Would Israeli gas really help Lebanon keep Iran out?

A report in Israeli media appeared to show Israel could supply gas via Jordan to Lebanon. Questions remain and it's unclear whether or not the Syrian regime or Hezbollah may benefit from such a deal.

People wait in cars to get fuel at a gas station in Zalka, Lebanon, August 20, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR/FILE PHOTO)
People wait in cars to get fuel at a gas station in Zalka, Lebanon, August 20, 2021.

A report on Saturday claimed that Israel may supply natural gas to Lebanon through Jordan. The report was on Israel’s Channel 12 and claimed this high-level deal was supported by the US and that it was “secret.” Russia also apparently had a say because the gas might go via Jordan through Syria to Lebanon. This could empower the Syrian regime and also empower Hezbollah in a roundabout way. Whether this might also stabilize the region, tying Lebanon into Syria and Jordan and thus reduce chances for more conflict, is another question. 

The story of the US scrambling to find a way to help Lebanon stave off its roller-coaster energy financial crisis by bringing in gas and energy sources from somewhere has been around for months. We reported about how Syria was trying to position itself as an energy broker for Lebanon in September. That Israel might be involved is a new detail, but not necessarily surprising considering Israel is a competent country in the energy sector. 

The real question is who benefits here. The Syrian regime apparently benefits from any deal that sees gas from Egypt and Jordan flowing through Syria to Lebanon. This is because it will get new credit from the US, and international community. Not only will it have its hand on the spigot but it can also pose as being a normal member of the international community, despite being under US sanctions. It will now be able to divert that gas for its own needs. Anyone who sits astride a gas or energy route gets to use it. Russia knows how to use energy and pipelines as a tool. Surely Russia can advise the Syrian regime on this element of how being a gas provider can work to Damascus benefit. Even though Syria is merely a transit country, this would benefit the regime.  

If, however, gas were to arrive in Lebanon from other ways and methods perhaps the Syrian regime would not benefit. However, the overall story of how this has been played by Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon is quite brilliant. Iran had suggested it could save Lebanon by putting energy and gas into the hands of Hezbollah, thus making Hezbollah now the all-powerful energy provider for the Lebanese. This would increase the terrorist group’s stranglehold. As such the US seems to be bidding for influence. But it’s not entirely clear if an alternative source of energy for Lebanon outside of the direct control of Hezbollah and Iran doesn’t also benefit Hezbollah and Iran. The Lebanese economy is in shambles, which looks bad for Iran because it shows an Iranian-occupied system is one of bankruptcy. But saving Lebanon there is no doubt that Hezbollah will benefit and divert resources to other nefarious activities. In short, if Lebanon can have the burden of being responsible for the energy crisis reduced, through the US brokering energy deals, then the west will empower Hezbollah by giving it the freedom to do other things.  

This is the catch-22 of Lebanon. No matter what countries do to try to shore up Lebanon’s army or finances, in the end, Hezbollah always benefits. The logic that any deal whereby gas or other oil or energy products reach Lebanon from some alternative source, such as from or via Jordan, doesn’t necessarily harm Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. This is because the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Iran have already bled Lebanon dry when it comes to destroying its economy and consuming the country like a large snake consumes its prey. So far there is no evidence that a bidding war between Iran and the US, or US partners in the region, for supplying energy needs to Lebanon really will cut Iran out or reduce Hezbollah’s role. For years money has poured into Lebanon’s army supposedly as a counterweight to Hezbollah and Hezbollah has only used this as a way to carve out more space in southern Lebanon, openly, under the eyes of the Lebanese army. During the Syrian Civil War, Hezbollah conducted Lebanon’s foreign policy and sent forces to Syria. It now operates near the Golan. The more money the Lebanese army has received, the more power Hezbollah has acquired as well. It’s unclear why a complex energy deal that might empower the Syrian regime, won’t also somehow help Hezbollah. That Russia would back such a deal to give the Syrian regime power and newfound clout is unsurprising. Whether this might stabilize the region, tie Lebanon into Syria and Jordan and thus reduce chances for more conflict, is another question.

WAVING THE Hezbollah flag in Marjayoun, Lebanon. (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)WAVING THE Hezbollah flag in Marjayoun, Lebanon. (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

Regional countries such as Egypt, the UAE and Iraq, as well as Jordan, have wanted to find a way to bring Syria back into the Arab League and support its stability. The idea is to draw it away from Iran. So far there is little evidence this has happened. Whether Russia and other countries, such as Jordan, might accomplish this task via energy is a good question. That the US and Russia might agree on this path could also help build confidence between the US and Russia on other files, such as Ukraine.