Energy

Lebanese look to army, not Iran, amid electricity crisis

By Nohad Topalian

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This picture taken on October 11, shows a dusk aerial view of the devastated port area of Lebanon's capital Beirut, in darkness during a power outage. [AFP]

BEIRUT -- The power plants of Deir Ammar in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and al-Zahrani in the south were back online Sunday (October 10) after the Lebanese Army delivered 6,000 kilolitres of gas oil.

The army's initiative, which many Lebanese regarded as a gesture of patriotism, comes after the country plunged into darkness on Saturday night for the second time in less than a month after fuel supplies ran out at the two plants.

Lebanon has been under a power rationing programme for months -- with just two hours of power supplied each day -- amid an economic collapse that the World Bank describes as among the worst in the world since 1850.

It has been having difficulties acquiring gas oil because of the decline in the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound and sharp drop in hard currency reserves.

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A Lebanese soldier directs traffic at a fuel station in the capital Beirut on August 14, after soldiers were deployed to force several stations to reopen their doors. [Anwar Amro/AFP]

"It is not surprising that the Army Command would take the initiative and make such a patriotic and monumental move," said Ghassan al-Husami, the secretary of the Tripoli Merchants Association.

The gesture demonstrates the army's "empathy towards citizens who have been plunged into total darkness, with the blackout resulting in the cutoff of water to thousands of housing units in Tripoli and the north", he said.

While the quantity of gas oil the Army Command provided to the two plants is small, and will enable the plants to operate for a maximum of five days, "we consider it a [breath of fresh air] amid the harsh rationing", he told Al-Mashareq.

Al-Husami noted that the army "is the institution that stands by the Lebanese people in their plight and seeks to alleviate their tragedies", even as it weathers difficult circumstances itself.

A Lebanese solution

The army's move to provide fuel stemmed from "a sense of patriotism, which confirms to us that addressing our problems in Lebanon, including electricity, must be done strictly within the local national framework", he said.

"We must not be drawn toward detrimental moves and promises, such as Iran's promises to provide us with electricity," al-Husami said, referring to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian's recent announcement that his country was ready to build two power plants in Lebanon.

"Iran's promises are not healthy because they will not be fulfilled through official channels, as evidenced by the fact that it unloaded fuel from ships at the Syrian port of Banias, transported it by tanker trucks to Lebanon and delivered them to its representative, Hizbullah," al-Husami said.

"The Iranian promise is akin to someone acting on his own account, and we want things done through official channels," he said.

The army's initiative "underscores the military institution's sense of patriotism and responsibility, especially under the current circumstances", Mazraat Yachouh resident Lilian Hebbo said.

"We in Mazraat Yachouh will not benefit from the electricity produced by the two factories, but I was pleased with this move because it will illuminate Tripoli," she said.

"The same applies to the villages of the south."

Habbo said the army's delivery of fuel to the power plants is "a major step and more important than all the promises lavished on Lebanon, especially by Iran".

"Our army is capable of handling our affairs and solving our problems, and the evidence is that it gave up what gas oil was available to it to provide electricity to the regions," she added.

"The army's move reflects national responsibility towards the people who are mired in darkness," said Beirut resident Muhammad Koraytem.

Iran's hidden agenda

Koraytem stressed that the army's initiative, even if it provides power for only a few days, is "more important than the flimsy promises of Iran".

"I only see Iran's promises of electricity as it presses on with its incursion into Lebanon and tightening its grip on it, and this is what we reject," he said.

"It is necessary to pay attention to what the Army Command is doing to secure diesel for the power plants to restore light to Lebanon," Lebanese Centre for Studies and Consulting director Hassan Qutb said.

He pointed out that the country is experiencing power cuts and darkness "caused by the policies led by Hizbullah".

"Hizbullah is looking to exploit the crisis to invite Iranian offers to build power plants that would allow the presence of Iranian experts and technicians from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Lebanese soil," he warned.

But "the Army Command is seeking to restore light, even at the expense of its own strategic stock", he said, "and this is not the first time it has done this".

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