With the arrival of the first shipment of Iranian oil to Lebanon last Thursday, many questions surfaced about Washington’s silence towards the move, especially since it has long used sanctions against Tehran and its arm in Lebanon, “Hezbollah.”
The Secretary-General of the “Hezbollah” group, Hassan Nasrallah, fulfilled his promise to bring Iranian diesel to Lebanon, amid a severe fuel crisis in the country.
The first ship arrived from Iran to the Syrian port of Banias, and its cargo was unloaded there. Then, last Thursday, the oil materials were transported to the Baalbek region (eastern Lebanon) for storage, and later distribution to the targeted groups.
The materials are distributed in two parts, the first as donations, to government hospitals, homes for the elderly, homes for people with special needs, water institutions, municipalities, official fire brigades and the Red Cross.
As for the second, it is sold in Lebanese pounds, according to the price table of the Lebanese Ministry of Energy, to private hospitals, mills, serum laboratories, consumer food and cooperatives to secure electricity, food industry laboratories, and agricultural laboratories that have generators.
For months, Lebanon has been suffering from a severe shortage of fuel, which has caused power outages and a crisis in several vital sectors.
With the arrival of the first cargo, Lebanese public opinion was divided between supporters and opponents, and opinions differed about Washington’s disregard for these shipments, which some considered a kind of facilitation of their entry.
Indications for the introduction of Iranian diesel
Lebanese political analyst Sarkis Abu Zeid says that “Hezbollah’s move has several implications, as it violated the US sanctions law, and the embargo imposed on Syria and Lebanon on the one hand, and on the other hand, as soon as the fuels arrived in the country, the monopoly of companies trading in diesel was broken.”
In an interview with The Eastern Herald, he considers that this step has more political than economic significance.
Abu Zeid’s words are consistent with the words of political analyst Qassem Kassir, who believes that “the introduction of Iranian diesel from Syria broke the American siege on Lebanon and constituted an incentive for the Americans and other countries to expedite a solution to the Lebanese crisis.”
In an interview with The Eastern Herald, he points out that “the void in Lebanon must be filled by someone. If the Lebanese state fails and foreign countries do not help, a party will inevitably appear to fill this void.”
On the other hand, lawyer and political analyst Joey Lahoud says that “there is no American siege on Lebanon, but there is a siege on Hezbollah, which is besieging Lebanon.”
He justifies his idea, saying in an interview with The Eastern Herald: “If there had been a siege on Lebanon, we would not have seen the massive financial aid provided to the Lebanese army, non-governmental associations and the Lebanese society.”
And he raises several questions about the tankers’ entry into Lebanese territory: “How did you enter? Were the types of petroleum products they were checked and if they matched the standards adopted in Lebanon? Were the fees that were required to be paid?”
And local Lebanese media reported that the trucks had entered through illegal crossings between the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
Lahoud considers that “this scene is very harmful to the Lebanese state and harmful to the issue of sovereignty in the country.”
Sanctions on Lebanon?
Kassir spoke about the method of introducing Iranian diesel to Lebanon, noting that “no official Lebanese institution was approved for the entry of petroleum products, meaning that it did not enter through Lebanese ports or through Lebanese companies, and that the only company responsible for distributing it is the “Amanah” company, which is basically under US sanctions.
Despite this, according to Kassir, the American position was calm and not negative at all.
In 2019, Washington put Al-Amanah on the terrorist list, and imposed sanctions on it.
The United States always imposes sanctions on persons or companies loyal to Hezbollah and its allies, and under the American “Caesar Act”, any person or entity dealing with the Syrian regime is subject to travel restrictions or financial sanctions, regardless of their location in the world.
And recently, Lebanese Prime Minister Najith Mikati said, in an interview on CNN, that he “is not afraid of sanctions on Lebanon because the operation took place in isolation from the government.”
Abu Zeid explains that “there are new balances of power in the region,” noting that “America is adapting to new realities to draw up a new plan for it, which is not yet clear.”
He asserts that “America does not want to go to a military confrontation in the region, so today it is performing a different performance from the past, as it is modifying its style, and evidence of this is its approval of the Arab oil pipeline, providing cover for the Lebanese delegation that visited Syria, and turning a blind eye to diesel from Iran.”
In early August, a Lebanese delegation arrived in Damascus, on a visit that is the first of its kind in 10 years, as part of efforts to alleviate the electricity crisis in Lebanon.
Lebanese officials have been avoiding visiting Syria officially since the start of the revolution in 2011, as Beirut adopted a policy of disassociation from regional conflicts, despite Hezbollah’s violation of that policy by fighting alongside the Bashar al-Assad regime against opposition forces.
Abu Zeid considers that “the United States of America has opened the doors to all possible settlements,” pointing out that “we are in a transitional phase whose image has not yet been clarified.”
As for Kassir, he adds that “more siege would have made Lebanon in the bosom of Iran, China, Russia and Syria, so America rushed to cooperate with its allies in the region in Jordan and Egypt to bring gas and electricity to Lebanon.”
And the US administration agreed to continue helping Lebanon to import electrical energy (brought via lines) from Jordan through Syria.
Analysts say that there is American flexibility towards Hezbollah, and Lahoud says that “it appears that there is a change in US foreign policy, which is adopting a different approach from what was used during the era of former US President Donald Trump.”
He considers that “America saw that the process of confronting Hezbollah harms the Lebanese people and benefits Hezbollah, so it will rely on a new approach, coinciding with the convening of the last round between the Americans and Iranians (the ongoing negotiations in Vienna on the Iranian nuclear issue).”
Lahoud points out that “everything that is happening in Lebanon is a process of adaptation to what is happening in Vienna (the US-Iranian negotiations), and there is facilitation on both sides (America and Hezbollah) in Lebanon.”