Touch Move; America's Vicious Circle in Lebanon

In light of Lebanon's current energy and unprecedented economic crises, Hezbollah's decision to import Iranian oil to aid Lebanon led the US into a state of confusion, thus limiting its options.

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    Foreign Policy: The United States has no active plan to rescue the country

Lebanon’s economic crisis is a book with many authors. This is a tale of a country that plunged into poverty, dragging down a large percentage of its population. 

The Lebanese are desperate, as the economic situation in the country worsens. So, the hopes of some Lebanese were pinned on the United States, which issued several statements and expressed some reactions, but made no solid actions. In other words, the United States never intended to provide an action plan to help the country out of its crisis.

It is worth mentioning that one factor of the country’s economic crisis is the siege that the US has put the country under. 

The opening; oil ships to Lebanon 

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech on August 20, stated that the “Caesar Act on Syria was not only meant to besiege Syria alone but also Lebanon.” The country is isolated from all directions, Syria from the north and east with the longest borderline, and Palestine since its occupation in 1948.

During the same speech, Sayyed Nasrallah announced, “We agreed with the Iranians to start loading the third ship of oil derivatives," adding that Lebanon will need more than 3 ships to face the forthcoming stage of the crisis.

He emphasized that there are no aims for trade or profit, "our aim is to alleviate the suffering of the people." 

The first ship reached Syria’s Baniyas Port on September 12 and its cargo was unloaded. Passing through Syria, the Syrian tankers, each carrying 50,000 liters of Iranian diesel, have made it to Lebanese soil a few days later

Back to the US agenda

International politics and its game rules dictate that there is no clear agenda on the table, especially when it comes to western agendas in West Asia. However, history can sometimes speak for itself.  

During a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Sep 24, 2020, former US Under Secretary of State, David Hale, revealed that the United States has spent $10 billion in Lebanon, on security forces and the army on one hand, and on the civil society represented mostly by non-governmental organizations on the other, throughout several years.

He continued to say that Washington's support for the Lebanese army comes within the US strategy to confront Hezbollah's "terrorism", explaining that the Lebanese army is "capable of carrying out its tasks."

Back in 2010, July 8, the former US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman revealed that after Lebanon's 2006 war, the US invested $500 million to demonize Hezbollah's image using the media and to drive people away from the party. 

Feltman's testimony, one of many, reveals that the US wanted to assist and support Lebanon after the war by "reducing" Hezbollah's appeal to Lebanon's youth. To this end, the US rushed to invest millions of dollars through USAID and the Middle East Partnership Initiative. 

"Hizballah’s persistence as a well-armed terrorist group within Lebanon, as well as its robust relationships with Iran and Syria, and the transfer of increasingly sophisticated missiles and rockets to Hizballah, threaten the interests of the United States, Lebanon, and our partners in the region, especially Israel," Feltman stated. 

US policy in stalemate 

There are two moves to play here, either to impose sanctions on Hezbollah or to intervene militarily directly or by proxy. Sanctions were already pushed to their limits, while war looks costly under the current balance of power, with an intrinsic possibility of insurmountable losses.

Following its policy of maximum pressure, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. The three parties were the main players in the current oil transportation route, but sanctions were already there years back. Starting from when the ship set sail from Iran, reaching Syria's Baniyas port, and then ending on Lebanese territories, America's siege was considered broken and the US reached stalemate. 

Sayyed Nasrallah clearly and purposely emphasized that the oil ships will indeed reach Lebanese territories. In other words, he was stressing that any attack on the ships would be considered a violation of Lebanese national sovereignty, which will rationally lead to retaliation. Since the other party does understand this simple algorithm, the question is: Is the US ready for escalation?

For a closer look, take a few steps back to August 6. On that day, in response to Israeli raids on Lebanese territories, the Resistance responded.

Hezbollah fired rockets in response to the raids on open areas in Al-Jarmaq and Al-Shawakir, noting that the bombing was carried out with about twenty 122mm rockets.

Checkmate; a win-win for Hezbollah 

In light of talks that Hezbollah would import Iranian oil to Lebanon, a delegation of four US senators announced that the US is looking to help Lebanon overcome its crisis, but warned against importing Iranian oil.

Senator Richard Blumenthal added that there should be no reason for Lebanon to depend on Iran because there are plenty of "other sources" that could be relied on.

Following Sayyed Nasrallah's speech, in which he announced that Iran would be sending oil ships to Lebanon, the US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, revealed that the Biden administration is ready to facilitate Jordanian surplus electricity and the export of Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon via Syria. 

It is worth mentioning that the announcement about exporting Egyptian gas was made over a month ago, but the facilitation of the process was hastened right after Sayyed Nasrallah's speech that without a doubt created a rush of speculations and catalyzed the reactions in the political arena.

This announcement by the Biden administration seems to unintentionally benefit Hezbollah's plans to aid Lebanon. Needless to mention that the gas they said they will help to export will pass through Syria, a country that is already under a US siege imposed by the Caesar act. It looks like the Americans will have to seek Syria's help in this regard. 

Zugzwang; the compulsion to move 

The US created a corridor that defies the point behind the siege, which it has imposed on Lebanon, thus forcing it to waiver sanctions on Damascus. As such, the US is forced to either rehabilitate the infrastructure in war-torn Syria or to give it funds to do so in order to use the electric transmission line and gas pipelines, which both need repairs. 

Moreover, Hezbollah welcomed the plan that offers aid to Lebanon, whether from Iran, Jordan, or Egypt, as long as it serves the country. Stability after all appears to serve the interests of the Lebanese party more than its foes'. 

The US policy for Lebanon could be easily marketed as a fierce competition with Iran, but the US plan could nevertheless assist Lebanon out of its crisis, regardless of its real intentions, thus, a win-win situation for Hezbollah that is after stability in its home country. The US, on the other hand, seems to only judge Lebanon primarily through the lens of Israeli interests. 

In sum, just as the Foreign Policy wrote, "The United States has no active plan to rescue the country—nor is there any indication that one is in the works," adding that, "the United States has only offered ad hoc support, doing the minimum to keep the country from utter collapse."