Iranian officials confirmed this week that they will send more fuel to Lebanon as needed, despite U.S. sanctions, to help alleviate Lebanon’s extreme fuel shortage. On Sunday, Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said the first vessel shipping Iranian fuel had already sailed from Iran. Yet, those who oppose Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group deemed a terrorist organization by the European Union, are concerned about the potential for sanctions to be imposed as a result of the deal.
Lebanon’s economy has already endured exponential decline over the last two years and would be further exacerbated by sanctions. “We will continue this process as long as Lebanon needs it,” argued Nasrallah in response to opposition. “The aim is to help all Lebanese, [not just] Hezbollah supporters or the Shia,” he added.
The fuel crisis has crippled Lebanon, leading to multiple eruptions of violence and severe power outages. In one case, a struggle over scarce fuel supplies descended into chaos involving guns, knives, and a hand grenade, which left three men dead, Al Jazeera reports. Lebanon’s army has recently gone so far as seizing fuel from petrol stations to curb hoarding amid shortages. Meanwhile, hospitals across the nation, which rely on private generators for power, may be forced to close on account of diesel scarcity. Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of hospital shutdowns will be dire.
Moreover, the national electric company has turned to roll blackouts to minimize fuel consumption. According to Al Jazeera, it now delivers only one hour of electricity per day to homes and businesses. Lebanon’s economy is collapsing; the price of a gallon of fuel has increased 220 percent in the last year, yet the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, and 78 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. “The situation is very hard, and we can’t handle it much longer,” Fadi Abu Shakra, a spokesman for fuel distributors, told a local station.
To ease the fuel shortage, Hezbollah, a close ally of Iran’s hardline conservative government, independently arranged its own deal with Iran, warning the U.S. and Israel not to interfere. Hezbollah, which serves as a near-adjacent government in Lebanon, is already under sanctions from the U.S. government, as are Iran’s petroleum exports. In some cases, U.S. authorities have gone the extra mile to identify and penalize shipping companies who move Iranian oil, reports AP News.
Hezbollah opposition worries that Nasrallah’s decision to work with Iran will invite additional sanctions and spur conflict. Nasrallah also failed to elaborate on how Lebanon would pay Iran for the oil. He said Hezbollah does not aim to “defy anyone,” by arranging the fuel shipment from Iran, but added that “we cannot stand idle amid the humiliation of our people whether in front of bakeries, hospitals, gas stations and darkness at night.”
Simultaneously, the government of Lebanon has been working on a $300-400 million deal with the government of Iraq to exchange Lebanese health services with Iraqi heavy fuel oil, which they would then trade on the global market with companies that can provide the grade of fuel it needs. U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea also announced that the United States would aid Lebanon in retrieving electricity from Jordan and fuel from Egypt. According to AP News, Shea plans on negotiating with the World Bank to pay for everything. “I’m trying to find solutions for the Lebanese people,” Shea told Al Arabiya English. “We’ve been talking to the governments of Egypt, Jordan, the government here [Lebanon], the World Bank. We’re trying to get real, sustainable solutions for Lebanon’s fuel and energy needs.”
For the time being, the top priority among all parties must be restoring power to hospitals, homes, and businesses, and preventing the nation from falling further into poverty. Ideally, Lebanon can work via the World Bank, and with the U.S. and Egypt, to secure fuel through legal and feasible means. Involving Iran despite U.S. sanctions has the potential to pull Lebanon deeper into international conflict and debt. However, it is simultaneously recommended that the U.S. not impose penalties for this specific defiance of sanctions, considering the dire circumstances facing Lebanon as a result of the fuel shortage.