A high-level Lebanese government delegation held talks in Syria in an attempt to solve the severe fuel crisis that has paralyzed the entire country. This is the highest level of official visit since the civil war in Syria started, unleashed by the West and the Gulf monarchies, more than a decade ago. The Lebanese delegation, headed by caretaker Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Zeina Akar, included Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar and Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security agency.
Beirut is currently awaiting a shipment of fuel from Iran. According to local media reports, it is due to arrive at the Port of Baniyas in Syria and then be transported overland to Lebanon. According to media reports, the transport is likely to be arranged by Hezbollah. Iran has already sent fuel to the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, who has given support throughout the war that broke out in 2011. The leader of Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah Hassan has agreed with allies in Tehran to deliver oil to Lebanon to help alleviate fuel shortages in this small country. But the shipment violates US sanctions imposed on Iran by former President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018. A date for the tanker’s arrival has not yet been set, but the shipment to Lebanon is seen as a US sanctions test, and many in Lebanon fear it could lead to illegal penalties from Washington.
US officials are threatening Lebanon with unthinkable punishments if it dares to use Iranian oil. At the same time, the US side has so far been promising some sort of assistance to the economic to Lebanon, that is engulfed in an economic crisis that can be discribed as the biggest threat to this country’s existence in decades, and there’s been a number of those. Lebanon has been mired in a deep financial crisis since late 2019, causing the Lebanese pound to lose about 90% of its value against the dollar. Severe fuel shortages and widespread power cuts have also paralyzed the country. In addition, Lebanon is at a political impasse. It is well known that the current economic and political crisis was caused by the economic blockade imposed by the United States, and the so-called “Caesar sanctions” imposed by Washington on Syria have also caused considerable damage to Lebanon.
As you know, Lebanon remains divided because of the civil war in Syria, but although the government maintains diplomatic relations with Damascus, it cannot agree on policies towards the Assad regime. “Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group, has sent fighters to Syria to support government troops in their war against radical militants. But several other parties have backed the opposition, leaving Lebanese politics deeply divided over how to approach the Syrian government. For the longest time, bilateral ties have been reduced to addressing security challenges. And this first official visit drew mixed reactions in the country and abroad.
Syrian state media touted it as a visit that “breaks the ice and (revives) relations” between the two countries. Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad received the delegation at a border crossing, an even that would be described as unthinkable even a short while ago, and then they all proceeded together to Damascus.
Secretary-General of the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council Nasri Khoury confirmed in a statement to reporters that the purpose of the visit was to revive a previous agreement that allowed Lebanon to import gas from Egypt via Syria and Jordan. Without objection, Damascus agreed to the Lebanese side’s request for assistance in channeling Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity through Syrian territory and reaffirmed its readiness to cooperate actively in that regard.
Faced with growing cooperation between Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the United States found nothing better to help the Lebanese in distress than to rudely interfere in the internal affairs of this small and frail country, trying to dissuade Lebanese leaders from seeking help from those who have extended a helping hand to Beirut. At first, US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea recklessly intervened, feverishly seeking a way to prohibit independent Lebanon from importing fuel from Iran. To this end, Dorothy rushed to “press” President Michel Aoun just hours after the news of the Iranian oil shipments became known and called him personally.
In addition, a US “fire brigade”, a delegation of four Democratic senators, urgently visited Lebanon and met with Lebanon’s President, speaker of the parliament, and prime minister-designate and told them harshly that Iranian oil imports could have “serious disastrous consequences” for them. In other words, the senators saw independent Lebanon as yet another US state where they could order around. The senators insisted on the immediate formation of a Lebanese government that could begin urgent reforms. They also pledged support for the US-backed Lebanese army, which they believe should play a more significant role in its political life. Military personnel have already experienced their pay lose more than 90% of its buying power amid the collapse of the Lebanese pound as a result of the economic crisis that began almost two years ago.
“Unforgivable, but during this life-threatening crisis, Lebanon’s political leaders have refused to make the difficult choice to form a government,” said Chris Murphy, the junior United States Senator for Connecticut, a member of the delegation. He pointed out that Lebanon needs a government that can negotiate with the International Monetary Fund and begin reforms to reduce the widespread corruption. Under such difficult circumstances, it is understandable that the Lebanese, who, as oriental people, never fall short on producing promises, responded that a government would be formed before the end of the week. However, they did not specify until the end of what week they were going to achieve this goal. This is curious because the above-mentioned visit to Lebanon came two weeks after the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said that an Iranian tanker was headed to Lebanon and that others would follow to help alleviate the fuel shortage. In other words, Tehran provides real help to the Lebanese, as opposed to aggressive senators who only ladle out verbal instructions.
US President Joe Biden has played his “dirty part” in putting an insurmountable amount of pressure on the Lebanese population, exhausted by the crisis and other adversities, by extending the state of emergency in Lebanon under the pretext of continuing activities that allegedly threaten the national security of the United States. In a statement, Biden described the reason for extending an urgency on Lebanon as to what he called “threatening actions against US national security.” Without mentioning his government’s role in formenting instability in that country, the American President said Hezbollah’s continued operations in Lebanon were an “extraordinary threat” to US national security and foreign policy.
One needs to look no further than a geographical map to realize that Lebanon is thousands of miles from United States territory. And how can it, with a population of only 7.5 million and a small army armed with obsolete weaponry, threaten the “great USA” with a population of 335 million people? An average person can just smile at the statement. Incidentally, the national state of emergency in Lebanon was first imposed in August 2007 by then-President George W. Bush and is renewed annually. The decree empowers the US President to seize Lebanese property and impose sanctions on Lebanese authorities. In an effort to reduce Hezbollah’s popularity, the US has placed Lebanese banks and individuals on its sanctions list for alleged ties to the group. These hostilities come at a time when Hezbollah is one of the most important political forces in the country.
Recent events in Lebanon have made it clear who are his friends and who are his enemies. On the one hand, Iran and Syria are willing to help the suffering Lebanese as much as possible. On the other hand, the US, whose world star is waning in front of everyone, decides to strengthen its position and continue to command this small country as if it were nothing more than a regular state within the United States.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.