'Israel painted as bad guy to speed Lebanese drilling'

Beirut lays claim to offshore exploration rights already granted to companies by J’lem; expert says move a Lebanese ploy.

tamar offshore gas field_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
tamar offshore gas field_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
“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.
Lebanon says it will protect its borders and resources
UN says will help Beirut with maritime border, protect gas
“So they’re trying to get people to think ‘bad Israel,’ let’s just get this law going.”
The 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.
The 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.”
National Infrastructures 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 Israel.
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.
“According to 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.”
For 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.
Noting how “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 issue.

“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.
“Unless 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."