Tags: Analysis: Beirut to Fight Israel Over Natural Gas

Analysis: Beirut to Fight Israel Over Natural Gas

Friday, 29 July 2011 10:04 AM EDT

Lebanese officials and Hezbollah, in coordination with their Iranian and Syrian allies, are gearing up for a battle to stop Israel from exploiting a huge gas find in the Mediterranean.

In a televised speech on July 27, Shaykh Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite terrorist group and political party, warned Israel not to proceed to develop natural gas deposits recently discovered off the Israeli coast. Claiming that Israel “seized” Lebanese territory, Nasrallah reiterated that his group “does not acknowledge Israel's right to exist or its right to excavate oil or gas from Lebanese or Palestinian waters." Referring to the dominant control Hezbollah gained over Lebanon’s government over the last year, Nasrallah claimed his group now has "full confidence in the current government" because it will not "tolerate the loss of Lebanon's rights in its territorial waters or its oil wealth" and added that "the timing of this government is Lebanon's chance to preserve and restore these rights." Nasrallah’s comments echoed statements by a senior Hezbollah official last year who said “if we need to pile up hundreds, thousands of rockets to protect our sovereignty, dignity and maritime resources, then the need to protect our hydrocarbon assets motivates us to enhance the resistance’s capabilities.”

These threats stem from enormous natural gas reserves recently discovered in the western Mediterranean Sea that could dramatically change Middle East political, economic, and energy dynamics. In 2009, Israel discovered a major offshore natural gas field – the largest offshore discovery on earth for decades -- and then discovered a second, even larger field at the end of 2010. Both fields are part of a huge geological formation known as the Levant Basin, which extends over the entirety of Israel’s waters, part of Cyprus’ area, and northward into Lebanese and Syrian waters. The basin likely contains large amounts of natural gas, but so far the only proven fields are the two discovered by Israel – named Tamar and Leviathan and containing about 25 trillion cubic feet. Other nations in the basin lag far behind in exploration. Lebanon has barely started developing possible gas fields in its territory.

The Lebanese government challenged Israel’s claims to the Tamar and Leviathan fields in 2010, but sharply escalated its rhetoric on the issue in recent weeks, suggesting that it intends to maintain its focus and probably will ratchet up tensions in the coming months. Lebanon’s political leadership has referred to Israel’s plans to develop the gas fields as a “Zionist plot.” Lebanese President Michel Suleiman warned Israel not to take unilateral steps on maritime borders. Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told reporters in Beirut that Israel is stealing Lebanese territory and creating a new source of tension. Mansour also argued that Israel’s actions will prevent Lebanon from benefiting from its oil and gas resources in the future.

Lebanon also plans to drag Cyprus into this dispute. In the context of the current crisis, Beirut moved to annul and renegotiate its Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) agreement with Cyprus. EEZ zones are demarcated boundaries between nations marking areas where nations can claim exclusive rights to undersea resources. Since Israel does not have officially demarcated maritime borders with Lebanon and the two nations remain technically at war, it drew its EEZ borders to align with an earlier Cyprus-Lebanon EEZ agreement signed earlier this year. Israel defined its northern most maritime gas licenses based on a resulting Israel-Lebanon EEZ line. Israel’s two major fields, Tamar and Leviathan, lay dozens of miles south of this line.

Over the last two weeks, however, Lebanon’s government has insisted that the Lebanese diplomats who negotiated the Cypriot-Lebanese EEZ agreement were misinformed about specific facts which Beirut has yet to divulge and is threatening to annul the agreement. Beirut also threatened to take the issue directly to UN Security Council rather than work through mediators to reach an understanding with Israel.


Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran clearly hope to undermine any Israeli effort to become energy independent by developing maritime natural gas reserves. Lebanon’s threat to annul the Cypriot-Lebanese EEZ agreement is a move by the current government to block Israel from moving forward and a sign that Lebanon has backtracked from the strategic orientation of Lebanon’s previous government to align itself with the West.

A negotiated settlement of Lebanon’s complaint appears remote. Since the Lebanese-Cypriot EEZ agreement served as the anchor for Cyprus' and Israel's definitions of their EEZs, Beirut’s move significantly expands the parameters of its complaint against Israel. This issue is further complicated by the fact that the current Lebanese government is dominated by Hezbollah and is heavily influenced by Syria and Iran. Beirut also has no diplomatic relations with Israel and rejects direct talks, leaving no bilateral mechanism for the two nations to use to negotiate their differences.

Hezbollah and its international patrons, Syria and Iran, in addition to their ideological rigidity in seeking Israel’s destruction, both have strategic interests in sabotaging any development of Levant Basin hydrocarbon reserves. Doing so would hamper Lebanon’s economic development by ensuring its continued reliance on Damascus and Tehran. It also would prevent the development of not just Israel’s natural gas fields but of the Levant Basin as a gas production zone that would compete with Iran’s strategic plan to become a major supplier of gas to Europe.

[Dr. David Wurmser is a former DIA analyst and aide to Ambassador John Bolton and Vice President Dick Cheney. Dr. Wurmser holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins University in International Relations. He founded the Middle East Studies program at the American Enterprise Institute and is the founder and executive member of the Delphi Global Analysis Group, LLC, a firm which specializes in conducting geopolitical risk due diligence and crafting mitigation strategies for firms operating or investing in the Middle East.]

To read Dave's Newsmax June 28, 2011 TV interview on this issue, here's a link.

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Lebanese officials and Hezbollah, in coordination with their Iranian and Syrian allies, are gearing up for a battle to stop Israel from exploiting a huge gas find in the Mediterranean.
Analysis: Beirut to Fight Israel Over Natural Gas
Friday, 29 July 2011 10:04 AM
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