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Iranian fuel shipment

It’s been 16 days since Iranian diesel started arriving in Lebanon. Where’s it been going?

Tankers carrying Iranian fuel arrive in Hermel on Sept. 16. (Credit: AFP)

BEIRUT — Just over two weeks have passed since Iranian fuel deliveries announced by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah started arriving in Lebanon. So far at least 10 million liters have been transported from Syria’s Banias port overland into Lebanon, while another 70 million liters have arrived in Syria are waiting to be transferred, says Osama Olleik, who heads Al-Amana, the Hezbollah-affiliated company responsible for distributing the fuel.

In a speech on Sept. 13, Nasrallah said fuel from these initial shipments would be donated free of charge to essential institutions, including public hospitals, regional water facilities, the Civil Defense, the Lebanese Red Cross, nursing homes, orphanages and special needs centers. The rest, he said, would be sold below cost to cover the needs of core industries such as bakeries and pharmaceutical factories, as well as private generator owners.

But whether institutions and individuals should accept the Iranian fuel from Al-Amana, a target of Western sanctions, and risk sanctions themselves is a fraught decision.

“I don’t like the word ‘sanctions,’ because it means that we are under the mercy of other countries when Lebanon should be an independent strong country,” says Rana Sahili, a Hezbollah spokesperson.

“Instead of sanctions, I prefer calling it a siege, which was already being done by the US on Lebanon before the Iranian fuel to try to control the country more and more, and our move was made to alleviate the siege,” Sahili told L’Orient Today.

According to Al-Amana’s Olleik, for the first month after the fuel’s initial arrival, his company is offering to distribute 1.5 million liters free of charge to the essential institutions outlined by Nasrallah.

Halfway through this time frame, representatives from a geographic and sectoral cross-section of institutions and businesses targeted for the initial Iranian diesel donations or sales — if they agreed to comment — told L’Orient Today they had either not received an offer from Al-Amana or that they had rejected that offer, despite the fact that ubiquitous diesel shortages have been paralyzing their sectors for months. Still others exhibited hesitation toward accepting the Hezbollah-coordinated assistance.

Only a handful of institutions said they had received Iranian fuel. Who are they?

Donations

The Iranian fuel poses a particularly thorny conundrum for public hospitals, many of which have recently come close to shutting down due to shortages of the diesel necessary to power their generators in order to bridge lengthy gaps in state-provided power.

However, a source at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in the Jnah area near Beirut told L’Orient Today that though the hospital is now reliant on fuel donations to keep its generators running, it cannot accept Iranian fuel until the government decides to accept it.

“We are a government entity. We can’t simply accept fuel from Iran that is brought by oneparticular party,” the source said.

In fact, only one of 12 government-run hospitals that L’Orient Today spoke with, in South Lebanon’s Bint Jbeil, reported having received Iranian diesel, while just two others, in Saida and Baalbeck, said they would accept it if it is offered.

The Nabatieh Public Hospital says it does not require the Hezbollah-imported fuel at this time, but anticipates it might in the future.

“We are in no need of a donation right now because we are receiving fuel from [the United Nations refugee agency] the UNHCR. But who knows? We might need it in the coming months. The problem is that they [Hezbollah] have announced that their donations are only for the first month [of Iranian fuel deliveries],” the hospital’s head, Hassan Wazni, told L’Orient Today.

A spokesperson for the Lebanese Red Cross said his organization had declined the fuel donation. “The LRC has already secured enough fuel supplies for the short term to continue our services. We have thanked Al-Amana for their trust and support but have not accepted further fuel donations as others need them more,” the spokesperson told L’Orient Today via WhatsApp.

The spokesperson declined to specify where the LRC received its current fuel stocks from, saying only, “The International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent [has] … 100,000+ individual donors from across the world.”

A spokesperson for the Civil Defense, another major public institution targeted for fuel donations, told L’Orient Today that he did not know whether the institution had received an Iranian fuel donation.

The head of the South Lebanon Water Establishment, which provides water services to villages in southern Lebanon, including Nabatieh, said the facility has not yet received an Iranian fuel donation but is expecting Al-Amana to supply it with fuel soon.

A spokesperson for the regional facility serving Beirut and Mount Lebanon said Al-Amana had not reached out to it regarding a possible diesel donation, but that it would not accept it without the government’s approval.

“I am not saying that we would never accept a donation of diesel from Al-Amana but our approval depends on the government’s stand,” the establishment’s director, Jean Gebran, told L’Orient Today. “When the government approves, we approve.”

Similarly, North Lebanon Water Establishment Director Khaled Obeid said it had not received any Iranian fuel, and that government officials would make the call whether to accept it if it is offered.

The Bekaa Water Establishment could not be reached for comment.

Of the 10 nursing homes contacted by L’Orient Today about the fuel, only two responded, while several others bounced the question around before finally declining to answer or disconnecting entirely.

A representative from Al-Omr al-Madeed, an elderly care home in Beirut, said it had received two diesel donations from Al-Amana, without specifying the exact quantity.

A representative of the Islamic Elderly Care Hospital said Al-Amana had offered the nursing home an amount that paled in comparison with its needs. “They offered 500 liters of diesel when our consumption is 1,500 liters per day,” the representative said. “They also called Al-Manar to advertise what they’re doing, so we simply thanked them for their service and didn’t accept their diesel,” the source added.

Two special needs centers told L’Orient Today they had not received a diesel donation offer from Al-Amana, while five others did not respond to a request for comment.

Finally, four orphanages did not respond to a request for comment.

