Hezbollah Flouts U.S. Sanctions by Taking Delivery of Iranian Fuel
Lebanon's first deliveries of Iranian fuel are arriving by the truckload, reported the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Sunday. The gasoil arrived aboard an Iranian tanker at the port of Baniyas, Syria last week, and its transfer violates multiple U.S. sanctions measures.
Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, is the most powerful political party in Lebanon. With backing from the government of Iran, it operates a militia that exceeds the size of Lebanon's official army, and it has deep ties to the U.S.-sanctioned government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Its independence and clout were on full display Friday: without any approval from the Lebanese government, a convoy of trucks carrying Iranian fuel rolled across a Hezbollah-operated border crossing and into the Bekaa Valley, the group's stronghold in the northeastern corner of the country. It is the first in a long series of overland transfers, and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that the fuel would be given away to hospitals, orphanages, local governments, the Lebanese Red Cross and other institutions.
The transaction breaks a long list of U.S. sanctions measures. Nasrallah has confirmed that the decision to offload the tanker's cargo in Syria - not Beirut - was taken to make sure that the Lebanese government would not be "embarrassed" or penalized because of the sanctioned transaction.
Lebanon needs the fuel: it faces an extreme energy shortage brought on by economic collapse and rampant inflation. Many of the country's gas stations have run dry; fuel supplies are closely rationed; and rolling blackouts have become the norm as its two primary powerplants run out of gasoil. Its government recently reached a deal with Iraq to buy Iraqi HFO, then swap it for other products on the international market. The first cargo of gasoil related to this deal was offloaded at the Zahrani and Deir Ammar powerplants this weekend.
Lebanon's government has denied any role in the shipment. In a statement on Twitter, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that Hezbollah's "violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad." However, he said that he is unconcerned about the possibility of sanctions, "because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government."
So far, the Biden administration has not announced new penalties over the shipments.
A challenge to U.S. authority
In Hezbollah's rhetoric, the successful delivery was a break in an "American siege" on Lebanon. The political significance - a domestic win for Hezbollah through defiance of American sanctions - was not lost on American policymakers. Last week, two U.S. senators called for action in response, though in different ways.
"Hezbollah is spinning a very effective narrative about the 'US blockade of energy resources' in the country. They’re offering ships of their own through Iran," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “The narrative is persuasive . . . This is in Lebanon right now and we have to address this immediately."
Separately, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) criticized the White House for failing to take action in response to the shipment. "US sanctions must mean something. It’s unnerving to see this administration not make that clear," said Sen. Risch. "Lebanon’s receipt of US-sanctioned Iranian fuel, trucked-in by Hezbollah through Syria, is a disappointing sign for the future of Lebanon’s accountability and democracy."
The administration will have more opportunities for action: Two more Iranian tankers are already on the way to Baniyas to make fuel deliveries for Hezbollah, according to TankerTrackers.com.