he said. “A director general made an administrative decision when it should be a political one. It’s a mistake.”

General Security Directorate leader Major-General Abbas Ibrahim dismissed concerns over expanding Iranian influence in Lebanon, telling the local daily Al Joumhouria: “Unfortunately, some in Lebanon have a wide imagination.”

Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar quoted a source as saying that caretaker Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk was preparing to overturn the decision and refer it to the country’s cabinet. The article was retweeted by the Lebanese interior minister’s official account.

Visa requirements between Iran and Lebanon were waived in 2015 following the signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement with world powers, leaving the passport stamp as the only evidence of citizens having visited either country.

However, since the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the Trump administration has been increasing the severity of sanctions imposed on Iran and Hezbollah, an organisation the United States has classified as a terrorist group. The European Union lists Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group but recognises its political legitimacy within Lebanon.

Iran and Hezbollah have provided crucial support to the Assad regime through much of Syria’s civil war, with Lebanon proving a frequent gateway to the conflict. That connection was reflected in Iranian reporting on the passport issue, with state news agency IRNA saying some Iranians had difficulty in obtaining European visas because of the Lebanese entry stamp.