The crisis has presented an opportunity for Iran, and its proxy in Lebanon, the militant group Hezbollah, to portray themselves as stepping in where other powers have failed.
In recent weeks, Iran has sent fuel by tanker ship to Syria, where Hezbollah organized caravans to drive it into Lebanon. The whole operation defies sanctions by the United States on the purchase of Iranian oil and has happened entirely outside of the Lebanese state.
Visiting Lebanon last week, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said Iran was ready to build two new power plants in Beirut and southern Lebanon able to meet a third of the country’s electricity demands.
Critics say Iran and its allies are more interested in media stunts than in real aid, that the fuel it has sent is little in comparison to Lebanon’s needs and that the proposed Iranian power plants are unlikely to ever be built.
The United States has thrown its support behind plans to have natural gas sent via pipeline from Jordan through Syria to Lebanon, or to have electricity generated in Jordan transmitted to Lebanon. But many details of those plans have yet to be worked out, including who will pay to fix the necessary infrastructure, so any benefit for Lebanon is at best months away.
Most Lebanese rely on private generators for electricity, but many have been forced to cut back on that, too, or give it up altogether, as fuel costs have soared.
Fatima Baydoun, a 50-year-old mother of three in Beirut, said her family had not been able to afford electricity from a generator because her husband, a security guard, has been out of work for more than a year. Without government-supplied electricity, she can’t use the washing machine and her family’s taps have run dry because the water pump relies on power.
“We try to sleep as early as possible,” she said.