Following the cabinet’s decision on Sunday to approve a demarcation of the
country’s northern maritime borders for UN submission, an energy policy expert
said that Lebanese claims to Israeli exploratory territory may be fueled by a
need to position Israel as the “bad guy” in order to get its own laws on the
matter passed faster.
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“They were trying to ram through a Petroleum Law,
to get the exploration going,” said Prof. Brenda Shaffer, an expert on energy
policy and management in the School of Political Science at the University of
Haifa, referring to a Lebanese law passed last August.
“So they’re trying
to get people to think ‘bad Israel,’ let’s just get this law going.”
Israeli natural gas discoveries in the past few years coupled with Lebanon’s own
potential for offshore drilling “have served as a catalyst for a new source of
conflict,” Shaffer wrote in an article called “Israel – New natural gas producer
in the Mediterranean” in the May issue of the Energy Policy journal.
resultant border dispute is then “propelled by politicians” from both sides,
“who add fuel to the fire in order to promote unrelated domestic political
agendas,” according to her article.
This type of tactic, she told The
Jerusalem Post on Sunday, is “like a diversion,” something that Israel did as
well to get its own natural gas drilling started – to be the first ones in
before the gas disappears, so to speak.
“Both sides use this to pass
through legislation,” she said.
Regarding the Lebanese sense of urgency
to push through their Petroleum Law, Shaffer quoted Hezbollah official Sheikh
Nabil Qaouq in her article as saying, “A delay in approving a law on investing
in Lebanon’s petroleum serves Israeli goals.”
Minister Uzi Landau called the Lebanese map to be submitted to the UN “an
attempt to undermine everything we do,” and said that “if they have complaints”
and “a genuine desire for coexistence,” it is the responsibility of the Lebanese
to act like “a civilized state and seek clarification and negotiation” with
While energy experts believe that Lebanon wouldn’t stand a chance
if it were to claim Israel’s large Tamar (some 50 km.
west of Haifa) or
Leviathan (roughly 130 km. west of Haifa) reserves, other more northern,
yet-to-be-explored areas are more perhaps more in question.
our understanding, Tamar and of course Leviathan – which is southwest of Tamar –
are south of the claimed marine border as planned by Lebanon,” Amit Mor, CEO and
energy specialist at the Herzliya Pituach-based Eco Energy consulting firm, told
the Post on Sunday. “Nevertheless, the Lebanese are claiming sovereignty over
areas that are claimed by Israel and to which exploration rights have already
been granted to various companies by the Israeli government.”
Lebanon, discovery and drilling of its own natural gas will be crucial for its
energy supply, most of which currently comes from imported oil, Shaffer
explained. There isn’t much known about the amount of gas located off Lebanon’s
shores, but a European company did conduct a survey and saw “promising signs,”
according to Shaffer.
“Their only gas that they get is from Egypt to
Jordan, Jordan to Syria and Syria to Lebanon,” she said.
“crucial” natural gas is to the region, Shaffer explained that Syria – whose
coastline is smaller than Israel’s or Lebanon’s – is looking into importing it
from Iran or Azerbaijan.
“The last two natural gas mega-discoveries
offshore Israel are only the first of many such discoveries,” Mor said. “I hope
that large natural gas discoveries will also be found offshore Lebanon, Syria
and Cyprus for the benefit of the nations in the region.”
While in an
ideal world, countries within the “thirsty markets in the Middle East” would
import natural gas from Israel, for geopolitical reasons, this could not
currently occur, Shaffer said.
“There’s more thought of exporting to
Japan than to Lebanon,” she said. “The only thing I could imagine is exporting
to Jordan and Jordan re-exporting to Lebanon.”
Despite the forthcoming UN
map submission, Shaffer doubts that the UN will get heavily involved in this
“The UN has been very careful to not get involved in these
delimitations,” she said, noting that this will be a bilateral decision and not
an international one. “Even though they dabbled in it, I think at the end of the
day they will try to refer it back to sides.”
Mor said that no matter who
does the deciding, a maritime border conflict that involves natural resources
could take a very long time to resolve.
“For example, there have been
ongoing disputes over drilling rights in the Caspian Sea between Russia,
Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan for over 20 years,” Mor said.
both the Israeli and Lebanese governments would have a major interest in
resolving the dispute in the short-term, the dispute could last for a million
years to come."