How Israel is, allegedly, taking advantage of Lebanon's 'distractions' to steal its gas
Lebanon is located in the heart of the Levant basin, where seismic surveys indicate the presence of huge oil and gas reserves.
While political factions are distracted with the upcoming dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, and the Lebanese government is struggling to resolve the issue of the kidnapped soldiers and counter the threat of terrorist groups on the Syrian border, Israel is stealing Lebanese gas from the deep sea off the Lebanese southern coast, Al-Akhbar learned Monday.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told Al-Akhbar that he received information a few days ago confirming that Israel has started stealing Lebanese gas, expressing his surprise over the government’s lack of interest in the matter.
Berri said “he will personally push the pressing issue early next year,” adding that the Israeli move will force Lebanon to sign two designated decrees that would allow it to start digging for gas and ensure new revenues for the Lebanese economy.
Lebanon is located in the heart of the Levant basin, where seismic surveys indicate the presence of huge oil and gas reserves, but has so far failed to impose itself as a regional player in this area, as neighboring states greedily fight for its resources.
In July 2013, an Israeli company found Karish, a gas field 75 kilometers from the coast of Haifa. The new field is sufficiently close to Lebanon’s maritime borders to allow Israel access to Lebanon’s own reserves. It is evident that Israel is pressing ahead with exploration and production while Lebanon’s own energy plans falter.
At the time, then-Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil addressed these concerns in a press conference. “Theoretically…Israel is now able to reach Lebanese gas and that is a very grave situation,” he said.
“We cannot yet say that a disaster has happened, but the new Israeli discovery may indeed lead to one, especially if Lebanon’s efforts continue to be plagued by delays.”
“If Israel drills horizontally in Karish – made possible thanks to US technology – it may be able to reach up to 10 kilometers north into Lebanon’s reservoirs. If Israel drills vertically, it would still be possible for Israel to syphon off Lebanese oil and gas, if the Israeli and Lebanese fields overlap,” Bassil added.
After the discovery of large deposits of oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean, the main struggle for Lebanon remains with both Cyprus and Israel to prevent encroachment on its maritime boundaries.
Cyprus breached its agreement with Lebanon and signed a deal in 2010 with the Zionist state, which attempted to gobble up 860 square kilometers of Lebanon’s maritime zone.
This incident revealed the need for Lebanon to assert the integrity of its maritime boundaries and to recover all of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – currently being disputed by Israel following its agreement with Cyprus.
In theory, there was no dispute over maritime boundaries between Israel and Cyprus. But when the opportunity arose, Israel encroached on Lebanon’s zones as a result of the latter’s failure to quickly ratify its agreement with Cyprus.
The Cypriot-Israeli agreement enabled Israel to foray into Lebanon’s EEZ, although Israel had so far observed the same boundaries adopted by Lebanon in all its operations.
Reports indicate that Israel found a loophole in the agreement between Lebanon and Cyprus which stipulates that the triple point can only be determined through trilateral negotiations.
Since there are no contacts between Lebanon and Israel, the determination of this point is pending negotiations.
Israel’s interpretation of this, however, is that Lebanon has lost 860 square kilometers.
Lebanon managed to recover 500 out of 860 square kilometers of its EEZ according to international community laws, while 360 square kilometers remain effectively under Israeli control.
In November 2013, Israel rejected a proposal for a settlement made by the US administration to resolve the “dispute” between the Zionist state and Lebanon over the boundaries of each side’s EEZ. The proposal concerned the disputed area of Block 9 in the Mediterranean, which Israel claims sovereignty over.
Israel claims that this block – one of the richest areas in terms of commercial gas deposits recently discovered in the Mediterranean – extends into its EEZ.
In September, Director of the Research and Strategic Studies Center General Khaled Hamada said “the expected quantities (of oil and gas) are relatively small, compared to those discovered in the Arabian Gulf, Russia, and the Caspian Sea, but they are enough to make a significant impact on the energy security of Mediterranean countries, and contribute to a lesser extent to Europe's energy security.”
Hamada pointed out that Israel had already begun commercial gas production, while Cyprus had started exploration in more than one location.
In a conversation with Al-Akhbar, Hamada warned that any further delays in Lebanon’s efforts to implement gas projects would force it to deal with these projects and security arrangements as a fait accompli down the road.
While Lebanon is busy with endless debates, Israel is rushing to put the final touches on its bid to export gas to Europe.
Four years ago, Al-Akhbar published a statement by Israeli Minister Yossi Peled on September 25, 2010 that highlighted the Israeli stance on Lebanon becoming a gas producer country.
Peled, appearing before the Knesset Economic Committee at a special hearing on the oil and gas sector, said that Lebanon had large gas fields similar to the ones Israel had discovered. He cautioned that the Europeans, who were looking for alternatives to Russian gas, had initiated negotiations with Lebanon, saying, “Imagine what it would mean if this country became a gas producer,” something he claimed had equally alarming economic and security implications.
Although Israel managed to pinpoint the challenges it faced, it did predict at the time – and wager on – Lebanon’s complacency. In response to Peled’s warnings in the Knesset, Israeli daily Globes, in a front-page editorial on October 5, 2010, stated:
“Israeli sources who follow events in Lebanon are convinced that, at the current rate of progress, the Lebanese will award the first licenses this year , and will start exploratory drilling within a year. The same sources believe that Lebanon will quickly be able to close the gap between it and Israel, and become a real competitor.
“Past experience shows that Israel has no immediate reason for fear. Lebanon's natural resources will arouse internal (and external) conflicts no less severe than Israel's natural resources have provoked here …
“The oil giants will not rush to invest billions in a country where it is not clear who is in control, and where so many other countries openly interfere.”
Israel was proven right. Nothing in Lebanon is exempt from being the object of division and polarization, and thus, obstruction, including the oil and gas sector.
Meanwhile, Turkey is also trying to expand in the eastern basin through northern Cyprus, with a view to reduce its dependence on oil imports from Iran and gas imports from Russia.
Ankara is seeking to build a network of onshore and offshore gas pipelines, to act as an energy transit hub between East and West.
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