BEIRUT, LEBANON—As the cost of rocket fuel soared to $630 per gallon Monday, Middle Easterners who depend on the non-renewable propellant to power 10-kilogram rockets have been forced to severely restrict their daily bombing routines, bringing this latest round of fighting to an unexpected halt.
"The way things are going, I won’t have any money left over for other necessities, such as anti-aircraft missiles, land mines, and machine guns," said Hezbollah guerrilla Mahmoud Hamoui, who is just one of hundreds of Islamic militants compelled to scale back their killing until rocket-fuel prices return to their pre-2006 levels.
Regions in southern Lebanon and northern Israel, once bursting with the sounds of exploding rockets and air attacks, now lay eerily silent. Even the Gaza Strip, another scene of turmoil, is enduring an unsettling calm.
Since the start of this year, the average Palestinian and Lebanese militant’s rocket-fuel consumption has surged from three gallons to 22 gallons per week—second only to Cape Canaveral, FL in propellant consumption.
Experts have warned for months that factors including Hezbollah’s insatiable demand for larger rockets, the increased dependence on gas-guzzling car bombs, and the war in the Middle East would all drive up demand for rocket fuel while putting a severe strain on its supply. However, most ignored the threat, finding it difficult to change their way of life.
"I admit I had grown accustomed to waking up every morning, driving my multiple-rocket-launcher to the launching site, and firing one unguided Katyusha rocket after another, even when it wasn’t absolutely necessary," Lebanese militia member Omar Cheaib said. "But at these prices, I can’t even afford short-range launches over the border. I don’t know what to do with myself."
Added Cheaib: "I only hope our leaders do something soon to get life back to normal."
The shortage has also resulted in long lines at military fuel dumps, frustrating citizens trying to purchase as much rocket fuel as they can before prices climb even higher. At a Hezbollah installation outside Sidon, dozens of guerrillas slowly rolled Katyusha rockets in the direction of a holding tank containing the precious propellant.
"I waited for two hours to fill up my Qassam-2 rocket yesterday, and I could only afford half a tank," said Hezbollah militant Amin Hammoud, who admitted to siphoning fuel from other rockets in his neighborhood. "Do you know how fast a Qassam-2 burns through half a tank of rocket fuel? Even if I launched it from An Naqurah, it still wouldn’t make the trip to Nahariyya."
"It’s sad, but the only thing that’s blowing up right now is prices," Hammoud added.
The increase in fuel costs has even prompted the much more powerful Israeli military to suspend wider-scale rocket attacks on public places and completely cut out orphanage bombings, relying instead on targeted precision attacks that kill only seven or eight people at a time.
Experts said that had Mideast citizens made a more conscious effort to reduce their daily bombings by the recommended 15 percent last year, they would still be able to affordably wage war today.
"A helpful list of rocket-fuel-conservation tips was issued by the Lebanese government in early June, but it was virtually ignored," Beirut Arab University environmental studies Professor Farid Issa said. "It suggested taking public transportation to the border to launch missiles, or simply gunning down Israelis with AK-47s. Instead, Hezbollah members chose to fire rockets from the convenience of their own backyards, as if rocket fuel grew on trees."
The unexpected jump in prices has many Islamic militants asking themselves for the first time whether the price they pay for rocket fuel is worth the price further paid by a handful of Zionists.
"The possibility that the world may run out of rocket fuel has left us radicals wondering if our children, or our children’s children, will enjoy the same level of militancy," said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who feared that if the crisis continues, it could eventually spell the restoration of Middle Eastern infrastructure and prosperity, renewed relations with neighboring countries, and a "worst-case-scenario peace gridlock."
"Now the question becomes: What can we do to prevent this from ever happening?" Nasrallah said. "None of us want to live in a world in which we have to give up driving Israel into the sea, but we must face reality."
According to reports, Hezbollah is considering investing in an experimental new technology, still in its theoretical stages, that uses the clean-burning, inexpensive, yet highly combustible element hydrogen.