Iran has spent a lot of its time, money, and lives of its direct and proxy military forces in building up its influence across the Shia Crescent of power in the Middle East – Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq – and it continues to target the further acquisition of power in those countries on the edges of the Crescent, together with China and Russia. A core strategy in Iran’s methodology is to build out a pan-Middle Eastern power grid with Tehran at the centre. In just the same way that Russia’s huge level of gas supplies to Europe gives it immense power across that continent so Iran’s electricity and other power supplies will give it enduring power over the Middle East. ‘Roping in’ potential countries into this notion initially through a less overtly threatening proposition – Iran’s ‘front agent’ Iraq offering oil supplies, for example – is a standard tactic for Tehran to achieve its aim and this is precisely what happened last week in Lebanon.
On the face of it, the statements on the deal from Iraq’s Oil Ministry might seem like a perfectly standard and straightforward agreement: Baghdad has agreed to sell Lebanon 1 million metric tons per year (just over 21,000 barrels per day or just under 7.8 million barrels per year) of heavy fuel oil in return for goods and services. This deal, the Iraq Oil Ministry added, will help Iraq to reduce its surplus of fuel oil while at the same time enabling the financially troubled Lebanon to obtain the fuel stock for its power plants required to avoid the widespread and frequent power outages from which it has been suffering recently. According again to official comments from Iraq’s Oil Ministry, the fuel oil is to be sold at international prices and will be paid in exchange for Lebanese goods and services.
A more careful look at the details underpinning the deal reveals that it is anything but standard and straightforward. For a start – a key point, really – Iraq does not have any fuel oil at all that meets the specifications of any power plant anywhere in Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon’s own caretaker Energy Minister, Raymond Ghajar, openly stated in February of this year: “Iraq’s heavy fuel does not match Lebanon’s specific needs.” Given this bewildering premise, the ‘plan’ is that because Iraq’s fuel oil cannot be used in Lebanon – despite the country just pledging to buy 1 million metric tons of it every year – Lebanon will resell the Iraqi fuel and use the proceeds to buy spot cargoes of a fuel that does meet its specifications and that it can actually use. At least as baffling, on the surface at least, is precisely what ‘good and services’ Lebanon is going to use to pay for this useless Iraqi fuel oil.