By Julia M.K. – Sep 6, 2021
The economic crisis in Lebanon, manifesting itself in hyperinflation, hoarding of imports as the Central Bank moved to cut subsidies, and a severe fuel shortage that has caused huge lines at petrol stations is not a sole problem of domestic “corruption”—but rather the effects of a manufactured campaign of economic pressure against Hezbollah.
Just as Lebanon was the historic experiment for neoliberal incursion into the Middle East, the blockade-like conditions imposed upon Lebanon serve as warnings to the rest of the Global South absorbed into neoliberal capitalism against considering looking eastward to China or Iran for economic alliances.
Since 2019, fuel prices have skyrocketed when dollar reserves ran low and capital controls began to be imposed upon depositors of local commercial banks. In late August, the Central Bank, whose governor, Riad Salameh, is allied with the US, announced cuts to fuel subsidies. This decision was opposed by President Michel Aoun, who summoned the Central Bank governor soon after over the decision the President considered against the law.
In recent months, the effects of the crisis have reached new depths when impending cuts to fuel subsidies amidst the dollar scarcity encouraged hoarding of fuel. Stockpiles of hoarded fuel have been found in numerous areas, including Tleil in Akkar, Zahle, Zgharta, Saida, Nabi Osman in Baalbeck, Jeita, and in Jbeil. Over 150,000 tons of hoarded fuel were found at a gas station belonging to Ibrahim Sakr, a leader in the US-allied Lebanese Forces, where he was planning on selling at subsidized rates to card-carrying Lebanese Forces members.
The US and its allies have done everything in their power over the last few months to ensure that the blockade-like conditions in Lebanon continue to wage their chokehold on the country. In April, a planned meeting between the Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi and acting Lebanese PM Hassan Diab to sign an agreement to secure oil for Lebanon fell through when Americans pressured Kadhimi to cancel the meeting with Diab to release the fuel.
In 2019, Iran demonstrated its ability to break the siege of Venezuela by delivering fuel aid in tankers to Venezuela across seas and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s no surprise that Lebanon, Iran’s neighbor relatively speaking, would not be out of reach.
In June, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed that the party would import fuel from Iran if the sanctions persisted, adding that the logistics were already in place for the fuel deliveries from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since then, three tankers have taken off from Iranian waters, one already having reached Syria. In order to circumvent US sanctions, the tankers will stop in Syria, from where the oil will be transported by truck to Lebanon.
On September 3, the Iranian Foreign Minister stated his willingness to provide more fuel to Lebanon as needed in a phone call with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, with the two agreeing to expand ties between Iran and Lebanon.
The US realized its major loss in terms of effectively maximizing the intended impact of its economic pressure on Hezbollah. The economic pressure enabled Hezbollah to turn not only certain areas more towards economic self-sufficiency; at the same time, easing up the economic pressure would not have made the US’s role apparent in facilitating the conditions of the crisis, but nullifies its own pressure campaign.
In response to Nasrallah’s original declaration in an August 19 speech that oil would be brought in in broad daylight, the US ambassador announced that the US would support an “alternative” energy program.
Rushing to supply Lebanon with Jordanian electricity and Egyptian fuel through Syria, US Ambassador Dorothy Shea said that Lebanon needed “real” and “sustainable” solutions—that conveniently came in response to Nasrallah’s August 16 speech where he vowed to bring in the fuel in “broad daylight.”
In a speech soon after, Nasrallah mentioned this as evidence of the US’s guilt in imposing the sanctions. By proposing to install an alternative energy infrastructure that passes first through Jordan and Egypt, the ambassador revealed the US role in the Ceaser Act’s effects over Lebanon and of the US-imposed currency and energy crisis.
Syria agreed on September 4 to transport Jordan’s electricity and Egypt’s gas to Lebanon—something Nasrallah doubted—but the approval came as the first tanker was hours away from Lebanon and two others were days into their journey.
On September 1, a US Congressional delegation to Lebanon, led by US Senator Chris Murphy, assembled in reaction to the incoming Iranian fuel imports, which at the time of the meeting were moving past the Suez into Lebanon. The arrival of the delegation signaled the desperate position the US is finding itself in Lebanon, especially after its withdrawal from Afghanistan and impending withdrawals from Syria and Iraq.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said that Lebanon should not have to “depend on” oil imports from Iran. Yet the breaking of the blockade by Iran actually is relieving Lebanon of the consequences of dependency on the US dollar and Western imports. Thus, the only “damaging consequences” that Blumenthal speaks of are not Lebanon’s “reliance on Iranian oil”, but the damage to the US’s ability to strangle other countries economically. The delegation, arriving to threaten Lebanon with sanctions should it import the Iranian petrol, was the sore loser in this case: neither the fast-tracked Jordanian energy and Egyptian gas nor further economic sanctions could outpace or nullify the blockade-breaking assistance sent by Iran. In fact, it backfired further: the energy and gas, being sent through Syria, necessitates US sanctions relief on Syria’s electrical sector.
As the war on Lebanon shifts from military to economic, designed to “humiliate” and “subjugate” Lebanon, Hezbollah has proven its adaptability to deterrence in both dimensions. Daring the US or the Zionist entity to attack the tankers, Nasrallah emphasized that any attack against Hezbollah’s economic intervention to the fuel crisis would signal the military kiss of death for the Zionist entity, ironically equivocated through the cowardice of economic and political pressure.
Julia M.K. is a Beirut-based analyst, writer, and political commentator. Along with regular appearances on PressTV, her work has also appeared in Al-Mayadeen, Al-Akhbar, Mirat al-Jazeera, Counterpunch, and elsewhere.
Featured image: Iran has sent three fuel tankers to Lebanon, and will send more in the coming days, breaking the US economic siege of Lebanon. Image courtesy of PressTV.