MENA NEWS : Iran argues that it is sending fuel to Hezbollah in Lebanon and in doing so will force the US to relax sanctions on Syria and enable Chinese investment in Beirut.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN SEPTEMBER 7, 2021
Iran is trying to position itself as a fuel supplier to Lebanon to empower its Lebanese proxy. The goal is to force Lebanon to become dependent on Iran and then all the gas and fuel going to Lebanon will come through Hezbollah, so Hezbollah can provide it to allies and friends.
Overall, Iran’s goal is to impoverish Lebanon, destroy its middle and upper class, encourage its Sunni and Christian community to emigrate, so that Hezbollah will grow in power and that all that will remain is a hollowed-out Lebanese state that is a province within a larger Hezbollahstan that is more powerful than Lebanon.
Iran has been doing this for decades, slowly helping Hezbollah swallow Lebanon and create a parallel state and economy. Hezbollah has its own extra-judicial armed forces, a massive illegal armed militia with 150,000 missiles. Hezbollah sends fighters to Syria and conducts Lebanon’s foreign policy. Hezbollah has its own telecommunications network. It is able to control voting for the presidency and prime ministership. It also has a parallel construction, banking, and even supermarket network. Now it will be the supplier of fuel, Iran says.
A report by Iran’s Tasnim media, titled “The Iranian ships, the triangle of resistance that shattered the American hegemony,” lays out the Iranian regime’s approach. Iran’s media is linked to the government and it parrots the government’s agenda. “Iran’s fuel exports to Lebanon to resolve the country’s crisis are currently making headlines in the Middle East and Western media,” the report says. It notes that the ships, making their way via the Suez canal to Lebanon, are a “point of hope for the country.” Nasrallah said the Iranian ships would arrive soon.
“The Lebanese people, regardless of sect or component, welcomed the decision, and at a time when the Arab Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have not taken any steps to help the Lebanese people despite their support for Lebanon, Iran became the Lebanese salvation card,” the report says. Aside from the long-term consequences of sending Iranian fuel to Lebanon through the mechanism outlined, the effect can be seen in the rabid stance of the Americans and Westerners, Iran says. The US has tried to encourage Lebanon to bring in alternative fuel and electricity from Egypt and Jordan, via Syria, which potentially empowers the Syrian regime and can also help Iran.
Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gather in a convoy of motorbikes marking Resistance and Liberation Day, in Kfar Kila village, near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER)
“The important point is that the import of gas from Egypt to Lebanon must be done through the territory of Syria, which is not possible without the consent of the Syrian government, and the United States must obtain the consent of Damascus, which requires the reduction of sanctions against Syria or it is the general abolition of Caesar Law,” says Tasnim. In essence, Iran now knows that the fuel weapon can be used to force Lebanon to be dependent on Iran and its allies Hezbollah and Syria. Iran wins either way, either through bringing ships of “salvation” to Lebanon or by getting the US to aid the Syrian regime.
Iran suspects that the US wants to prevent the Iranian oil and gas shipments. “The Americans are in a paradoxical situation – on the one hand, they intend to prevent the import of Iranian fuel to Lebanon, and on the other hand, sanctions against Syria will continue,” the report says.
“On the other hand, the Zionist regime, which along with the United States is considered one of the biggest victims of Iran’s fuel imports to Lebanon, has preferred to remain silent for the time being and has not even uttered its usual threats against Iranian ships, but the Zionists fear this action can be clearly seen in the media reports and comments of the regime’s experts.”
This means Iran is monitoring Israel’s reaction closely. The report notes “Israel’s silence on the arrival of Iranian fuel ships in Beirut,” and also says the arrival of fuel “will increase Hezbollah’s popularity in Lebanon and expand Iran’s national influence in Lebanon. And that means the failure of all the projects of Washington and Tel Aviv [Jerusalem] against the Lebanese resistance.”
This means the fuel weapon is now Iran’s main priority. The goal is to build up Hezbollah. “The success of Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah in rescuing the Lebanese people from the fuel crisis once again introduced him as a savior for all Lebanese and a leader who is working hard to resolve the country’s crises, as opposed to the real face of some Lebanese politicians who it became clear to everyone that they were involved in aligning the positions of the West and the United States in the siege of Lebanon and in creating crisis and sedition inside the country,” Tasnim reported. The point is that Hezbollah is perceived as “saving” Lebanon while the West is seen as harming Lebanon. Meanwhile, the opposition to Hezbollah in Lebanon is weakened.
This Janus-face use of Hezbollah, where Hezbollah is responsible for Lebanon’s economic collapse and benefits from it by making Lebanon dependent on Iran, is the same model Qatar used with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It empowered the Taliban to take over Afghanistan and also gained credit from the West for “helping” Afghans flee.
Iran alleges that conglomerates in Lebanon include companies that hoard goods and which are controlled by the US. Iran is thus positioning itself as warring with the US economically in the region. Iran has a new deal with China that may be part of the reason it now sees the economy as a frontline. Hezbollah has “created a new equation according to which Lebanese could turn to the East to resolve their economic crisis, led by the Islamic Republic of Iran and then Lebanon. It can operate freely in the commercial and economic spheres and gradually get out of American control,” the report says.
Iran argues that its enemies in Lebanon include Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea. Hezbollah assassinated Hariri’s father, who was also prime minister. Iran accuses Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states of laying “siege” to Lebanon.
Iran is pleased that a Lebanese delegation went to Syria and asserts that this “unprecedented move shows that the Americans were unwittingly forced to reduce pressure on Damascus and Beirut. During the meeting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stressed that he was ready to provide any support to the Lebanese brothers.” Iran wins either way is the narrative.
Iran claims the US made a decision to get Lebanon to bring gas from Egypt to Lebanon through Syria. “This paves the way for Hezbollah to redouble its efforts to break the US brutal siege of Lebanon, and this could even affect the border demarcation talks between Lebanon and occupied Palestine, and perhaps even use Iranian companies to extract Lebanese gas and oil.” The border issue likely relates to demarcating water borders off the coast. “The move could also pave the way for countries such as Russia, Iran, and China to invest in Lebanon and take the Lebanese economy out of Western control.” This is the real goal.
Lastly, Iran argues that this “defeat” of the US is linked to the defeat of the US in Afghanistan which “shattered American hegemony and could be an incentive for other nations in the region to relinquish control by Washington.” What that means is that Iran sees a tectonic shift in the region. This is big news for Israel because if Iran has successfully engineered an economic war by which Hezbollah and the Syrian regime are empowered, then Iran will likely use this leverage to further entrench itself in Syria and Lebanon in order to threaten Israel. Iran has shown its cards that it has a long-term economic goal stretching from China via Afghanistan to Iran and then through Iraq to Lebanon. This is the wider impact of the fuel war currently being waged.