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Lebanese Government Says No Permission Sought To Import Iranian Fuel

The Lebanese government has received no request for fuel to be imported from Iran, the caretaker energy minister said on Wednesday, appearing to confirm that the Shi'ite group Hezbollah has bypassed the state with a move to import Iranian fuel.

Hezbollah, a heavily armed group founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, announced last month that a shipment of Iranian fuel oil was on its way to help ease crippling shortages. This raises the possibility of Israel preventing any tankers from reaching Lebanon and also for US to react to the shipment, which would be a violation of its sanctions.

The group is by far the most powerful faction in Lebanon, where it has been part of the ruling system for years.

The fuel crisis, caused by a broader meltdown of Lebanon's economy and plunge in the value of its currency, has forced even essential services to shut down or scale back operations.

Hezbollah's opponents say the declaration, followed by announcements of two further Iranian fuel shipments for Lebanon, has further undermined the authority of the state and exposed Lebanon to the risk of US sanctions. 

If Hezbollah imports the fuel without going through the government's system of official imports and local distribition, it means the Iran-backed militant group will make hefty profits. This would mean Iran violating US oil sanctions and delivering money to Hezbollah, which is also under US sanctions as a listed terrorist organization. International banking retrictions on Iran and lack of cash have reduced Tehran's ability to continue financing proxy forces such as the Hezbollah.

Asked about the Iranian shipment, the caretaker energy minister Raymond Ghajar told journalists "our role is restricted to import permits, we did not receive a request for permission".

Asked if this meant the ship was coming without permits, Ghajar said: "No. We do not have information. Permission was not requested from us. This is all I am saying."

The first shipment has yet to arrive, and Hezbollah has not announced details of where it will dock.

Tanker Trackers, which monitors shipments and oil storage, said satellite imagery showed that the second and third tankers had yet to depart. Iranian media has confirmed only one tanker leaving Iranian waters. Iran’s Tasnim news agency close to the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) tweeted on Friday that the first tanker carrying fuel for Lebanon was on its way.

"The first tanker should be in the southern section of the Red Sea by now," it added. "Awaiting visual confirmation."

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi'ite Muslim ally of Hezbollah and one of the most powerful figures in the state, said on Tuesday he welcomed any support, including from Iran, to help Lebanon through its crisis.

With reporting by Reuters

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