Israel won’t interfere with Hezbollah-run oil shipments from Iran to Lebanon

Tehran-backed terror group touts victory as first fuel convey enters energy-starved country; Jerusalem to turn a blind eye, citing its civilian use and Beirut’s economic crisis

People raise an Iranian flag, as they gather to welcome tankers carrying Iranian fuel, upon their arrival from Syria in the city of Baalbeck, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, on September 16, 2021.  (AFP)
People raise an Iranian flag, as they gather to welcome tankers carrying Iranian fuel, upon their arrival from Syria in the city of Baalbeck, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, on September 16, 2021. (AFP)

Israel won’t move to stop Iran shipments of fuel to Lebanon, amid the serious economic and energy crisis plaguing the neighboring country, according to a senior military official and a television report on Thursday.

Dozens of trucks carrying Iranian diesel arrived in Lebanon on Thursday, the first in a series of deliveries organized by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group. The overland delivery through neighboring Syria violates US sanctions imposed on Tehran after former president Donald Trump pulled America out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018.

The shipment is being portrayed as a victory by Hezbollah, which stepped in to supply the fuel from its patron, Iran, while the cash-strapped Lebanese government grapples with months-long fuel shortages that have paralyzed the country. Hezbollah operates independently from Lebanese authorities, which are struggling to deal with a crippling energy crisis.

While Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria to prevent Hezbollah weapon shipments from reaching their targets, officials are concerned that targeting the fuel would be seen as needlessly harming the economic recovery of Lebanon, Channel 12 reported on Thursday night. Israel has therefore decided to avoid intervening, the report said.

Israel’s just-retired navy commander, Vice Adm. Eli Sharvit, confirmed the policy in an interview with The Associated Press.

With Lebanon’s economy in disarray, he said Israel has “no interest” in stopping fuel deliveries meant for civilian use.

A convoy of tanker trucks carrying Iranian diesel across the border from Syria into Lebanon arrives at the eastern town of al-Ain, Lebanon, on September 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or US officials on the Iranian fuel delivery. Local commentators said Washington, worried about chaos in Lebanon amid raging, multiple crises, may have decided to look the other way.

Hezbollah has portrayed the Lebanese economic meltdown, which began in late 2019, as partly caused by an informal siege imposed by America due to the terror group’s power and influence in Lebanon. The terror group has been sanctioned by consecutive US administrations.

Vice Adm. Eli Sharvit looks out from aboard the Israeli Navy Ship Atzmaut in the Mediterranean Sea, September 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class and a sectarian-based political system that thrives on patronage and nepotism. Severe shortages in fuel have resulted in crippling power cuts. People wait hours in line for gasoline. Protests and scuffles have broken out at gas stations around Lebanon including in some Hezbollah strongholds.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, announced last month that Iran was sending fuel to Lebanon to help ease the crisis. The first Hezbollah-commissioned Iranian oil tanker arrived in the Syrian port of Baniyas on Sunday and the diesel was unloaded to Syrian storage places before it was brought overland to Lebanon on Thursday by tanker trucks.

The convoy of 60 trucks, each carrying 50,000 liters (13,210 gallons), went through an informal border crossing in Qusayr in Syria. Another convoy of 60 tanker trucks is expected Friday.

People raise portraits of the head of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah, as they gather to welcome tankers carrying Iranian fuel, upon their arrival from Syria in the city of Baalbeck, in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, on September 16, 2021. (AFP)

Hezbollah, often accused of operating a state-within-a-state, has been taking part in Syria’s civil war alongside government forces. It manages its own crossing points along the Lebanon-Syria border, away from formal border crossings.

Nasrallah said in a televised speech earlier this week that the tanker did not offload its cargo directly in Lebanon to avoid embarrassing authorities and risking sanctions on Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV called it “the tanker truck convoys to break the American siege.” It said the trucks were on their way to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek where a Hezbollah-linked distribution company will start distributing the fuel. Nasrallah said the company, al-Amana, which is already under US sanctions, won’t risk new penalties.

For critics, however, the convoy is a symbol of the dissolution of the Lebanese state. While the oil delivery was seen as a victory for Hezbollah, the group is facing growing internal criticism for increasingly pulling Lebanon into Iran’s orbit and for defending its political allies who resist change rather than push for reform.

“Don’t forget this day,” tweeted Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert and activist, describing it as the day Hezbollah won over the Lebanese state.

Lebanese celebrate with flags as tankers carrying Iranian fuel arrive from Syria at al-Ain in Hermel in east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on September 16, 2021 (AFP)

Lebanese gathered on the roadside leading to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to greet the convoy. Hezbollah’s yellow flags and banners praising the Iran-backed group and Syria’s President Bashar Assad decorated the streets. A few women showered the trucks with rice and flowers as they drove past. Others raised banners reading: “Thank you Iran,” and “Thank you Syria.” Heavy gunfire, and at least one rocket propelled-grenade, were fired in celebration.

Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose government was formed last week after a 13-month political deadlock, has not commented on Hezbollah’s deal to import fuel from Iran.

Nasrallah has said a month’s worth of diesel would be donated to public hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, water stations and the Lebanese Red Cross. He said fuel would also be sold at discount prices to private hospitals, pharmaceutical factories, bakeries and cooperatives that sell food products.

He said three other tankers carrying diesel and one carrying gasoline are to arrive in the coming weeks.

Faced with the possibility of Iranian fuel arriving in Lebanon, US officials have said they are discussing long-term solutions for the energy crisis in Lebanon, including a recently revived natural gas line from Egypt.

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