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Iran, Syria and Hezbollah bypass US sanctions

Tankers carrying Iranian fuel arrive from Syria at al-Ain in Hermel in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on September 16, 2021. Dozens of tankers carrying Iranian fuel and transported by the Shiite Hezbollah movement arrived from Syria in Lebanon, in the grip of severe fuel shortages. (Photo by AFP)

Hezbollah has broken the American siege on Lebanon by importing fuel from Iran, via Syria as Lebanon suffers a debilitating fuel shortage, power cuts and a deepening economic crisis.

So how did Iran, Syria and Hezbollah succeed in bypassing US sanctions, while also forcing America’s hand into giving Lebanon gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan?

We examine what this means for Lebanon politically and economically, and how it alters the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

At first, they merely suggested it. Now, they've actually done it; Hezbollah has successfully imported fuel from Iran into Lebanon. Lebanon has been suffering from a deepening economic crisis for almost two years now with power cuts, food shortages, fuel shortages and an almost total devaluation of its currency. The whole point of importing the fuel was to try and mitigate this.

While some argue that the shipment undermines Lebanese sovereignty, others argue that it is a victory for the Resistance Front, for people waving flags in celebration of the arrival of the fuel.

So why is this shipment so controversial? Has it helped mitigate Lebanon's economic crisis, and how does it affect the overall geopolitical landscape of the Middle East when Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, are all able to successfully bypass US sanctions?

Lebanon has been suffering from a severe economic crisis for almost two years. Many factors have contributed to this including political instability and the lack of a central government, Lebanon has only just recently been able to form a new government.

Factors contributing to the overall instability include widespread corruption, the so called Ponzi scheme, that has been going on for decades and is central to Lebanon's economy.

The global pandemic with COVID-19, not to mention the Beirut port explosion, both these incidents have made everything worse for Lebanon.

Moreover, the war in Syria has also impacted the country severely, and visa versa, given how closely, Syria, and Lebanon's economies are interlinked. And last but not least, the external pressure on Lebanon from the west to try and exclude Hezbollah from the political process.

All these things combined have led to a terrible situation where the Lebanese pound, or lira, has lost more than 90% of its value since October 2019. The situation is so bad that Bloomberg reports Lebanon's annual inflation rate is now the highest in the world, surpassing Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

The result of this is that three quarters of Lebanon's population now lives in poverty, prescription and over the counter medicine alike are either unavailable or too expensive.

AlJazeera reports that on average, food items today cost 10 times more than they did in 2019, the price of milk has increased sevenfold, rice 19 fold, cooking oil is 37 times more expensive.

The World Food Programme says that food prices have risen by 557% since 2019.

Just to buy bread for one family someone earning minimum wages would have to spend 44% of their monthly salary. Lebanon is a country that imports 80% of its food. And presently, the food situation is further imperiled by fuel shortages and power cuts.

The government just cannot supply people with enough electricity, so people either have no electricity, or for most of the day, they have to rely instead on private generators.

Essential businesses such as bakeries, for example, need diesel fuel to keep their generators running, so they can stay open, but because there isn't enough fuel instead they have to close, making bread scarce.

The power-cuts are so severe people only have electricity for four hours, sometimes two hours, a day. Not just bakeries but hospitals and essential services have also warned that they are on the brink of collapse as they lack power and electricity to keep functioning.

Ironically, even during a parliamentary session the power also went out, which Hezbollah offered to fix by bringing two generators.

The suffering of the people in Lebanon is widespread and it is commonplace to see people in Beirut queuing for bread, queuing for fuel, hours at a time to try and get something if they're lucky.

In August, the central bank announced that it could no longer afford to subsidize fuel. The problem of liquidity plagues Lebanon, as there's a shortage of foreign currency especially US dollars.

While officially the Lebanese pound is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of 1500 Liras, the black market rate has done nothing but skyrocket with no end in sight. Currently, the rate hovers at around 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Basic necessities are either too expensive for people to afford or simply not available.

Could you describe the economic situation in Lebanon, in practical terms, how has the crisis affected everyday life for the average man in the street?

Yeah, its bad I mean it's, it's always been tough. I guess it's gotten worse over the last couple of years since the economy tanked a couple of years ago, But now it seems like it's bottomed out and things are getting really tough for the average Lebanese citizen.

What happened is, with the devaluation of the Lebanese lira for a long time, from 1997 forward It was pegged at 1500 and that sort of stabilised things for a while, but since the economic collapse of a couple of years ago, it went up to about 7000, 8000 and finally went up to about the lowest was about 18,000, now it's gone down to about 15,000.

And it's tough because most people who work there, especially the ones that work for the government, get paid in Lira, and their selling is the same so if a person was getting paid, say like a million, a million Liras a month prior to the economic collapse, which translates to roughly $700; they are still getting paid a million Liras, however, it's not worth $700 anymore it's basically trying to live on $100 a month, imagine trying to sustain a family on $100 a month; it's tough. and you know you couple that with a pandemic and now you have the fuel shortage.

