July 7, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1586

Intense Opposition In Lebanon To Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's Suggestion To Import Fuel From Iran As A Solution To Lebanon's Energy Crisis

July 7, 2021 | By O. Peri*
Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1586

In light of the severe energy crisis in Lebanon, which has caused long lines at gas stations and sparked protests across the country, as well as violent clashes between protesters and the Lebanese security forces, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah suggested to deal with the shortage of fuel by importing gasoline and diesel from Iran, in violation of the international sanctions on this country. In a June 8, 2021 speech, Nasrallah promised that, if the Lebanese government is unable to handle the crisis, "Hizbullah will go to Iran, negotiate with the Iranian government … and buy gasoline tankers… and diesel  tankers, bring them to the port of Beirut, and then we will see if the Lebanese state prevents gasoline and diesel from the people." He clarified that this fuel can be paid for in Lebanese pound, which will save Lebanon having to spend its dollars.[1] In a speech on June 25 Nasrallah repeated this suggestion, and stated that Hizbullah had already made all the necessary arrangements and that all the government had to do was make the move.[2]  

Nasrallah's statements led to an exchange of accusations between the embassies of the U.S. and Iran in Lebanon. U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea said on June 25, on the Lebanese Al-Jadid TV channel,  that importing fuel from Iran is not a valid solution for Lebanon's energy crisis, and that the Iranians want Lebanon to be  "some kind of satellite state that they can exploit to pursue their agenda."[3] In response, the Iranian embassy tweeted that "there is no need for the  nonsense of the U.S. ambassador about Iranian oil tankers arriving in Beirut," and that "it is not appropriate for the ambassador to intervene in the fraternal relations between the two countries [Iran and Lebanon] and between the Iranian and Lebanese people."[4] Some took the tweet of the Iranian embassy as an indication that Iranian fuel had already arrived in Beirut, but Lebanon's energy ministry denied this, and the Iranian embassy also clarified that the tweet had been only "a political response."[5]

Nasrallah's statements also drew pointed criticism from Lebanese figures, who accused him of usurping the state's decision-making authority, and warned that importing fuel from Iran would be a violation of the sanctions on it and could result in sanctions against Lebanon itself. The critics also noted that Iran is itself suffering from a severe economic crisis and wondered how it could possibly extend aid to Lebanon. Nasrallah retorted that Iran would have no difficulty exporting fuel to Lebanon, and that this could be done without risking sanctions against Lebanon. 

Lebanese drivers queuing for gas (Source:, May 10, 2021)

This report reviews Nasrallah's suggestion to import fuel from Iran and some of the reactions to it in Lebanon.

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah: Hizbullah Will Bring Fuel From Iran, And Let's See The Lebanese State Prevent This

As stated, in a June 8 speech Nasrallah suggested that Hizbullah could resolve Lebanon's energy crisis by importing fuel from Iran, saying: "We have seen on TV long queues at the gas stations. This is humiliating… Can't we fix it? We can… We can fix it today, but it requires making a brave political decision. We should stop being afraid of the Americans and stop taking them into consideration…

"Lebanon should decide that ships loaded with gasoline and diesel fuel will sail from Iran to Lebanon. You will have all the diesel and gasoline you want, and you can pay for it in Lebanese Pound… It is possible. This humiliation that you see in the gas and diesel stations can be resolved by one brave decision… When the state does not [function], should we despair? The state must continue, but what if it doesn't take responsibility? … If we reach a dead end and this humiliation continues, I'm telling you that Hizbullah will go to Iran, negotiate with the Iranian government – and they accept this – and we will buy… gasoline and diesel tankers, bring them to the port of Beirut, and then we will see if the Lebanese state prevents gasoline and diesel from [reaching] the people…"[6]

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Lebanese Elements: Nasrallah Behaves As Though He Is The Decision-Maker In Lebanon

As mentioned, Nasrallah's suggestion to import fuel from Iran drew intense criticism and opposition from Lebanese politicians and journalists, many of whom accused him of usurping the authority of the state institutions and undermining its sovereignty. Elias Hankach, a former MP from of the Christian Kataeb Party, said: "This country has a government, and Hizbullah will not be the one to decide where we import [our fuel] from… Stop exposing the state [to harm], undermining its status and taking over its decision-making… Importing fuel from Iran will expose Lebanon to further sanctions and isolation…"[7]  

Former Lebanese MP Fares Sou'aid spoke in a similar vein: "The danger in [Nasrallah's] statements does not lie in the exact wording he used, but in his [implied] assertion that the Lebanese state does not exist, that there is no law or constitution protecting it, and that there is no President of the Republic [residing] in Ba'abda [palace]… Nasrallah is the one who makes decisions about importing fuel and about war and peace. [He decides] when the government will be formed and who the president will be…  In short, he is the decision-maker in Lebanon and the state institutions work for him."[8]    

