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Lebanese lash out at Hizbullah over Iran tanker escort spectacle

By Nohad Topalian

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Tankers carrying Iranian fuel arrive at al-Ain in Hermel in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on September 16 from the Syrian port of Banias. [AFP]

BEIRUT -- A convoy of tankers carrying Iranian oil crossed into Lebanon from Syria on Thursday (September 16), drawing celebratory gunfire from Hizbullah supporters and anger from others, who see the move as a disaster for Lebanon.

The tanker truck convoy was delivering a shipment of Iranian oil overland to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where Hizbullah wields influence, after it was unloaded from a vessel in the Syrian port of Banias.

Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday announced that the first shipload of Iranian fuel had reached Banias, and thanked the group's other regional ally, Syria, for receiving the fuel and providing trucks, AFP reported.

As the tankers crossed into Lebanon, Hizbullah's armed escort was greeted with celebratory gunfire and the firing of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), to the horror of many Lebanese citizens, who reacted to the spectacle with rage.

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Hizbullah supporters wave their party's flag as tankers carrying Iranian fuel arrive from Syria at al-Ain in Hermel in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on September 16, with an armed Hizbullah escort. [AFP]

Many said they saw the move as a flagrant act of defiance to the Lebanese people and the international community that will expose Lebanon to additional sanctions, noting that Iran and Syria remain under sanctions for their actions.

'Highly provocative'

At a gas station in Mazraat Yachouh, in Mount Lebanon's Metn district, a queue of drivers had spent the night in their cars, hoping to obtain a few litres of gasoline. Many said they found Hizbullah's display highly provocative.

Some told Al-Mashareq they had followed the entry of the tankers and the ostentatious display of lawless weapons that accompanied it on their phones throughout the day Thursday, with intense anger.

"All our suffering is caused by Hizbullah," said Elie al-Mallah, a youth who spent the night in front of the Mazraat Yachouh gas station.

The party is to blame for "corruption in the country, smuggling fuel to Syria and trading in it, and here it is today, getting fuel back from its government [in] Iran, to distribute it to its base and armed supporters", he said.

Other Lebanese turned to social media to vent their anger at the spectacle.

"A scene of humiliation and subservience!" former minister May Chidiac said in a post on Twitter.

"They smuggle mazout (fuel oil) and gasoline across the border to Syria, and today they celebrate with a scattering of rice and roses the arrival of 20 diesel tankers coming from Iran to be emptied into Hizbullah storage tanks in Baalbek."

"Ululations and glorification of Iran, Bashar [al-Assad] and [Hassan] Nasrallah. If these are not manifestations of a statelet within a state, what are they? Where is the official position on this scene?" she said.

Risk of sanctions

In a sarcastic post on Twitter, senior Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) member Naji al-Hayek wondered: "Did the trucks complete the customs formalities? Was the quality of the mazout checked?"

International Syriac Union party head Ibrahim Murad posted two videos on his page showing youth firing RPGs into the air to celebrate the tankers' arrival.

In a wry comment on the post, he wrote: "The army of the state of Iran in Lebanon sends its greetings to the militia of the statelet of Lebanon."

"The Lebanese will unite in poverty," journalist Elie Hajj opined on social media, suggesting that only Hizbullah supporters "will continue to rejoice about the divine mazout".

Journalist George Akouri said the armed displays that accompanied the entry of Iranian oil "reflect the arrogance of Hizbullah's weapons and superfluous power".

With spectacles like this, he told Al-Mashareq, Hizbullah "tries to reassure its audience that it is the main player in Lebanon".

The latest debacle confirms that the logic of the statelet overrides that of the state, he said, and that the party has hijacked the state and its decision-making process, placing it with Iran in "the axis of opposition".

Nasrallah knew full well "that what he did goes against what is required to avoid Iran-related sanctions, and that the use of illegal crossings does not shield the state from bearing the responsibility for the entrance of fuel through them".

The Hizbullah chief "defies the international community with spectacles that he uses to gain and win the sympathy of his base", he said.

Diverting public's attention

Journalist and social media activist Marwan al-Matni said armed spectacles and the firing of RPGs upon the tanker trucks' arrival in Lebanon "provoked a wave of anger and popular condemnation that spilled over on social media".

The import of oil from Iran in this manner "opens the door to further isolation of Lebanon at a time when it is in dire need of support", he told Al-Mashareq.

By importing Iranian fuel, Hizbullah "seeks primarily to absorb the anger of its popular base over the economic deterioration and the stifling financial and social crises", he said.

It also seeks "to stiffen the spine of its base by showing off its superfluous power and the staging of armed spectacles that accompanied the entry of the tankers".

Nasrallah's move will have a limited impact as far as market needs, he said, but the party leader hopes it will "divert attention from the actual causes of the crises, namely the corruption of Hizbullah's political and financial allies".

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