BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 6 (UPI) — Lebanon has raised the stakes in the high-octane poker game under way in the natural gas-rich eastern Mediterranean by approving a law to administer offshore exploration and drilling, joining Israel, Cyprus and Turkey in a potentially explosive race for energy riches.
The Beirut government laid down the regulations for the emerging energy industry Wednesday.
“If all goes as scheduled,” said Cesar Abi Khalil, an Energy Ministry adviser, “the licensing round will be held this year.
“The companies will have six months to bid and then the winners will be chosen and exploration will begin.”
Energy expert Roudi Baroudi estimates that Lebanon’s reserves total three times those of Libya’s 54 trillion cubic feet. That’s probably a major overestimate. But it’s certain to heighten tension in the region triggered by Israel’s discovery of major gas fields off its coast, a drive by nearby Cyprus to follow suit and Turkey’s threat to send in its navy to stop the other two from joining forces to exploit the region’s energy riches.
On top of this, Beirut claims parts of the Israeli gas fields lie in Lebanese waters. The two countries are technically at war.
Hezbollah, the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Lebanese “resistance movement,” has warned it will repel Israeli efforts to “plunder” what it considers Lebanese energy reserves. Israel has vowed to use force to protect its assets.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006 in which Lebanon’s infrastructure was heavily bombed. The seasoned Lebanese fighters battled Israel’s vaunted military to a standstill and claimed a “divine victory.”
Both sides view the inconclusive conflict as unfinished business.
It remains to be seen whether the dispute over the vast natural gas reserves, along with several billion barrels of oil, in the Levant Basin will be the trigger for renewed war.
But the bottom line is the infrastructure Israel is building, including offshore platforms and export terminals, is vulnerable to attack by Hezbollah, and even Syria and Iran.
If Beirut’s drive to get in on the regional energy boom does actually get under way, and that’s a big “if” since the threat of conflict could scare off potential investors, Lebanon will find itself in the same boat.
In theory, that could create a version of the Cold War concept of mutually assured destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union that prevented an atomic Armageddon from 1949-99.
It could, optimists argue, push the adversaries toward some sort of peace agreement.
But after more than 60 years of incessant warfare no one’s holding their breath.
Israel hit pay dirt in 2009-10, when Houston company Nobel Energy and its Israeli partner, Delek Drilling, found gas reserves totaling some 25 tcf — and that figure could increase as the full extent of the finds becomes known.
The main fields are Leviathan, with some 16 tcf of gas and believed to extend northward into Cypriot waters already dubbed the Aphrodite field, and Tamar with 8 tcf.
The prize is immense. The U.S. Geological Survey reported in 2010 that the Levant Basin, contains as much as 123 billion tcf of recoverable gas, the equivalent of 20 billion barrels of oil.
Moving into Cypriot waters takes the thorny issue into the embrace of yet another conflict, the age-old friction between Greece and Turkey and the frontline of that dispute, the divided island of Cyprus which has no energy resources of its own.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 following a short-lived, Athens-engineered coup by supporters of union with Greece. The Turks seized the north and declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It’s recognized only by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot administration in the south is universally recognized.
The Turks, led by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claims Nicosia has no right to explore for gas because the Cyprus issue has not been settled.
Add to this that Israel and Turkey, once strong allies, fell out in 2010 and are now bitter rivals, and the animosity just gets worse.
The Greek Cypriots are increasingly aligned with Israel under a plan to jointly export their gas by pipeline to the energy-hungry European Union via Greece, thus sharpening tensions with Turkey.
Nobel Energy, which spearheads exploration off Cyprus as well, has already reported initial indications of at least 7 tcf of gas in Aphrodite.
That’s sure to stir things up.
Israel has plans to enlarge its navy as the potential of a Mediterranean war with Lebanon looms over oil. According to an October 18 UPI report, Israel is considering adding Israeli built warships to protect the Leviathan and Tamar offshore oil and gas fields. Israel’s navy is already scheduled to receive three new German made Dolphin class submarines.