A legal source told the Saudi Al-Arabiya website: "Nasrallah's suggestion proves that the Lebanese state has lost every element of sovereignty and that there is a group [within it] that is larger and more organized that it is [i.e., Hizbullah]."[9]  

Lebanese Politicians: Nasrallah Is Exposing Lebanon To Sanctions; Iran Can't Help Lebanon

Other Lebanese politicians and figures warned that importing fuel from Iran constitutes a violation of the international sanctions on it and could expose Lebanon to punitive measures. The legal source told the Al-Arabiya website that "Nasrallah's announcement could cause the Lebanese state to [face] American sanctions," and added that Lebanon would not be able to withstand this.[10] Kataeb Party head Samy Gemayel said that "Nasrallah, in his statements and decisions, violates the sanctions on Iran  and exposes Lebanon to [possible] sanctions, a situation that nobody can tolerate."[11]

Lebanese international relations expert Sami Nader warned that importing fuel from Iran would increase Lebanon's international isolation, and asked: "How can we import oil from Iran, when it is a country under sanctions? Even China, with all its might, is unable to import oil from Iran… So can Lebanon defy the American sanctions and [thereby] increase its isolation?... We are facing this isolation [in the first place] because of Hizbullah's policy, which exposed Lebanon's politics and economy to regional conflicts… The [world] countries will help Lebanon if it displays the minimal degree of neutrality that will enable it to form an independent government, namely a government that can save Lebanon from the struggles between the axes and enable aid to arrive. Lebanon must therefore avoid identifying with Iran and keep [at least] a minimal distance from it, in order to save its economy."[12]  

Many Lebanese politicians pointed out that Iran itself is experiencing a fuel shortage and wondered  how it could supply fuel to Lebanon. Former MP Mustafa 'Aloush said: "[Nasrallah's] suggestion was a provocation meant to absolve [him] of responsibility [for the crisis], so he will [later] be able to say that he offered us a way out and we ignored it. [In any case,] since Iran is still under sanctions, I wonder how he means to import [Iranian fuel]? Moreover, we have seen queues at Iranian gas  stations, just like in Lebanon. Will they send fuel to Lebanon in this situation?"[13]

Ziad Hawat, an MP from the Lebanese Forces party, wondered: "Iran is suffering the consequences of the economic siege on it, so how can it supply us with oil?"[14]

Some also noted that Iran has been unable to export oil to its ally, the Syrian regime, which is also suffering an acute energy crisis and has been using Hizbullah's help to smuggle in fuel from Lebanon.[15] Former Lebanese MP Fares Sou'aid said: "If Iran had been able to export oil to the region, it would have exported it to its protégé, Syria, and spared its ally, the Syrian regime, the pain of having to smuggle oil, as well as the dollars to buy it with, from the Lebanese market…"[16]

Elias Hankach of the Christian Kataeb Party said: "Hizbullah would do better to bring [Iranian] gasoline and diesel to Syria and stop smuggling it from Lebanon into Syria… We know exactly who controls the legal and illegal border crosssings through which petroleum products, subsidized by the Lebanese people, are smuggled [into Syria]…"[17] Antoine Zahra, a former MP and senior official in the Lebanese Forces party, said: "If the fleet of [Iranian] gasoline and diesel [tankers] is available, let them take it to Syria and stop the smuggling from Lebanon into Syria, which will solve three problems [at once]: Syria's fuel shortage, the problem of the [fuel] smuggled from Lebanon [into Syria], and the fuel shortage in Lebanon. "[18]

Lebanese Journalists: Lebanon's Economic Crisis Is Due To The Policy Of The Hizbullah-Iran Axis

Criticism of Nasrallah's suggestion also appeared in Lebanese press articles. Makram Rabah, a columnist in the Lebanese Al-Nahar daily, accused Hizbullah of evading responsibility for the crises in Lebanon: "Nasrallah's statements about importing gasoline and diesel from Iran and paying for them in Lebanese pound are a new episode in the [saga] of madness and political suicide, one that can expose Lebanon to American sanctions. [It will also] provide [Hizbullah] with billions of Lebanese pounds, which the government will have to print, and will strengthen Hizbullah, allowing it to tighten its grip on what is left of the Lebanese economy and to drown Lebanon in more inflation.

