By Working with Egypt to Send Natural Gas to Lebanon, the U.S. Helps Iran

September 1, 2021 | Tony Badran
About the author: Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Levant analyst at Tablet magazine.

Two weeks ago, the American ambassador to Beirut confirmed that Washington is working to make possible the delivery of Egyptian natural gas and Jordanian electricity via Syria to Lebanon, which is suffering from an acute fuel shortage. The Biden administration appears to believe that by doing so the U.S. can compete with Iran—and its proxy, Hizballah—for influence over Lebanon. But, Tony Badran argues, Iranian influence is too deeply entrenched for such a move to make a difference; in fact, it will only make the situation worse:

For the American plan to work, the Biden team would require the cooperation of the Assad regime and would therefore need to waive sanctions on Damascus. In other words, the administration would throw a lifeline to Iran’s other vassal, which Tehran continues to prop up with assistance—ranging from funding to fuel shipments—and the support of a host of militias, led by Hizballah.

Hizballah maintains control of a stretch of territory in western Syria along the border with Lebanon. . . . The area in question is also home to the transit point for the Egyptian natural gas that Lebanon would receive. . . . After years of war, however, the Syrian section of the pipeline likely requires repairs. . . . That is to say, this initiative will require investment in Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions. . . . Nevertheless, [the U.S. ambassador] expressed the administration’s determination to work around this hurdle: “There is a will to make this happen.”

In other words, the Biden administration is looking to secure investment to rehabilitate infrastructure in Syria. This is on top of the transit fees Assad will demand and, presumably, collect.

Washington’s initiative is a positive development for both Hizballah and its Syrian ally—Assad will receive sanctions waivers and potential investment, while Hizballah maintains its position on both sides of the border.

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