AL-AIN, Lebanon-Dozens of Iranian diesel trucks arrived in Lebanon on Thursday, the first in a series of deliveries organized by militant Hezbollah. The powerful group operates independently of the Lebanese authorities, who are struggling to deal with a crippling energy crisis.
Delivery by land through neighboring Syria violates US sanctions against Tehran after former president Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018.
The broadcast is portrayed as a victory by Hezbollah, which went in to supply the fuel from its protector, Iran, while the cash-strapped Lebanese government is struggling with a month-long shortage of fuel that has paralyzed the country.
“This is a very big and big thing for us because we broke the siege of America and foreign countries. … We are working with the help of God and our great mother Iran, says Nabiha Idriss, a Hezbollah supporter who gathered with others to greet the convoy as it passed through the city of Al-Ain in the east.
There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or US officials on the Iranian fuel supply. Local commentators said that Washington, worried about chaos in Lebanon in the midst of raging, several crises, may have decided to look the other way.
Hezbollah has portrayed the Lebanese economic breakdown, which began in late 2019, caused in part by an informal siege by America due to the militant group’s power and influence in Lebanon. The group – designated a terrorist organization by Washington – has been sanctioned by successive US administrations.
Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class and a sectarian – based political system that thrives on protectionism and nepotism. Severe fuel shortages have led to crippling power outages. People wait in line for hours for petrol. Protests and riots have broken out at gas stations around Lebanon, including in some Hezbollah strongholds.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced last month that Iran was sending fuel to Lebanon to ease the crisis. The first Hezbollah-ordered Iranian oil tanker arrived in the Syrian port of Baniyas on Sunday and the diesel was unloaded at Syrian storage sites before being taken ashore to Lebanon on Thursday by tanker.
The convoy of 60 trucks, each with 50,000 liters (13,210 liters), passed through an informal border crossing in Qusayr, Syria. Another convoy with 60 tankers is expected on Friday.
Hezbollah, which is often accused of running a state within a state, has participated in Syria’s civil war with government forces. It manages its own crossing points along the border between Lebanon and Syria, away from formal border crossings.
Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not unload its cargo directly into Lebanon to avoid embarrassing authorities and risking sanctions against Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television called it “the tankers to break the American siege.” It is said that the trucks were on their way to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek where a Hezbollah-linked distribution company will start distributing the fuel. Nasrallah said the company, al-Amana, which is already under US sanctions, will not risk new penalties.
To critics, however, the convoy is a symbol of the dissolution of the Lebanese state. While oil supplies were seen as a victory for Hezbollah, the group faces growing internal criticism for increasingly dragging Lebanon into Iran’s path and for defending its political allies who oppose change rather than pushing for reform.
“Do not forget this day,” tweeted Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert and activist, describing it as the day Hezbollah won over the Lebanese state.
Lebanese gathered at the roadside leading to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to greet the convoy. Hezbollah’s yellow flags and banners celebrating the Iranian – backed group and Syrian President Bashar Assad decorated the streets. Some women showered the trucks with rice and flowers as they drove by. Others raised banners with the words “Thank you Iran” and “Thank you Syria.” Heavy gunfire, and at least one rocket-propelled grenade, were fired to celebrate.
Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose government was formed last week after a 13-month political stalemate, has not commented on Hezbollah’s agreement to import fuel from Iran.
Nasrallah has said a month’s worth of diesel would be donated to public hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, water stations and the Lebanese Red Cross. He said fuel would also be sold at discounted prices to private hospitals, drug factories, bakeries and cooperatives that sell food products.
He said that three other tankers carrying diesel and one carrying petrol will arrive in the coming weeks.
Faced with the possibility of Iranian fuel coming to Lebanon, US officials have said they are discussing long-term solutions to the energy crisis in Lebanon, including a recently revived natural gas pipeline from Egypt.