"Nasrallah's statements convey contempt and disdain for his opponents, and insult everyone's intelligence. At the same time, they are aimed at persuading his audience that Hizbullah is outside the Lebanese [political] system and that the current crisis, including the shortage of food and medicine, is the fault of monopolies, corruption and the economic siege imposed by the West and the Gulf states on Lebanon and the Lebanese – and has nothing to do with Hizbullah, with its hostile conduct vis-à-vis the world and with its defense of the corrupt political regime that legitimizes its Iranian weapons…

"Mr. Nasrallah, you know very well that the weapons of the 'resistance' defend corruption and that the constant crises in Lebanon, the shortage of fuel and medicines, the poverty and hunger, [all] result from the policy of the axis to which you belong…"[19]

Another Al-Nahar columnist, Ahmad 'Ayyash, wondered why Iran would not give Lebanon the fuel for free, and speculated that it will ultimately be paid for in dollars, not Lebanese pounds. He wrote: "Prominent Shi'ite circles explained that [Nasrallah], the leader of the [Hizbullah] organization, behaved like a merchant rather than a savior, because the Iranian merchandise will have to be paid for and will not be given for free. This raises questions regarding the monetary aspect of this [deal], and why the Iranian fuel is not provided as a gift, at a time when Lebanon needs gifts more than ever.

"As for the monetary aspect of this [deal], these circles ask how Iran intends to use the profit from [selling] its merchandise, which will be in Lebanese pounds. They say the Iranians surely don't intend to return to Tehran with the pounds they get for their merchandise. These [profits] will remain in Lebanon… The same circles believe that Hizbullah will turn to the domestic [Lebanese] market and exchange these profits for dollars, and it is capable of doing so. As for the Iranian fuel that will be [sold as] merchandise rather than [provided as] a gift, the Shi'ite circles regard it as proof that the heart of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] has never been with Lebanon, but only with a certain group [in it]… In sum, the Iranian fuel may cost Lebanon its dollars."[20]

Nasrallah In Response To The Criticism: Those Who Doubt Iran's Ability To Supply Fuel To Lebanon Are Ignorant; It Is Possible To Import Iranian Fuel Without Risking U.S. Sanctions

In his June 25, 2021 speech, Nasrallah responded to the criticism, stating that anyone who doubts Iran's ability to supply fuel to Lebanon is "ignorant." He said: "Some wrote or stated: 'Sayyed [Nasrallah] promised to bring us gasoline and diesel from Iran. [But] does Iran have gasoline and diesel? It has a gasoline and diesel crisis [itself].' Our problem here in Lebanon is that some people think they are experts on everything… All those who spoke about this are ignorant, and, with all due respect, they know nothing. The entire world set up a hue and cry over the Iranian tankers sailing to Venezuela. What [do you think] they were carrying, you ignorant people? They were carrying gasoline, diesel and [other] petroleum products.   They were carrying gear for the  oil refineries in Venezuela, because the Americans are besieging it and preventing it from obtaining gear and technology to operate its refineries…"[21] 

Nasrallah also challenged the claim that importing fuel from Iran would expose Lebanon to the risk of sanctions, and asked his critics why they do not turn to their own allies to ensure Lebanon's fuel supply: "Some said that Sayyed [Nasrallah] would bring sanctions upon Lebanon. I have two things to say in response to this. The first is that, if we bring gasoline and diesel in this manner, namely, not through the [central] bank of Lebanon and through the energy ministry, the Lebanese state will be able to say to the Americans: 'We  received [this fuel] against our will. Were we supposed to launch a civil war  to prevent this?' So, contrary [to what was claimed, importing fuel from Iran] will not lead to sanctions. Second, I have always said that everyone should take advantage of his alliances to benefit Lebanon… We have friendly relations with Iran, so let us use them to benefit Lebanon and the Lebanese people… You have friendly relations with the U.S., France, Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – so use them to benefit the Lebanese people, as we are doing, and avoid exposing our country to sanctions… Go ahead. Form a delegation that will go to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Ask them for gasoline, diesel and fuel – in return for Lebanese pounds, not for free – and [let's see if] they give them to you. We will be the first to support and welcome this. It will not result in sanctions, [because these countries] are friends of America, so America will not impose any sanctions. Go ahead. Why do you stand by and watch the humiliation of the people at the gas stations day and night, the problems that are getting too difficult, and the deadly shootings and incidents [at the protests]? Are you capable of nothing but criticizing, attacking and score-settling?..."[22]    


* O. Peri is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1], June 8, 2021.

[2], June 25, 2021. 

[3], June 25, 2021.

[4], June 26, 2021.

[5], June 26, 2021; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 27, 2021.

[6], June 8, 2021.

[7], June 10, 2021.

[8]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2021.

[9], June 10, 2021.

[10], June 10, 2021.

[11], June 10, 2021.

[12], June 9, 2021.

[13], June 9, 2021.

[14], June 10, 2021.

[16] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2021.

[17], June 10, 2021.

[18], June 10, 2021.

[19] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), June 11, 2021.

[20], June 12, 2021.

[21], June 26. 2021.

[22], June 26. 2021.

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