Iran has a goal in Lebanon and it involves sending tankers with fuel to Syria that will help make Lebanon appear less dependent on the West. Like many Iranian policies, such as enriching uranium, the actual policy is more complex than western media portray it. Iran likes to play foreign relations with a mix of threats, attacks and diplomatic and economic initiatives. It does this in a chess-like manner. Iran openly boasts of its complex multi-layered approach.
When it comes to Lebanon the appearance of a tanker or several tankers off the coast of Syria in coming days and weeks, may actually be just the tip of the iceberg of what is actually happening. The tankers may be a distraction. We know that Hezbollah has boasted of these Iranian tankers arriving off the coast of Syria.
TankerTrackers.com tweeted on September 14, "visual confirmation: The Iranian handysize tanker FAXON (9283758) is discharging 33,000 metric tons of gasoil. Unable to deliver directly by sea to Lebanon due to sanctions, the vessel went instead to Baniyas, Syria for land transfer. Shall require 1,310 truckloads."
Now we know that one of the tankers of interest is off the coast of Syria. But what is Iran saying? Pro-Iranian media such as Al-Mayadeen are boasting that Iran is evicting the US and US partners from the region through its "axis of resistance." This resistance includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranian forces in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen and pro-Iran militias in Iraq.
An article at Al-Mayadeen details how Iran views this success story. "It is assumed that the US administration's decision to allow the Lebanese government to communicate with the Syrian state in order to import Egyptian gas was not classified as exceptional or in response to the demand of the Lebanese state that it should be exempted from complying with the sanctions of the Caesar Act.
"Its introductions were not based on an official Lebanese request to confront the collapse that the Lebanese state is suffering from, but was the result of an American assessment that the siege imposed with the aim of subduing the resistance in it did not lead to the desired result," an article noted this week.
What does this convoluted word salad mean? It means that Iran and Hezbollah waited as the US used sanctions to isolate the Syrian regime. The sanctions had an affect of apparently harming the Lebanese economy as well. Lebanon is in economic free fall. Iran then engineered to send gas via Syria to Lebanon to showcase how it is helping Lebanon.
But what was the assessment? Iran sees how it has engineered a collapse in Lebanon. "As a result of this siege, the foundations of the Lebanese state collapsed and its tools weakened, while the resistance succeeded in adapting to this reality to build on it in an integrated project that would bring the Lebanese state out of dependence on the tools of American power imposed on it."
This means Iran handed the US a catch-22. The goal: Get the US to rely on Syria, a regime allied with Iran. At the same time the goal was to reduce US influence in Lebanon. The US has supported the Lebanese armed forces in the past and intervened in Lebanon in the 1980s.
Iran's Tasnim news also spells out the Tehran goal. "In the first stage, as mentioned, the resistance prevented the realization of the American goals by refusing to fall into the trap of the enemy, despite all the pain and suffering that the people endured.
Iran believes that with a bit of a push, the US will fold up its cards in Lebanon.
In the second stage, with a strategic decision to break the siege and cross the political vacuum towards an economic transformation with the help of the East, it dealt a fatal blow to the enemy. The first action of the resistance in this regard was the import of fuel from Iran and the suggestion that Iranian and Eastern companies may take over the operation of extracting energy in Lebanon." Iran's goal is to move Lebanon further into Iran's clutches and also position it closer to an Iran-China economic pact that has emerged in the last year.
Iran sees Lebanon as a section of the chessboard and it wants to remove US pieces from that area. It cannot use military means, so it will use economic means. This comes in the context of the US leaving Afghanistan. Iran believes that with a bit of a push, the US will fold up its cards in many regions. Lebanon is one such region.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.