People in Lebanon have been struggling with crippling fuel shortages for weeks, so when fuel trucks finally rolled into the town of Al Ain, local militia fighters celebrated by firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns into the air.
Four million litres of fuel have been donated by Iran, and arrived in Lebanon via a Syrian port on Thursday.
The display of firepower in Al Ain, in the Bekaa Valley, marked the success of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in brokering the arrival of the fuel, despite being in open violation of a series of US-backed international sanctions preventing Iran from selling oil internationally.
Hezbollah-controlled media was quick to mark the delivery as a defeat of an American embargo.
The collapse of Lebanon’s currency has made imports of fuel restrictively expensive and led to frequent power blackouts. In the last year, the country’s economy ground to a halt as power plants, diesel generators and cars ran dry, leaving long queues for what little fuel remains, long term electricity cuts and even fears that hospital generators and the nation’s internet service could be cut.
All that led to the wild celebration by gunmen firing RPG-7’s and automatic weapons in what many consider an extremely dangerous and illegal celebration.
“Yes some of the youth celebrated with RPGs when the benzine delivery arranged by Abu Hadi arrived in Baalbek,” said Abu Mohammed Jaafar, the head of the Jaafar family’s heavily armed military wing via WhatsApp from his home in the mountains overlooking the city of Baalbek and Al Ain, using Nasrallah’s kunya or nickname.
“We told them not to do these things because of the dangers but the youth are excited because of the bad economic conditions, no fuel for generators, no electricity, you can’t even drive a car,” he said. “So they acted like it was a wedding.”
With tens of thousands of members, a heavily armed military wing, and a long family tradition of hashish cultivation and a sideline in international cocaine smuggling, the Jaafars are one of several notoriously independent tribes in the Bekaa Valley, and frequently finds itself in open combat with the Lebanese Army and police, as well as other tribes, and even occasionally its coreligionists in Hezbollah, which heavily recruits from the tribes.
A Lebanese police official based in the region, who declined to be named for safety reasons, said the Lebanese Army would be informed about the rocket fire but that in the heavily armed, remote areas of the Bekaa there was little police could do and as the government continues to falter under a useless currency and poverty rises, the remote regions of Lebanon are likely to fall further out of government control.
“We know who these guys are, it's not a case of not knowing,” said the officer. “But to arrest them is a long army operation and most will get away. This is an economic crisis of the state not a law enforcement problem.”