To buy or not to buy

Beyond the donations, Olleik said that on Sept. 21 Al-Amana began selling Iranian fuel to private entities across Lebanon, prioritizing sales to bakeries and private hospitals. According to the Al-Amana head, the company sold fuel to generator owners throughout Lebanon from Sept. 19–30 at a price of LL140,000 per 20 liters. As of Oct. 1, Al-Amana raised the cost for 20 liters to LL150,000.

By comparison, the price for generator diesel set by the Energy Ministry on Sept. 6 was $540 a kiloliter, or almost LL160,000 on the market, plus a small transportation fee; on Sept. 22, that price was raised to $569 a kiloliter, or about LL182,000 on the market, plus the transportation fee, which is still the price today.

The head of the private generator owners syndicate, Abdo Saade, told L’Orient Today that Iranian fuel must be accepted as a reality, and although it comes with complications, he and other generator owners are most likely going to use it when it becomes accessible to them.

A private generator owner from Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, who asked not to be named, said he had purchased the fuel and confirmed that he had paid LL140,000 for it.

“It cost way less than the market rate, and they gave it to me in high quantities, which is a relief after all the struggling to obtain very little diesel in recent months,” he told L’Orient Today, adding that he is now providing his customers with 10 hours of electricity a day instead of six.

“But even though I can get diesel in large quantities, I can’t provide 12 or 14 hours like I used to before the fuel shortages, because at the current price the residents wouldn’t be able to afford the monthly fee,” he added.

In Mount Lebanon’s Chouf District, a stronghold of the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, at least three generator owners whom L’Orient Today spoke with confirmed having received Iranian diesel.

Bassam Hamze, a spokesperson for generator owners in the area, told L’Orient Today earlier this week that on Monday a local owner had received 9,000 liters of fuel and that other generator owners were waiting for him to test it before deciding whether to buy it.

“If it turns out that the Iranian diesel does not damage our generators, I and others will definitely buy it,” he added.

By the end of the week, two more local owners had purchased Iranian fuel, while most of the rest of the local owners had registered to receive it, he said.

On Sept. 25, our sister publication, L’Orient-Le Jour, reported that bakeries in the Akkar areas of Tleil, Sharbila and Akkar al-Atika had received a shipment of 18,500 liters of Iranian fuel.

Ibrahim Awad, a member of a municipal association in the area, confirmed to L’Orient Today that the bakeries had begun using the diesel, and that the association had also received fuel for its generator.

Electricité du Zahle, the electricity utility that provides power to the city of Zahle and 16 surrounding villages, received its first Iranian diesel shipment last weekend, EDZ’s head announced in a video. The Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel Al-Manar reported that Al-Amana will provide EDZ with 3 million liters of diesel, delivering 100,000 liters per day for 30 days.

When contacted by L’Orient Today, a source from EDZ said that the Iranian fuel has enabled the utility to up its production by three hours a day, but that the company has decided not to give any additional statements on its purchase of the Iranian fuel.

Four pharmaceutical factories did not respond to a request from L’Orient Today about whether they had purchased or planned to purchase Iranian fuel.

Too little, too late

While the arrival of the Iranian fuel certainty offers a reprieve for recipients who previously desperately struggled to find diesel, the quantities imported via this mechanism are still relatively small compared with Lebanon’s reported monthly diesel needs.

Head of gas station owners syndicate Goerge Brax estimates the country’s diesel consumption at 10 million liters per day — meaning that the first shipment from Iran totalled just four days’ worth.

“I do, however, think that it [the fuel] is beneficial because essential institutions like public and private hospitals were suffering from fuel scarcity which this fuel could help alleviate,” Brax told L’Orient Today.

But even though the Hezbollah-sourced fuel is already bringing some, albeit limited, relief, many Lebanese question its timing and motivation.

Speaking about the arrival of the Iranian fuel during an interview with CNN, Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Najib Mikati said, “The violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty make me sad, but I am not concerned that sanctions can be imposed because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”

Alik K., a 25-year-old English teacher, told L’Orient Today that though she is glad that hospitals are getting donated diesel after months of struggling to source the fuel, she thinks the Iranian imports come at a cost.

“You can’t look at Hezbollah as black or white, yes they do good stuff for the country but their very presence causes Lebanon troubles with foreign countries because of their ties with Iran,” Alik told L’Orient Today.

Meanwhile, Amani Hamdan, a Beiruti resident originally from South Lebanon, told L’Orient Today that neither she nor any other Lebanese resident should feel grateful to anyone from the political class because the damage that they have done far outweighs any small initiative to alleviate the crisis.

“Why did they wait for the crisis to deepen and then decide to get the fuel? I think it is because they waited for the people to be vulnerable so that they could bribe them with a little fuel,” Hamdan said.

“Whether it is Iran or the US, we should not be living off favors from them; it is all a theater and who knows how the Iranians are going to make us pay for such a favor, if we can even call it that.”

Hamze, the spokesperson for the Chouf generator owners, however, was keen to make clear that the decision to buy the fuel is based on pragmatism alone. “I don’t like how Lebanon’s sovereignty was broken with how the fuel trucks entered without paying taxes and without the approval of the government, but we have been suffering from shortages and this fuel is available,” he said.


BEIRUT — Just over two weeks have passed since Iranian fuel deliveries announced by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah started arriving in Lebanon. So far at least 10 million liters have been transported from Syria’s Banias port overland into Lebanon, while another 70 million liters have arrived in Syria are waiting to be transferred, says Osama Olleik, who heads Al-Amana, the...