Iran announces readiness to send more fuel to Lebanon

Supply crisis in the Mediterranean country and lack of political leadership consolidate Hezbollah's role
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AFP PHOTO / HO / PRESIDENCIA IRANÍ  -   Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, Iran's oil minister

Lebanon is at a virtual standstill in the wake of the deep fuel crisis that has been dragging on for months. According to the Lebanese daily L'Orient Le Jour, the main roads leading to Beirut, including the northern highway, were blocked by protesters yesterday. While the endless queues in front of petrol stations are only increasing.

The situation in the Mediterranean country is worsening just days after the fuel price hike is due to come into effect. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Energy, 95 octane petrol will now cost 129,000 Lebanese pounds per 20 litres, an increase of more than 66% compared to the 77,500 set in the last price list issued by the government department on 11 August. The shortage of crude oil, coupled with a shortage of electricity production, has plunged Lebanon into a severe supply crisis in general terms.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Traffic jam caused by cars queuing for fuel in Damour, Lebanon August 21, 2021

In early August, the Lebanese government announced that electricity production was barely enough to cover 25% of the country's supply needs, while the Central Bank of Lebanon announced that it was unable to continue supporting fuel imports, which meant lifting subsidies. In July, the government took the decision to subsidise fuel in response to the serious situation the country was experiencing, but on 11 August the governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salame, stated that he was "unable to continue supporting the purchase of fuel".

Salame offered as a solution a proposed law to disburse credits to the state electricity company, Electricité du Liban (EDL), to allow it to buy fuel "because it is the cheapest remedy for the citizen, even if taxes are raised". For weeks now, the Lebanese electricity company has been offering only two hours a day of supplies, while private generators are priced at exorbitant prices, far beyond the reach of a population impoverished by three years of economic crisis.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Fuel storage tanks in Dora, Lebanon August 20, 2021

Faced with a political leadership vacuum in Lebanon and a lack of response to the crisis from a government that has yet to be formed after more than a year, the Lebanese Hezbollah party announced that it will start importing petrol from Iran. The secretary general of the Resistance Movement, Hassan Nasrallah, said during a speech that "God willing, we will definitely bring diesel and petrol from Iran". The Hezbollah leader stressed that the Islamic Republic had assured him that it would support Lebanon and blamed the Lebanese government and US influence for the lack of alternative responses to the Iranian offer.

Nasrallah claimed that the first ship carrying Iranian fuel to Lebanon had already sailed. For its part, the Islamic Republic has announced that it is prepared to send more fuel to the Mediterranean country if necessary. "We sell our oil and its products based on our own decisions and the needs of our friend. Iran is ready to send fuel again to Lebanon if necessary," said Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh.

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AL-MANAR TV/Handout via REUTERS - Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

The main stumbling block to such aid by Iran to Lebanon is US sanctions on Iranian oil exports, imposed in 2018 by former US President Donald Trump after it withdrew from the Nuclear Deal. Hezbollah's purchase of crude oil may trigger sanctions on Lebanon, which has already been suffering from a severe economic crisis since 2019.