Iranian ship enters Syrian waters en route to Hezbollah

Tensions between Washington and Tehran are mounting as the two countries vie over the Lebanese fuel crisis. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

An Iranian ship carrying a cargo of diesel entered Syrian waters on Wednesday en-route to Lebanon, according to a report in the Lebanese media.

The Beirut based outlet Al-Akhbar noted that the shipment had “set off from Iran,” adding, “its final cargo destination will be Lebanon.” The fuel is reportedly to be offloaded in Syria before being transferred by land to Lebanon.

Arrangements for the shipment was announced in advance on August 19 by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as Hezbollah seeks to entrench its power within Lebanon. His statement was followed a few hours later by a statement from the U.S. ambassador in Beirut, Dorothy Shea, who declared that Washington will help Lebanon implement a plan to transfer Egyptian gas to Lebanon.

The shipment was also reported by Iranian news source Tasnim: “Informed sources report that due to technical reasons, Iraqi oil is expected to enter Lebanon with a delay, and also in the shadow of the ambiguity of the U.S. decision to import gas from Egypt to Lebanon, the convoy of Iranian fuel ships, which is the first will enter Lebanon within a week. Tasnim reported, adding: “This is the only hope of the Lebanese people in the shadow of the suffocating U.S. siege against Lebanon.”

The imminent arrival of the fuel was disputed by Tanker Trackers, an independent online service that tracks and reports shipments of crude oil, which reported that the “first tanker has not reached the Suez yet. – Second tanker hasn’t left Iran yet but has left port. – Third tanker is leaving Iran. It normally takes 10-12 days to reach the Suez. Normally.”

Iran is making a point of increasing oil exports in the face of sanctions imposed by the U.S. three years ago when it withdrew from the nuclear deal.

“There is strong will in Iran to increase oil exports despite the unjust and illegal U.S. sanctions,” Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji told state TV on Wednesday, adding: “I promise that good things will happen regarding Iran’s oil sales in the coming months.”

The sanctions have hit Iran’s economy hard as oil is the country’s main revenue source. Although Tehran does not release official figures on exports, assessments based on shipping and other metrics suggested a decrease from about 2.8 million barrels per day in 2018 before sanctions were imposed, to as little as 200,000 barrels per day, according to The Algemeiner.

It is thought that in June alone some 600,000 barrels were exported every day.

“Iran will return to its pre-sanctions crude production level as soon as U.S. sanctions on Iran are lifted,” Owji said. “We are against using oil as a political tool that would harm the oil market.”

However, the fuel crisis in Lebanon has provoked a political power struggle between Tehran and Washington.

In June, following the arrival of a previous shipment, Shea told Beirut-based al-Jadeed TV: “The United States has stood by the people of Lebanon and we will continue to stand by the people of Lebanon, but what Iran is looking for is some kind of satellite state that they can exploit to pursue their agenda.”

The Iranian embassy in Lebanon quickly countered, slamming Shea’s remarks as “worthless” and adding: “She must not meddle in the friendly ties between the two states and nations of Iran and Lebanon,” according to PressTV.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, has welcomed the shipment as the organization tightens its grip on the country, politically and economically. Lebanon is currently in the grip of a fuel crisis brought about by the economic crash. Last week the government raised fuel prices by 66% after the central bank said it could no longer finance imports at heavily subsidized exchange rates.

Following the previous spat in June, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, repeated pledges to import Iranian fuel, saying: “I want to stress that I promised and I’m still promising … if we have to go to Iran to get gasoline and fuel oil we will, even if it causes a problem.”

Hezbollah appears to be banking on the shipment to create goodwill.

“According to sources, part of the cargo of the ship will be donated by Hezbollah to government hospitals and care homes, with a private company announcing the sale mechanism for private institutions and electricity generators,” Al-Akhbar reported, adding that a fourth ship might also arrive.

Meanwhile, a delegation of four U.S. Senators visited Lebanon yesterday, meeting with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Lebanese Armed Forces Commander General Joseph Aoun, and other political and civil society representatives.

Speaking ahead of the trip, delegation leader U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism said that the visit would allow the U.S. to “address the economic and political crisis in Lebanon,” adding: “America must be a force for good in the Middle East and North Africa.”