Hezbollah chief makes misleading statements about Iranian fuel in Lebanon
On November 11, Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of the Lebanese Hezbollah party, denied that Iran had any control over Lebanon and his party, calling it the region’s biggest “lie”.
Nasrallah’s comments came in a speech broadcast on Al-Manar, the Lebanese television station owned by Hezbollah. While Hezbollah is influential and holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and government positions, it is not an Iranian surrogate or stamp, Nasrallah insisted.
“Let us dominate the [Lebanese] State? This is the biggest lie in Lebanon and the region, ”he said. “It’s the same lie as the lie of an Iranian occupation. Iran, which would occupy Lebanon, cannot get into a diesel ship on oil refineries in Lebanon. What is this empty, ridiculous and frivolous speech? Anyone who says it, whether Lebanese or Saudi, or whoever it is, this is a fragile and weak claim. “
But Nasrallah’s comment is misleading, at least when it comes to Iranian oil. While it is true that ships carrying Iranian fuel did not dock in Lebanon, Hezbollah imported Iranian fuel via Syria, bypassing official checkpoints and clearance from the Lebanese government.
And Nasrallah bragged about it.
Hezbollah is a close ally of Iran and has received Iranian funds and weapons since its inception. As a Shia Muslim party, it is also aligned with Iran on religion. The Hezbollah militia has grown in strength, becoming what some analysts call “a state within a state”.
The European Union, the United States and other countries consider Hezbollah a terrorist group, and several American administrations have targeted it with sanctions. The resulting financial pressure hit Hezbollah hard, leading to cuts in wages and social services.
Iran imported Iranian fuel to Lebanon this year, overland via Syria.
In August, Lebanon’s central bank ended national fuel subsidies and let the market set prices, which immediately jumped over 66%. People lined up for hours, if not days, at gas stations to get gas. Businesses and hospitals have had to close.
Amid the panic, Nasrallah vowed to import oil from Iran and also said that Iran could drill for oil off the Lebanese coast so Lebanon does not have to depend on imports.
A few days later, the first Iranian ships carrying fuel docked at the Syrian port of Baniyas, unloading their cargo into 80 trucks carrying 4 million liters of fuel to Lebanon. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the fuel was bought by Lebanese businessmen linked to Hezbollah.
The delivery of Iranian fuel has not been authorized by the Lebanese government. The trucks entered Lebanon illegally through unofficial border posts run by Hezbollah, not those run by the Lebanese state. Baniyas is about 40 miles north of the Lebanese border with Syria.
Iranian fuel deliveries violated US sanctions imposed on Tehran following former President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program.
The Lebanese government has distanced itself from fuel purchases.
“The Lebanese government did not approve this, no body asked for it. We are not dealing with this at all, so I do not think the Lebanese government will be subject to sanctions, ”Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on September 19.
After these first deliveries, Nasrallah promised more ships carrying fuel. He warned the United States and Israel not to intervene, calling Iranian oil tankers “Lebanese territory”.
In response, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri accused Nasrallah of violating the country’s sovereignty. In a tweet, Hariri declined to call Iranian ships “Lebanese territory.”
“We will in no way be used as a cover for plans to drown Lebanon in absurd wars hostile to the Arabs and to the world,” Hariri said.
The fuel delivered from Iran went to the Hezbollah-controlled area of Baalbek and was stored at gas stations operated by the oil company Al Amana, also sanctioned by the United States.
Nasrallah accuses US sanctions of exacerbating the economic crisis in Lebanon. Lebanese leaders blamed the fuel crisis on hoarding aimed at driving up fuel prices, as well as fuel smuggling into war-torn Syria.
After Lebanon’s civil war from 1975 to 1990, his government relied on tourism, foreign aid, finance and remittances from Lebanese expatriates to revive the country. Lebanon also received support from the Arab Gulf countries, which helped finance the reserves of the Lebanese central bank.
In 2011, the Lebanese economy began to collapse as neighboring Syria descended into civil war. As the political influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah increased, Sunni Arab countries cut their financial support.
Lebanon’s economic crisis has worsened over the past two years, exacerbated by mismanagement and corruption. Punitive inflation, COVID-19 and the deadly explosion in the Port of Beirut in August 2020 have left more than half of the country’s population in poverty.
Hezbollah became involved in Lebanese politics in 1992, when it won eight seats in the country’s parliament. Since 2005 the group has held ministerial positions and in 2018 it won 12 seats in parliament. Hezbollah and its allies combined won 71 of the 128 seats in parliament that the party declared a “victory.”
In addition to maintaining a military wing, Hezbollah operates an extensive network of social services, food programs, and health centers that have attracted support from both Shia and non-Shia Lebanese.