According to the UPI report, “Neighboring Lebanon, which is technically at war with Israel, claims that Leviathan, the largest field yet found, runs into its territorial waters. Israel rejects that claim. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah has threatened military action to prevent Lebanese energy reserved being ‘looted.’”
In the south, Israel also must protect its current offshore gas platforms near Gaza from potential Hamas attack.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas are reported to have acquired anti-ship missiles from Iran that could be used against Israel’s offshore drilling platforms. Additionally, terrorist groups could simply sail explosive laden boats up to the platforms and detonate their cargo.
Lebanon’s news agency, The Daily Star, reported today that, “Lebanon is gearing up for a long-term oil and gas production program although the looming diplomatic crisis with Israel over each country’s share of undersea fossil fuels threatens full-scale conflict …”
Lebanon, still technically at war with Israel, disputes the current Israeli Lebanese maritime border and claims that thousands of square kilometers of Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan gas fields are within Lebanon’s maritime ‘Exclusive Economic Zone.’ The terrorist organization Hezbollah, now an official member of Lebanon’s government and backed by Syria and Iran has vowed that it will not let Israel take possession of the offshore oil and gas fields. Hezollah leader, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah , stated earlier this year, “Those who put a hand on the Lebanese territories that have oil assets will have their territories harmed in return.”
JERUSALEM — Israel has deployed drones to keep watch on gas fields off its northern coast, fearing attack by the Hezbollah militia from neighbouring Lebanon, the Jerusalem Post daily reported on Tuesday.
The fields lie in a part of the Mediterranean that is claimed by Israel for gas exploration and production, but Lebanon says the fields lie within its territorial waters.
“The decision to deploy drones was made in order to maintain a 24-hour presence over the site,” the paper said, adding that the air force was equipped with the locally made Heron drone, which has special electro-optics designed for maritime work.
The Israeli military would not confirm or deny the Post report to AFP.
The paper said that the air force started aerial surveillance after a warning last month from Hezbollah, which in 2006 fought a deadly war with the Jewish state in which it used anti-ship missiles.
“The Israeli enemy cannot drill a single metre in these waters to search for gas and oil if the zone is disputed… No company can carry out prospecting work in waters whose sovereignty is contested,” the Shiite group said.
The Hezbollah threat came after Israel’s cabinet approved a map of the country’s proposed maritime borders with Lebanon and submitted it to the United Nations, which has been asked to mediate in the dispute.
The map conflicts with one submitted by Lebanon to the UN last year, which gives Israel less territory.
The two countries are technically at war and will not negotiate face to face.
The disputed zone consists of about 854 square kilometres (330 square miles).
The two biggest known offshore fields, Tamar and Leviathan, lie respectively about 80 kilometres (50 miles) and 130 kilometres (81 miles) off Israel’s northern city of Haifa.
Tamar is believed to hold at least 8.4 trillion cubic feet of gas (238 billion cubic metres), while Leviathan is believed to have reserves of 16 trillion cubic feet (450 billion cubic metres).
In June an Israeli company announced the discovery of two new natural gas fields, Sarah and Mira, around 70 kilometres (45 miles) off the city of Hadera further south.
- The potential oil and gas fields off the Lebanese and Israeli coasts look set not only to become a long-term source of heavenly bounty – but also a source of conflict in the years ahead. Behind the tensions over the potential gas discoveries is the fact that the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon has never been delineated because the two states are still formally at war.
- Lebanon has a real interest in developing potential fields and a possible confrontation with Israel will not assist in reducing its energy dependence. However, the sudden interest in potential offshore fossil-fuel wealth has turned the Mediterranean into a potential theater of confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah.
