Iran and Hezbollah Ship Fuel to Lebanon, Defying Sanctions
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah, announced Wednesday that a tanker full of diesel fuel will soon be departing Iran for Lebanon - a violation of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian energy industry.
The shipment was set up by Hezbollah, which receives heavy support from the Iranian government. According to Nasrallah, the cargo will provide relief for ongoing fuel shortages in Lebanon, which have reached crisis proportions.
Nasrallah's announcement follows several days after the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, warned of looming impacts on access to health care and clean water if an "instant solution" to fuel shortages could not be found. Lebanon is dependent upon fuel oil for electrical power generation, and the shortage has impacted the ability of hospitals to keep running. The effects are especially critical for COVID-19 patients who are on ventilator treatment, the UN noted. Meanwhile, the power cuts have hit Beirut's water supply network, forcing a week-long shutdown. Lebanon's economy is in free-fall, and its currency has lost 90 percent of its market value since last year, giving it little purchasing power to buy fuel on its own.
To alleviate this crisis, the government of Lebanon has signed an unusual swap deal with the government of Iraq, which will see an exchange of Lebanese health services for Iraqi heavy fuel oil. Lebanon cannot use the fuel oil in its own power plants, but will swap it on the global market with companies that can provide the grade of fuel it needs. Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghajjar put the value of the deal at about $300-400 million.
Hezbollah, which serves as a near-parallel government in Lebanon, has arranged its own deal with Iran. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah announced Wednesday that multiple shipments of Iranian fuel would be on the way soon, and he warned Israel and the United States against interfering with the Iranian tankers carrying it.
Iran's petroleum exports are sanctioned by the United States, and American authorities have gone to great lengths to identify and penalize shipowners who facilitate the movement of Iranian oil. U.S. officials have seized, impounded and resold Iranian oil products in the past.
Israel has been engaged in a shadow war with Iran and Hezbollah for years, including frequent Israeli airstrikes on Hezbollah positions and weapons stores within Syria. Israeli forces have also allegedly targeted Iranian tankers with a series of at least a dozen strikes, damaging but not sinking the vessels.
Nasrallah said that Hezbollah will treat the Iranian tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon as "Lebanese territory" from the moment it gets under way, and he specifically warned America and Israel against interfering. He said that the organization will not listen to pushback on the shipments, which violate U.S. sanctions, because the question of fuel security has "become linked to the pride of our people."
"Despite the siege and sanctions on Iran and the pressures on it, it has never abandoned its allies and has not let down its friends," said Nasrallah.