Lebanon has always had a problem providing electricity for its citizens. Outside Beirut most people would get eight to 10 hours of electricity per day. And now it is down to about one hour, and there's a shortage of gasoline at the gas stations, ... waiting in long lines to purchase gas... they can't even fill up their gas tanks so they could probably get  a quarter tank or half a day. So yeah, things are getting really really tough recently.

Abbas Bazzi, Lebanese Political Activist

The government raised the price of fuel, why did they do that after the first shipment arrived?

They didn't really raise up the price that happened is they removed the subsidies for fuel, which consequently brought the price up, and the reason for that is because they claim that they have no funds to subsidize it anymore.

Abbas Bazzi, Lebanese Political Activist

When we talk about a de facto American siege on Lebanon, what does that mean and what role is the United States actually playing in Lebanese politics?

Yeah, as far as the American siege on Lebanon yeah I mean, basically, you know, for the past couple decades, the US has done everything it can to try to break the resistance of Lebanon, and it has used, I wouldn't even call them allies of the US, they're just pawns of the US politicians in Lebanon that the US props up to try to disarm Hezbollah.

They don't have the political clout, or, or the means to do that. But, the US uses them and they use the US. So basically it is in the situation where the US had no more cards to play.

And now after Hezbollah broke the siege, the US is trying to, you know, play a role of well we can bring in gasoline from Egypt, fuel from Egypt, and we can bring electricity from Jordan.

The US is basically breaking US law, because as you know there are sanctions on Syria. So now, the US is forced to deal with Syria, to you know, try to, you know, save face on Lebanon.

Abbas Bazzi, Lebanese Political Activist

The Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati said that the fuel shipments are a "violation of Lebanese sovereignty". What do you make of that and why do you think he said that?

Yeah, I heard that, that was funny, it was hilarious, actually, I wouldn't be talking about Since when has Lebanon been on the outside world country. Lebanon was, literally, you know, created ... not to have any sort of sovereignty just to weaken our people in the region, to divide us, and Lebanon has never had  any sort of sovereignty, ... every political power in Lebanon is basically beholden to some sort of external power.

So, what sovereignty is he talking about that, that was violated? I mean, if, if there are some sovereign powers in Lebanon, let them bring fuel in, the country's out of fuel, bring fuel to Lebanon, show us your sovereignty, show us your loyalty, bring fuel to the country. This was an act of desperation by Hezbollah, it got to a point where it was a national emergency. So if there's any kind of sovereignty that he's talking about, you know, to bring fuel to the country.

Abbas Bazzi, Lebanese Political Activist

This whole situation in Lebanon, What do you think will finally remedy it and what would you like to see happen for things to get better?

In the long term, who knows, all these things are short term band aids, in the long term is that possible anytime soon? I'm not sure. I honestly don't know what the long term solution is,  in my opinion, the best way is for all of us to unite under one central entity, but I don't know if the groundwork is there for that (to happen) anytime soon.

I think we need to look inward, you know, we need to stop relying on the west because we witness a lot going on, what will happen to you when you rely on the west, we mean nothing to them. We're expendable, they'll watch us starve. Yeah, we're totally expandable so we've looked inward and found our solutions among ourselves.

Abbas Bazzi, Lebanese Political Activist

In June, Secretary General of Hezbollah, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, suggested the idea of importing Iranian fuel for Lebanon. And just by bringing this up, Iraq went ahead and doubled its supply of crude oil to Lebanon, from 500,000 to 1 million tonnes a year, likely at the discretion of the United States.

Although crude oil does not exactly fix Lebanon's problem as they are in need of fuel. Two months later, on August 19 Nasrallah announced fuel shipments from Iran were secured and confirmed. Immediately, the Americans, rushed and scrambled to try and stop them, the American Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea called up the Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

She explained that the United States would offer an alternative plan to secure Lebanon's energy needs, and that they did not need Iran and Hezbollah. the American ambassador floated this extraordinary plan, which involves taking gas from Egypt, electricity from Jordan, and then sending them through Syria to Lebanon.

It's quite funny, honestly, the United States is so desperate to undermine Iran and Hezbollah, it is willing to go to such lengths and undertake this extremely complicated process involving four countries, just to give Lebanon power.

Well that's great, but where was this plan before? Where was the United States rushing to help Lebanon with this intricate idea? As you will be aware, Syria is under US sanctions, the Caesar act. And yet despite that, the United States is still willing to work with Syria, a country, it has been at war with and sanctioning for 10 years.

Meanwhile Iran does the need to convert anything its just bringing diesel and petrol already refined and ready to go.

