By ignoring Lebanon’s oil crisis, Gulf states let Hezbollah lead the way – Middle East Monitor


Lebanon has experienced a difficult period over the past year: the inability to secure a viable government; the catastrophic explosion in Beirut; then the economic crash which caused its currency to fall. On top of all this looms Hezbollah, which is omnipresent in the crumbling Lebanese political system.

Iranian fuel tankers arrive from Syria to al-Ain in Hermel, Bekaa Valley, eastern Lebanon, September 16, 2021 [AFP via Getty Images]

This is Lebanon today. The situation remains dire, with chronic fuel shortages and frequent power cuts. The Lebanese are suffering and businesses are suffering. Inevitably, many people have already emigrated, seeking better prospects abroad.

To make matters worse, there has been little international support since the initial aid following last year’s explosion. France has offered structural change and a chance to implement reforms – albeit in a generally brutal and forceful manner – and the United States continues to closely monitor political developments; he gave a cautious welcome to the new Lebanese government.

No state has yet committed to be a partner and help the country through its many crises, however, this is where Iran and its allies have settled. Earlier this month, Lebanon received a huge shipment of fuel from Iran via Hezbollah, which organized convoys of dozens of trucks filled with fuel to cross Syria.

Despite the belief that the movement would keep fuel for areas under its control, its Shiite constituency and the predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Beirut, Hezbollah insisted it would distribute the fuel to those in need, no matter who. either their faith or their sect.

The fuel was the equivalent of a whole tanker. According to Lebanese energy expert Laury Haytayan, quoted by Foreign police, however, this is only sufficient to adequately supply the country for two days.

Whether Hezbollah distributes fuel fairly or not, the point is that the movement has pulled off a major blow that sends two messages. First, that it position itself as the potential savior of Lebanon by proving its ability to organize and receive the delivery of a commodity that the country so urgently needs. Even though he keeps the oil for his own needs, he has still shown that he is capable of making such a gesture and of providing a vital commodity.

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Second, Hezbollah was able to deliver the fuel without any foreign or Western power intervening to prevent it. Unlike other fuel shipments from Iran to states like Syria and Venezuela, the United States has been particularly silent on this one; even Israel has openly said it will not block it.

The latter has led to suggestions that Washington has given Iran and Hezbollah the “amber light” for delivery in order to avoid confrontation. It was also, perhaps, a positive gesture in light of the ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Of course, Lebanon is not subject to sanctions, unlike, say, Syria, so for humanitarian reasons only, the fuel had to pass. However, the larger geopolitics cannot be ignored.

Shortly before the Iran-Hezbollah expedition, the United States approved a plan for Egypt to supply fuel to Lebanon by transporting it through Syria with assistance from Jordan. This display of positive regional cooperation was overshadowed by the Iranian cargo, reminding everyone that Tehran and Hezbollah continue to be major players in Lebanese affairs, especially through the ongoing crises.

In Lebanon’s complex energy policy, however, a group of actors is missing. The Gulf States in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have notably remained silent on Lebanon’s problems and refrained from offering any assistance.

While GCC members have hardly been major fuel suppliers to Lebanon (Greece, Italy, the United States and Russia were the largest in 2018), with the exception of Kuwait, one could forgive us for thinking otherwise. They are, after all, members of the Arab League, so Lebanon would be entitled to expect a show of solidarity at this time.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia in particular was very interested in the political affairs of Lebanon, attempting to make its influence on the country’s parliament, as Iran has. The only difference is that Tehran’s attempts were successful.

Riyadh’s efforts in this regard culminated in the fiasco of 2017 when the Kingdom was accused of detaining then Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri – somewhat strangely holding Saudi citizenship – and having it. forced to announce his resignation. It was all pretty weird. Subsequently, Saudi Arabia’s policy in Lebanon was a series of blunders and mistrust, and its scope gradually faded.

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It looked like this could be rekindled in July, when the top Lebanese Christian clergyman expressed his hopes for an improvement in Saudi-Lebanese relations during his meeting with Saudi Ambassador Walid Bukhari. American and French envoys then traveled to Riyadh to discuss the political situation in Beirut.

Since then, however, Saudi Arabia has seemed largely indifferent to what is going on in Lebanon. Predictions that he would become a mediator in the country’s political crisis seem highly unlikely.

Lebanon has a long history of disaster and crisis - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Lebanon has a long history of disasters and crises – Caricature [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Meanwhile, Hezbollah has gained influence over several ministries in Lebanon – the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Energy and Water among them – in an effort to strengthen its position as a legitimate political party. The fuel coup now offers him the opportunity to dominate the energy sector in Beirut. There are of course other providers. In June, for example, Iraq decided to double its supply of crude oil to Lebanon.

This does not mask the fact that the GCC’s indifference to Lebanon runs counter to the organization’s stated objective of preventing the Iranian “axis” from spreading across the region. However, Saudi Arabia has already made it clear that there will be no help for the Lebanese government until tangible reforms are made. In another warning, he even said that Hezbollah’s efforts to dominate Lebanon must be countered.

What the Kingdom and GCC states seem to fail to realize, however, is that ignoring and dismissing the crises Lebanon is going through paves the way for Iran and Hezbollah to take the lead. The Gulf States are thus enabling and strengthening the very axis they fear.

The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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