Oct 11, 2021
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Geopolitics of the energy crisis in Lebanon

The collapse of the energy sector in Lebanon remains without due attention from the international community

Lebanon is embroiled in a devastating energy crisis. On October 9, in the south of the country, due to a lack of fuel, the state power plant was closed, two days earlier the main energy company had stopped working. The supplies of imported fuel have dried up, life is paralyzed. The country’s energy system has stopped working and is unlikely to be restarted in a few days. Beirut, this “Paris of the Middle East”, looks gloomy, shabby and no longer attracts millions of tourists.

According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s GDP contracted by 20.3% in covid 2020, against a 6.7% contraction in the previous year. Since 2018, GDP per capita has fallen by about 40% in dollar terms.

There was no war in Lebanon, but the country is experiencing many complications. On 4 August 2020, one of the largest explosions in history destroyed the port of Beirut, damaging more than half of the city. Material damage from the explosion was estimated at $ 3.8-4.6 billion. The country did not cope with the blow. The port of Beirut, which previously handled 70% of the country’s imports, has been unsuccessful since then.

There has been no government in Lebanon since the explosion and until September 10 of this year. Feud for seats in the Cabinet of Ministers exacerbated the situation. In the past few months, electricity has been systematically cut off in Beirut and other cities – there was not enough currency to buy fuel.

Washington supported the proposal to pump Egyptian gas through Syria and Jordan to Lebanon to mitigate the crisis. The gas could go to a power plant in northern Lebanon to generate about 450 megawatts of electricity, but there is nothing behind the proposal. From 2009 to 2010, gas was pumped from Egypt via Jordan and Syria to Lebanon, but the pipeline was seriously damaged during the Syrian war. US sanctions against Syria prevent it from being rebuilt.

In addition, Israel is now supplying gas from Jordan via the same pipeline. Technical changes or the construction of a new pipeline are required for Egyptian gas to flow to Lebanon, but this entails many problems regarding Arab-Israeli relations and US policy.

Another solution is offered by Tehran, which announced its readiness to build two power plants in Lebanon. At a joint press conference with the Lebanese Foreign Minister in Beirut on October 7, Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahiyan said that Iran could build in Lebanon one power plant in Beirut and another in the south of the country in 18 months. “We will do it quickly through a joint venture between Lebanese and Iranian investors and sharing Iranian engineering services with Lebanon.”, – quotes his words Tehran Times… The Iranian minister stressed that the Islamic Republic is ready to help Lebanon overcome the economic crisis.

Earlier, the general secretary of the Lebanese Hezbollah party, Hassan Nasrallah, announced the import of Iranian fuel to help the country deal with its shortage. Three tankers with fuel from Iran have already arrived at the Syrian port of Baniyas, but Washington does not like the Iranian initiative: Tehran remains under sanctions, and Beirut is not allowed to trade with it.

The US State Department, without specifically proposing anything, said that getting fuel from Iran was not a solution. Turns out the Biden administration “Supports transparent efforts to find sustainable energy solutions that can resolve the acute crisis in Lebanon”Iran is not looking for ways to “constructively solve the problem,” but is playing a “propaganda game.”

In short, the United States began to compete with Iran for the supply of fuel to Lebanon. True, if Hezbollah is already importing Iranian fuel, the United States is only talking about its plans.

Providing Lebanon with electricity from the Jordanian grid is the best option, but there are problems, given the destruction of Syria’s infrastructure during the war. The sections of the high-voltage network in southern Syria, through which electricity could be transmitted to Lebanon, need to be replaced.

In the most favorable case, according to experts, gas from Egypt will be enough for 8-10 hours a day, and the transit of electricity from Jordan and Syria will add 2-3 hours. However, the project has political potential. It could help restore some of Damascus’s regional influence, expand Jordan’s role after it was sidelined under Trump, and remind Egypt that Egypt remains an Arab heavyweight.

The Americans are persuading Egypt and Jordan to talk to the Syrians in order to reduce Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Perhaps the US is trying to create some kind of competition between the Syrian government and the Iranians in Lebanon. This assumption is supported by the fact that offers from Jordan and Egypt came after Hezbollah announced that Iran would supply Lebanon with fuel to generate electricity.

Iraq is ready to come to the aid of the Lebanese. Beirut and Baghdad signed a framework agreement, according to which Iraq must provide Lebanon with 1 million tons of fuel oil per year. The deal is estimated at $ 360 million. It would be a gift from Baghdad, since Beirut will still not be able to pay. However, it was not without politics here either.

The Iraqi government does not want to be seen as an accomplice of pro-Iranian factions in Lebanon, so Baghdad has postponed reaching a final agreement. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazimi, in an effort to strengthen his image as a regional mediator, deliberately chose the time of signing the deal: a few days before his meeting with Biden on July 27.

Against the background of the events in Afghanistan, the collapse of the energy sector in Lebanon remains without due attention from the international community, although in its scale it has already become historic for the country. Lebanon urgently needs fuel and electricity to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Photo: view of Beirut, youtube

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