Hezbollah announced that there will be four shipments of fuel from Iran to Lebanon. Most of this would be diesel with a little bit of petrol as well.

One must not forget that there is a tanker war in the region, Israel has sabotaged and attacked numerous Iranian ships transporting fuel to Syria.

The United States has also pirated oil from Iran which was headed to Venezuela, simply stealing it and selling it off.

Nassrollah issued a warning saying that the ships are to be regarded as Lebanese territory the moment they set sail, that any attack on them would be considered an attack of Lebanese sovereignty. with that said, two of the four ships have already arrived safely.

The first ship docked on September 14 in the Syrian port of Baniyas the diesel was offloaded into oil tankers and driven to the Lebanese border, and as part of the Axis of Resistance, Syria provided these trucks for free.

President Assad sent the Syrian army to escort them and had all tariffs and taxes lifted. a convoy of 80 trucks carrying with them 4 million liters of fuel made the journey from Baniyas and as they crossed over into Lebanon, scores of people lined the streets in celebration of their arrival waving Syrian, Iranian, and Lebanese, flags and holding up signs saying Thank you Iran. Thank you, Syria.

In a more extravagant move one person was so happy he decided to fire an RPG into the air to celebrate the fuel shipment.

As Nassrollah had announced, the first shipment of fuel will be going to hospitals, nursing homes, the Lebanese Red Cross, Special Needs facilities, the fire department and other essential services; one month's supply of fuel completely free of charge.

The rest would be sold to everyone else later at below cost, cheap rates with zero profit. A week after the first shipment had arrived, the second oil tanker docked in Baniyas on September, 23 at 10pm local time with the other two ships expected in the coming weeks or months.

How has this shipment of fuel affected Lebanon politically and economically?

Lebanon's economic situation is not just confined to the last month during which the US decided to starve the people and slapped them with sanctions like they did with Syria and the Caesar act with the encouragement of cartels, controlling the distribution of fuel, or lack thereof, and not to mention the political stooges and pawns who work with the United States and Saudi Arabia, in the hope that starving the people will create chaos and turn public opinion against Hezbollah. but the last month mustn't be looked into outside the context of the last 30 years, a system rooted in corruption and embezzlement of public funds.

we are talking about a monetary system which is essentially a Ponzi scheme which depends on external support and funding, with a complete lack of any real agriculture or industry.

So once the money stopped flowing into Lebanon, everything collapsed and the smaller investors were robbed, in contrast, the 1% were not affected. when Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah gave his address on Ashura, he warned the Israeli enemy to stay away from the ships coming to Lebanon, that they are to be considered Lebanese soil.

This posed a huge challenge for the Americans. So in response, the American ambassador called President Aoun and said, "all this gas in Egypt, we can help bring it to Lebanon", even though people have been pushing for this idea for years, and the Americans always stood in the way.

Not to mention the Caesar act sanctions on Syria, which have prohibited anything going through Syrian territory? The US Ambassador now says we [sic] have no problem bringing gas and electricity from Egypt to Jordan through Syria to Lebanon.

So all of a sudden, the Americans and Saudis realised that this pressure they've been putting on Lebanon to try and prevent the formation of a government has backfired.

It turns out the situation is benefiting Hezbollah, because Hezbollah are now seen as the ones who are trying to prevent the collapse of the country by bringing in fuel and medicine. so to try and put an end to this, suddenly you have a new government being formed after 13 months of sabotage from Saudi Arabia's pawns and the Americans and the French, all of a sudden we can bring gas from Egypt through Jordan and Syria, suddenly they are fine with it coming through Syria.

So you see the arrival of these fuel shipments from Iran broke the siege and broke the political stalemate in Lebanon. It also helps fight all the property owners who stole and smuggled goods and raise prices to rip people off.

Pierre Abi Saab, Lebanese Journalist, Al Akhbar

When we saw the convoy of trucks arriving from Syria to Lebanon, They were driving in broad daylight with no one standing in their way, how is that possible?

Well what does that tell you? that's all about the balance of power, and the Israelis and Americans knew this, if you look at what they're saying in the Zionist media, Israel has claimed that they are turning a blind eye to the fuel shipments because they pity the Lebanese people, but this is not true.

If you look at the balance of power today in the region, where there's tanker war going on with Iran in the Arabian Sea, the Israeli enemy has had Iran's ships attacked and blown up on numerous occasions. So in this political climate, no one dares to come near the oil tankers in the sea, nor the trucks driven by Hezbollah, officially the fuel is coming from a country under sanctions, meaning Iran and going to another country under sanctions, but these sanctions are a creation of these white American cowboys, these sanctions are not legitimate, nor were they approved by the United Nations. right now Lebanon is weak.

Even people who have disagreements with Hezbollah, don't care anymore. Right now all they're saying is we want fuel, whether it comes from Iran, or Mars, it doesn't matter. We want fuel and Hezbollah answered the call of the Lebanese people, even those who oppose them.

