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Lebanon fuel crisis turns up the heat on Hezbollah

A line of vehicles at a gas station in Damour, Lebanon, June 25, 2021. (Reuters)
A line of vehicles at a gas station in Damour, Lebanon, June 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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27 Aug 2021 02:08:03 GMT9
27 Aug 2021 02:08:03 GMT9

The fuel crisis unfolding in Lebanon has led to clogged roads across the country. The lack of fuel oil, or “mazut” as the Lebanese call it, has also left homes and now hospitals in the dark. In a country where the state electricity company provides power only for a few hours at a time, the Lebanese must rely on their own power generation for much of the day. Yet, with food and medicine rapidly disappearing, finding “mazut” also has become a problem.

Fuel shortages also provide an example of the way Lebanon has been transformed into a caste-like society, with the more powerful and those connected to Hezbollah able to fill their car tanks as well as have their “mazut” delivered. Soon, people will have no choice but to beg their respective political and religious leaders for help — the same names they accuse of being corrupt. Under the protection of Hezbollah, an entire country has been brought down and the will of its people destroyed.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah recently boasted that three tankers carrying Iranian fuel were en route to Lebanon. He also challenged the US and Israel to do anything about the shipments. At the same time, Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, declared that the country was willing to sell fuel to the Lebanese government in addition to the three tanker shipments which were bought by Lebanese Shiite businessmen. The simple question is, what is the deal these businessmen have with the Lebanese government? And, moreover, is the problem a lack of fuel in global markets, or is it the Lebanese government’s inability to pay for fuel imports?

The answer is simple. In theory, Lebanon should and could buy from anywhere in the world if it is willing to pay. Moreover, an Iranian official has made it clear that these shipments have been purchased. So how is the Lebanese government going to compensate the businessmen who bought it?

This situation shows the hypocrisy of Nasrallah’s declaration on the subject. Far from saving Lebanon, Iran is engaging in a business transaction. Nasrallah not only will be able to extract the payment for his business friends, but you can also expect that a big part of the shipments will be sold in contraband to Syria. The rest will be left for the Lebanese to fight over at skyrocketing prices.

Under the protection of Hezbollah, an entire country has been brought down and the will of its people destroyed.

Khaled Abou Zahr

Portraying a commercial transaction as an act of sacrifice by Iran for Lebanon is a shameful Hezbollah tactic. In fact, this shipment is good business for Iran, the businessmen, Hezbollah and Syria. It is a bad deal for the Lebanese people, who will pay a much higher price than a financial transaction. Lebanon should refuse these shipments. What remains of a responsible government should focus on finding another source, with clear purchasing and distribution conditions that will alleviate the pain of the Lebanese or at least restore electricity to hospitals.

It is clear that Hezbollah controls Lebanon, but with the country in turmoil it is becoming increasingly difficult to serve Iranian interests. The domestic situation is hurting the entire population, though Shiites might be suffering more as they face a ruthless dictatorship.

In short, Hezbollah no longer operates in a friendly environment, and this is its biggest problem. The Lebanese have rejected this Iranian element in their society. They do not have the power to act on it, but they will, if they can, disrupt whatever is possible in Hezbollah’s operations. Hezbollah is now clearly an invading force trying to keep the population silent.

International views of the situation are flawed. Much of the world believes, for example, that an alternative source of fuel for Lebanon would be a political loss for Hezbollah. That is not the case.

Hezbollah would welcome fuel from anywhere in the world since it will still get its cut. Moreover, a situation where the entire country is blocking the streets is a problem for the militants, disrupting their own movements and logistics efforts. One should not forget that Hezbollah is, first and foremost, a military organization, not a political one. Nasrallah knows that any resource coming into the country is his and that he has the power to decide its distribution.

The tragedy of the fuel situation is that while people are running around trying to figure out how to survive, no one has time to even question why the state electricity company lacks the capacity or resources to supply the country. The answer is simple: The decrepit Lebanese state is Hezbollah’s — it is a cascade of “fronts” robbing the country and protecting interests all the way to Tehran.

I am quite certain that the Lebanese lining up for hours at petrol stations will never see any of the political and religious leaders’ vehicles. The same group will also have the fuel oil they need to keep their fridges running while lights go off in schools and hospitals. It is this caste-like society that the Syrian occupation and now the Iranian one has ushered in. The country is stuck in a vicious circle as minorities are forced to seek shelter and protection from their leaders, however weak they might be.

The result is that individuals’ duties and loyalty become the property of their leaders, not the country. It is time to break this cycle by pushing forward with localization.

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
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