When the fuel crisis broke out in Lebanon, Nasrallah suggested that Tehran shall send oil to his country. He did not say there was a need to smuggle it out due to US sanctions on Iran. The escalation of the crisis has accelerated another opportunity to take over Lebanon with the help of the Ayatollahs, but it is likely that Israel will block the smuggling of Iranian oil – and the naval battle may be intensified.
The main reason for the terrible plight of the citizens of Lebanon is the ongoing political crisis that prevents the formation of a stable government in the land of cedars. All Western countries that are willing to help Lebanon and rescue it from its financial and functional distress demand that there be a functioning legal government as a condition for the transfer of aid, but Lebanese politicians are in no hurry. In fact, there are currently two prime ministers in Lebanon, Hassan Diab, who has resigned and is serving as caretaker prime minister, and Saad al-Hariri, who has not yet taken office because he is unable to form a coalition and a government.
Those who prevent al-Hariri (a member of the Sunni community who has already served as Lebanon’s prime minister) from forming a coalition and government are Hezbollah and its supporters, who are demanding the high-budget key ministries in the new government. In fact, Hezbollah wants to control the country through ministers close to the organization and owe their position to Hezbollah.
As long as Hassan Nasrallah fails to produce such a situation, he prevents the formation of a functioning government in Lebanon. However, the donor countries, led by France, oppose Hezbollah, which in under Iran’s discipline and was declared a terrorist organization by the Europeans, being the de facto ruler of Lebanon. They refuse to transfer aid to Lebanon as long as there is no functioning representative government.
Nasrallah has patience
But for Hezbollah’s secretary general, things are not going well. The economic and functional crisis allows him to bypass the government and achieve his political goals by positioning himself and the Iranians as the ones rescuing Lebanon from its troubles. The more its citizens suffer, the stronger Hezbollah’s status as Lebanon’s real ruler and the stronger Iran’s strategic grip on Lebanon.
About six months ago, when there was a shortage of dollars in Lebanon, Nasrallah offered his countrymen cash through Hezbollah’s financial and banking system. The leader of the Shiite terrorist organization did so while all the other banks closed their doors and prevented withdrawals at ATMs.
Nasrallah has money he receives from Iran and donations from abroad, and he has generously offered it to any Lebanese citizen who would be willing to subscribe to Hezbollah’s financial system and thereby actually be financially dependent on the organization and the Iranians. It should be noted that Iran has cut more than half of Hezbollah’s financial budget and still the organization’s welfare system have more dollars than Lebanese banks.
Nasrallah now recognizes the political potential inherent for him and his Iranian patrons in the severe fuel shortage in Lebanon. About two months ago, when the fuel crisis in Lebanon broke out and power outages began and violent clashes broke out between the civilians queuing in front of the gas stations, Nasrallah spoke and proposed a solution: Iran would send oil to Lebanon.
Nasrallah did not say who would pay for this oil nor did he say it needed to be smuggled into Lebanon because US sanctions prohibit Iran from exporting oil. But the intention was clear: to strengthen the position of Hezbollah and Iran as the energy supply, without which the economy and life in Lebanon would soon cease to move.
But the Lebanese government rejected the proposal, and pro-Western al-Hariri and the caretaker Prime Minister Diab also knew that if an Iranian oil tanker was anchored in a Lebanese port or it was discovered that Iranian oil was reaching Lebanon through Syrian ports, the US would tighten sanctions on Lebanon and no international institution will provide aid to Lebanon to emerge from the overall crisis in which it finds itself.
Therefore, the transitional government currently in office in Lebanon told Nasrallah “no thanks.” Many Sunni, Christian and Druze citizens of Lebanon also opposed Iran flowing fuel to their country when Lebanon as a state could not pay for it and thus Lebanon would become a debtor to Iran which it would have difficulty paying.
The Lebanese, Shiites and non-Shiites, realized that Iranian fuel supplies would cost them dearly: Lebanon would be enslaved to debt and Hezbollah would finally become the owner of the economic and political home in Lebanon. Besides, even now on the verge of collapse, the Lebanese government and its citizens are in no hurry to agree knowing that they could pay a heavy international price if they violate the US sanctions on Iranian oil production.
The negative response of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese public to the fuel offer from Iran did not deter Nasrallah and the Ayatollahs who saw the fuel crisis as a tremendous economic and political lever and a golden opportunity to finally rule Hezbollah and the Shiite community over the whole of Lebanon. That is why this week Nasrallah once again offered Iranian fuel and even said that he had made all the logistical and financial preparations for the transfer of this fuel to Lebanon.
“Just requiring government approval,” Nasrallah said. He not only said – he apparently also made actual preparations. The Intelli Times website writes today without detailing sources that Hezbollah intends to try to smuggle Iranian oil to Lebanon, either by transferring the oil from an Iranian ship to a Syrian or Lebanese ship in the middle of the sea, and then bringing it to a Lebanese port, allegedly in a legitimate way. Another option: Iran will smuggle the oil it wants to bring to Lebanon to Syria, and from there it will flow through a pipeline or tanker to Lebanon.
The Intel Times claims that three Iranian oil tankers are now making their way through the Suez Canal towards the Mediterranean Sea. It is not known if they intend to smuggle oil to Syria and from there to Lebanon or unload their cargo to the heart of the sea for non-Iranian ships. In any case, this smuggling method is well known to international shipping agencies and, of course, to Israel’s intelligence services.
The Wall Street Journal and other American media outlets reported earlier this year that Israel had thwarted such smuggling of Iranian oil into Syria, hitting at least 12 ships trying to smuggle oil into Syria. The money for the smuggled Iranian oil was supposed to be paid by President Bashar Assad to Hezbollah in Lebanon to fund the organization’s operations.
Now the Iranians and Nasrallah are apparently trying to resolve the Lebanese fuel crisis in a similar way. However, it is certainly reasonable to estimate that Israel will prevent the smuggling of Iranian oil into Lebanon via Syria or through sea transfers. It is very possible that this has already happened and that this is the reason why the Iranians hit a ship that they mistakenly identified as an Israeli-owned merchant ship earlier this week.
The naval war, which seemed to have ceased, was probably continuing. But the emphasis this time is on Nasrallah’s attempt to smuggle Iranian oil into Lebanon. It is important to note that the Lebanese government is not willing to accept oil of Iranian origin. But the Lebanese authorities may close their eyes if the oil comes from Syria or from third-country ships to which the Iranians smuggled the oil. In any case, one thing is clear: the only beneficiaries of the plight of Lebanese residents are Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons.
By Ron Ben-Ishay (Hebrew), July 6, 2021, published on YNET