The blockade has been lifted and the current balance of power, shows that Hezbollah is able to counter the Israeli enemy and prevent virtually anyone interfering with the shipments coming from Iran through Syria.

Pierre Abi Saab, Lebanese Journalist, Al Akhbar

And how do you feel about the United States response to this whole situation?

America and its allies won't do anything, they won't dare touch these shipments, neither by sea nor by land. Right now, the United States, France and Saudi Arabia, plan on facing off with Hezbollah at the ballot box by influencing the elections in Lebanon and undermining the democratic electoral process.

When it comes to the issue of fuel shipments, they have lost this battle, despite all their attempts to sway public opinion to claim that this fuel was stolen, sent to Syria, and then shipped back, or when they said that Lebanese cars would not work with Iranian petrol, all sorts of absurd claims they thought they could play on people's fears that people who are hungry and desperate might fall for these rumours, but this didn't work.

The siege in Lebanon has been lifted, their attempt to anger the public has fallen apart, trying to turn public opinion against resistance, while people don't have any food or gas and so forth. This failed, so they will try to find another way to demonise the resistance during the upcoming elections. Ironically, the thing that I dislike the most about the Lebanese system is that it's a sectarian system, which I wish we could replace with a secular one, this is the thing that's ultimately going to stop America's attempts to undermine our political process.

Pierre Abi Saab, Lebanese Journalist, Al Akhbar

Naturally, not everyone is happy about the arrival of this fuel, there are some critics who say that Hezbollah is undermining the state, but where is the state?

There has been no central government in Lebanon for years and people have no faith in the politicians.

What, exactly, is wrong with giving some hospitals and nursing homes free fuel? It's certainly not a long term solution, but it is bringing help to those most in need, free of charge, no strings attached, and yet critics want to reduce it to a PR stunt.

Who would risk four oil tankers full of fuel and all this trouble when so many things could go wrong just for a PR stunt?

It's really funny watching the Western politicians and media speak with their usual colonial arrogance, fuming because independent, sovereign countries won't bend the knee to their illegal sanctions.

The headlines read that Hezbollah has brought in fuel in defiance of US sanctions. How dare they? The Washington Post said that Hezbollah is flexing its muscles, as if they had just imported nuclear weapons.

Senator Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho, who serves as the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in response to the arrival of Iranian fuel to Lebanon said that "Lebanon’s received US sanctioned Iranian fuel trucked in by Hezbollah through Syria is a disappointing sign for the future of Lebanon's accountability and democracy. US sanctions must mean something. It's unnerving to see this administration not make that clear".

It unclear if that's a threat, however, the axis of resistance does not care about US sanctions.

This latest development in Lebanon is remarkable for several reasons.

The US thought that by sanctioning Syria, it would get rid of Bashar Al Assad, and by sanctioning Lebanon, they would turn the people against Hezbollah.

As the economic crisis worsened Hezbollah imported fuel and medicine as well as helping people buy basic necessities at a low cost.

This boosted their image and popularity as a result, to the point that even people who dislike Hezbollah don't really care that Hezbollah is bringing in the fuel, they just want relief from the economic crisis.

So, once the Americans the Saudis the French and their friends realised that their plan of blaming all of Lebanon's woes and problems on Hezbollah and trying to turn public opinion against Hezbollah, was not working and once they realised that this is actually making Hezbollah look good, all of a sudden, after 13 months of political stalemate, we have the formation of a new government, just like that.

Suddenly, after years of trying to get gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan, the US is okay with it. All of a sudden, after years of wars and sanctions against Syria, the US is willing to break its own laws and sanctions to run this through Syria.

It would appear that all you need to do to get progress in Lebanon is for Hezbollah to suggest an idea, and carry it out, and then, without further ado, everyone else will want to do it too.

The US is so desperate it has backed itself into a political corner, even in its own alternative plan with Egypt and Jordan, it has to involve Syria and break its own rules and violate its own sanctions to make it happen.

Syria by the way has agreed to this. So in addition to providing trucks and letting the Iranian ships dock in Baniyas, Syria will help with this US plan.

A win win situation for Lebanon

And although these fuel shipments aren't a long term solution they cannot fix all of Lebanon's problems. Nonetheless, they are a victory for the Resistance Front.

It shows that US hegemony and power in the Middle East is weakening.

Iran, a country under US sanctions, sent fuel to Syria, also a country under US sanctions, and the fuel was then transported by Hezbollah's oil company, Al-Amana, also under US sanctions, to Lebanon, itself under a de facto US siege.

This is a historic shift in Middle Eastern geopolitics, and although they might not like it, what Hezbollah has done here is outmaneuver its political rivals, both in Lebanon as well as internationally, in a masterful game of chess.


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