Hezbollah’s oil imports hailed in Lebanon deal a blow to the United States


Less than a month ago, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that an Iranian oil tanker was on its way to aid in fuel-starved Lebanon, challenging the United States and Israel to stop it. On Thursday, 20 trucks, each carrying 50,000 liters of Iranian fuel, entered northeast Lebanon via Syria. The trucks duly proceeded to the Hezbollah-controlled Baalbek region, where they were reportedly stored at gas stations run by the Al Amana oil company, a Hezbollah-linked company subject to US sanctions. Sources said Foreign police the fuel would then be transported in smaller vehicles to Al Amana pumps in Shiite neighborhoods across the country, including Hezbollah Dahiye stronghold, a suburb of Beirut.

In a sense, it was Hezbollah playing its typical rebel role, openly defying US sanctions on Iranian oil. But it also represented Nasrallah trying out a new role – that of savior for a country in deep economic crisis. Hezbollah remains a controversial player in a political system crippled by sectarianism, but the group seems to have understood that the current crisis is an opportunity. At a time when blackouts are shutting down businesses and threatening the lives of patients in hospitals, most Lebanese are ready to show allegiance to anyone who can grant a reprieve.

“Ahlan wa Sahlan,” or “welcome,” chanted a Hezbollah supporter as he filmed the convoy of trucks passing through the streets flanked by posters of Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the former General of the United Nations. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qassem Suleimani. Men and women waved Hezbollah flags; some even fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns to celebrate the arrival of Iranian fuel, while others rained rice and flower petals on the trucks. On one stretch, a group of women chanted that they would not bow down to anyone but death. At another pass, trucks rolled over laminated prints of American and Israeli flags stuck on the roads – a gimmick meant to instill pride in the crowd and accuse Israel and the United States of plotting Lebanon’s internal crises. Hezbollah tells Lebanese that the fuel shortage was caused by US sanctions against Iran – not the ineffectiveness of the Lebanese sectarian political system it supports and of which it is a part – and which the group has dared to challenge the superpower for the good of the people.

Less than a month ago, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that an Iranian oil tanker was on its way to aid in fuel-starved Lebanon, challenging the United States and Israel to stop it. On Thursday, 20 trucks, each carrying 50,000 liters of Iranian fuel, entered northeast Lebanon via Syria. The trucks duly proceeded to the Hezbollah-controlled Baalbek region, where they were reportedly stored at gas stations run by the Al Amana oil company, a Hezbollah-linked company subject to US sanctions. Sources said Foreign police the fuel would then be transported in smaller vehicles to Al Amana pumps in Shiite neighborhoods across the country, including Hezbollah Dahiye stronghold, a suburb of Beirut.

In a sense, it was Hezbollah playing its typical rebel role, openly defying US sanctions on Iranian oil. But it also represented Nasrallah trying out a new role – that of savior for a country in deep economic crisis. Hezbollah remains a controversial player in a political system crippled by sectarianism, but the group seems to have understood that the current crisis is an opportunity. At a time when blackouts are shutting down businesses and threatening the lives of patients in hospitals, most Lebanese are ready to show allegiance to anyone who can grant a reprieve.

“Ahlan wa Sahlan,” or “welcome,” chanted a Hezbollah supporter as he filmed the convoy of trucks passing through the streets flanked by posters of Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the former General of the United Nations. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qassem Suleimani. Men and women waved Hezbollah flags; some even fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns to celebrate the arrival of Iranian fuel, while others rained rice and flower petals on the trucks. On one stretch, a group of women chanted that they would not bow down to anyone but death. At another pass, trucks rolled over laminated prints of American and Israeli flags stuck on the roads – a gimmick meant to instill pride in the crowd and accuse Israel and the United States of plotting Lebanon’s internal crises. Hezbollah tells Lebanese that the fuel shortage was caused by US sanctions against Iran – not the ineffectiveness of the Lebanese sectarian political system it supports and of which it is a part – and which the group has dared to challenge the superpower for the good of the people.

Nasrallah said the fuel would be given free to public hospitals, orphanages, water stations and the Lebanese Red Cross, while being sold to private hospitals, medicine factories and bakeries for less than the market price. He promised not to discriminate on the basis of religion or sect, and to supply the whole country. It is not yet clear which institutions will benefit, but sources say Hezbollah has already compiled a list of beneficiaries who will call Al Amana gas pumps directly to organize the supply.

