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Hezbollah brings more than a million gallons of diesel fuel from Iran to Lebanon and appears to be a savior for the suffering population.
The American newspaper “New York Times” said that Hezbollah, after transporting more than one million gallons of Iranian diesel to Lebanon via Syria, appeared yesterday to be the national savior, and intervened where the Lebanese government and its Western backers failed, after Lebanon suffered one of the worst economic collapses in modern history.
The newspaper added that the delivery of the fuel – which a Hezbollah official said was the first batch of more than 13 million gallons – highlighted the seriousness of the Lebanese crisis, as well as the government’s failure to address it. Lebanon, unable to secure aid from anywhere else, has turned to war-torn Syria and to an economically damaged Iran.
The newspaper added that the move appears to violate US sanctions related to the purchase of Iranian oil, but it is not yet clear whether the United States will press the issue. Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, is already subject to US sanctions. Although the group is part of the Lebanese government, it appears to be working independently on this.
The US embassy in Beirut refused to comment yesterday at the request of the newspaper’s correspondents. But when Hezbollah announced last month that the fuel was on its way from Iran, the US ambassador downplayed any threat of punitive action. “I don’t think anyone would draw their sword if someone was able to get fuel into hospitals that need it,” US Ambassador Dorothy Shea said in an interview.
The newspaper pointed out that Iranian diesel has arrived in Lebanon while this country is suffering from what the World Bank described as one of the worst economic collapses in the world since the mid-nineteenth century. Since the fall of 2019, the national currency has lost 90 percent of its value, and the prices of many commodities have tripled.
The New York Times said that the fuel crisis led to a confrontation of some kind between Hezbollah and its allies on one side and the United States on the other, over who can act faster to relieve people’s pain, a competition that Hezbollah won, at least yesterday.
She added that the intervention where the state failed was a political coup for Hezbollah, as it accused the United States of being responsible for Lebanon’s economic crisis, claiming that it imposed a siege on Lebanon. In fact, US sanctions are largely focused on Hezbollah and its allies, rather than on the Lebanese state, whose dysfunction and corruption are the basis of the crisis.
The newspaper pointed out that the United States is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Lebanon, and the Biden administration announced a new aid package worth $100 million last month aimed at providing assistance for food, health care, security, water and sanitation.
And the New York Times continued: Hezbollah portrayed the arrival of the convoy on Thursday in heroic terms, saying that it “broke the American blockade,” a line of thinking that many Lebanese will likely accept. After the announcement by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, US Ambassador Dorothy Shea said she was working on another arrangement to help solve the energy crisis in Lebanon, as she called for natural gas to be sent from Egypt to Jordan and transported to Lebanon via a pipeline that passes through Syria.
A high-level delegation from Lebanon visited Damascus this month to discuss the plan, but its details are still unclear, including how long it will take to repair the pipeline, who will pay for it, and what fees Syria will impose to allow the gas pipeline to pass through its territory. This could pose another challenge to the United States, which imposes sanctions on anyone who deals with the Syrian government, the newspaper continued.
The newspaper said that the deep suffering of the Lebanese people made it unlikely that the United States would punish anyone for accepting Iranian fuel, which is subject to sanctions. “I’m not sure how much the United States is willing to risk imposing sanctions on populations in need. This would portray the United States as ruthless and hardened, and this is a victory for Hezbollah,” Carnegie Endowment scholar Muhannad Al-Haj Ali was quoted as saying.
The fuel shortage has caused widespread power outages and left many Lebanese waiting in long queues to fill up their cars.
The arrival of the Iranian convoy highlighted the almost complete absence of the Lebanese state. Government agencies tasked with supervising energy imports were not involved in the diesel delivery process. The trucks set out from Syria to Lebanon via an open plot of land, not an official border crossing, without customs or security checks. It was not clear if the imports had any legal license or if any taxes would be paid on them, the newspaper said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who formed a new government a week ago and pledged to work to calm the country’s problems, did not make any public statement about the fuel shipment yesterday. As well as the authorities supervising the borders did not comment on the matter.
“The country is facing a serious crisis, so the government does not care whether the trucks entered legally or illegally. We are in a state of emergency,” said Elias Farhat, a retired brigadier general in the Lebanese army.
Ahmad Raya, a Hezbollah media official, said the shipment is the first batch of 13.2 million gallons of an Iranian ship delivered to Baniyas port in Syria, this week. As for the rest, it will take several days to be unloaded and transported to Lebanon.
TankerTrackers.com, a group that tracks global oil shipments, estimated that the vessel was carrying less than eight million gallons.
Almost every step in the fuel journey has been a challenge for the United States, which has imposed sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil, the Syrian government, Hezbollah and a Hezbollah-linked company that will distribute the fuel inside Lebanon.
Jessica Obeid, an energy policy advisor and non-resident scholar at the American Middle East Institute, said the million-gallon shipment that Hezbollah reported bringing on Thursday was not significant to the country’s needs, but it could help individual institutions. She said a hospital generator, for example, might burn about 26 gallons an hour.
Translated into Arabic by: Haitham Muzahim