Hezbollah’s traditional support base within the Shia community believes its boss to be generous and egalitarian. But even those of other sects or ideologies, who are often more wary of Hezbollah’s claims, did not seem to care about Iranian fuel. Nabil, a trainer at a gymnasium in the Christian-dominated Gemmayzeh district, spoke with Foreign police on condition of partial anonymity. “We need fuel to survive. If Hezbollah asks, “Do you want Iranian fuel? I’ll say, ‘Yes, I do.’ You see, they – and by them I mean all political parties and not just Hezbollah – have made us so thirsty, so desperate, that we don’t care about politics and the betterment of the country; we are struggling to survive, ”he said. “We will take Iranian fuel, but we also know that this means that Lebanon now belongs to Hezbollah and Iran. This is their time.

Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese energy expert, was among the first to dig holes in Hezbollah’s claims that it would distribute oil indiscriminately. “An oil tanker carries just enough fuel to meet Lebanon’s needs for two days. A few of these tankers are nowhere near what we need, ”said Haytayan. “Plus, that’s even if Hezbollah will distribute it evenly and we know it won’t. It’s just for his base of support.

Haytayan added that the purchase of Iranian fuel by Hezbollah and not by the Lebanese state compromises the country’s sovereignty. “Hezbollah itself brought fuel from Iran, no matter what the state thinks. Then through Syria [the oil was brought] inside Lebanon, and not by crossing the legal borders but the openings of borders that it controls ”, declared Haytayan. “All of this indicates that we are moving towards a 100% pro-Iran foreign policy and that we have opened up to Syria and normalized ties with Assad. If this is the position of the Lebanese government, then we have not been told. It is clear that Lebanon’s foreign policy is dictated by Hezbollah.

“Since Hezbollah entered parliament, it has weakened institutions and has never advocated for reforms that strengthen the state. Now they have defied US sanctions and brought Iranian fuel on their own, by midday. There is no room for independent politics. Today, Hezbollah has taken over.

Initially, critics of Iran and Hezbollah had hoped that the United States and Israel could stop the Iranian tanker before it docks in the Syrian port. But it was perhaps considered too risky. Farzin Nadimi, an associate researcher at the Washington Institute and an expert on Iran and Persian Gulf security and defense affairs, said the United States may not have stopped the tanker because it wanted avoid a confrontation with Hezbollah, but also because there is little legal basis for doing so.

“I think the US policy on the subject at the moment is to avoid unnecessary tensions, given the precarious situation in which the Lebanese people currently find themselves,” Nadimi said, and since Hezbollah presents the latest expeditions as aid to the Lebanese people, “the United States is cautious. Nadimi added that this incident will likely set a precedent and encourage Hezbollah to bring Iranian fuel directly to Lebanon next time. He described it as” a demonstration of force of Hezbollah ”, and a blow to Israel first and then to the United States.

Hezbollah’s show of force has so far not been contested by either Israel or the United States. Israel’s intervention would have turned out to be much more controversial since it is at war with Lebanon, and any Israeli action could have united the Lebanese against Israel and behind Hezbollah. But the inaction of the United States is more difficult to explain. Former Lebanese Army General Elias Farhat has said the United States is unlikely to sanction Lebanon.

Sami Nader, a Lebanese political analyst, suspected that Lebanon could become a victim of negotiations to revive the US-Iran nuclear deal. “In my opinion, there is a letting go – if not a green light, it is an amber light, and this corresponds to the timid opening at the negotiating table in Vienna,” Nader said. “Maybe it’s a mutual concession. Let’s say the two sides made a small gesture to each other – Iran in allowing the [International Atomic Energy Agency] team to inspect and the United States by releasing this fuel in Lebanon. It could be that. Nader was referring to a agreement reached between the UN atomic watchdog and Iran on September 12, under which the agency would be able to access surveillance cameras inside Iran’s atomic facilities.

The US response to Hezbollah’s purchase of Iranian fuel was to announce the facilitation of gas and electricity from Egypt and Jordan via Syria to Lebanon. But Hezbollah was faster and stole its thunder. Many in the country remain suspicious of the group’s ultimate goals, but few will refuse the fuel it provides.


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