- Hizbullah already boasts an amphibious warfare unit trained in underwater sabotage and coastal infiltration. Its ability to target shipping – and possibly offshore oil and gas platforms – was exposed in the war with Israel in 2006 when Hizbullah came close to sinking an Israeli missile boat with an Iranian version of the Chinese C-802 missile.
- Responding to this threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in January that the offshore gas fields were a “strategic objective that Israel’s enemies will try to undermine” and vowed that “Israel will defend its resources.” It would be a fair assessment that any damage incurred due to Hizbullah’s activities would generate retaliation that would be aimed against the infrastructure of the Lebanese state.
Israel and Lebanon: Still Technically at War
The basis for a future confrontation between Israel and Lebanon is being sown today. But unlike the past, the scene of the next armed conflict between the two neighboring Mediterranean states might be confined to the gas and oil concessions scattered along their common but disputed maritime border. The potential oil and gas fields off the Lebanese and Israeli coasts look set not only to become a potential long-term source of heavenly bounty – but also a source of conflict in the years ahead.
Indeed, the stakes are tremendous. Both Lebanon and Israel are currently dependent on neighboring countries for importing fuel for power generation. Israel presently relies on Egypt for most of its gas, but the durability of that arrangement has been cast into doubt following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The Egyptian pipeline supplying gas to Israel and Jordan has been blown up numerous times since the change of regime in Egypt, disrupting the flow of gas to Israeli, Jordanian and Lebanese power stations.
Key to the tensions over the potential gas bonanza is that the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon has never been delineated because the two states are still technically at war.
Two gas fields off the northern Israel coast – Tamar and Leviathan – contain an estimated 8.4 trillion cu. ft. (238 billion cu. m.) and 16 trillion cu. ft. (453 billion cu. m.), respectively, sufficient to satisfy Israel’s energy needs for the next half-century. What remains unknown is if the fields stretch into Lebanon’s territorial waters. Even if neither of them stretches that far, Tamar and Leviathan are part of much bigger potential oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Levant Basin Province, encompassing parts of Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, could contain as much as 122 trillion cu. ft. (3.4 trillion cu. m.) of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. (For comparison, Libya has gas reserves of 53 trillion cu. ft. [1.5 trillion cu. m.] and oil reserves of 60 billion barrels.)1
Lebanon Looks to the UN
As expected, Lebanon declared on July 10 through its various spokesmen that it would file a complaint with the United Nations against Israel, after the Israeli Cabinet approved a map of its proposed maritime borders, which Lebanon is calling an aggression and an infringement on its right to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).2
Commenting on the Israeli decision, Lebanon’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour declared in an interview: “For sure we will [file a complaint]. This is an aggression on our gas and oil rights and we will not remain silent.” “This is a de facto policy that will not bring peace for Israel. Israel is creating a new area of tension,” he added.3
Mansour said that the borders drawn by Israel constituted an aggression against Lebanon’s economic borders: “When there is an economic zone linked to a number of states, demarcating borders does not happen by one state unilaterally or by two states at the expense of the third,” he said.4
According to the Israeli press, Israel will submit the map approved by its Cabinet to the UN for an opinion, as the neighboring states face off over offshore gas fields. The Israeli map lays out maritime borders that conflict significantly with those proposed by Lebanon in its own submission to the UN last summer.
At the Israeli cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the outline that Lebanon submitted to the UN is significantly further south than the one we propose.” “It [Lebanon’s map] also conflicts with the line that we have agreed upon with Cyprus and, what is more significant in my eyes, it conflicts with the line that Lebanon itself agreed upon with Cyprus in 2007.” “Our goal is to determine Israel’s position regarding its maritime border, in keeping with the principles of international maritime law,” Netanyahu said.5
Mansour said that Israel’s demarcation of its maritime borders with Cyprus had infringed on Lebanon’s right to its economic zone. “This contradicts international law,” Mansour said. In the 2007 agreement between Cyprus and Lebanon on their common maritime border, the parties had left “in Area 23 of the agreement map an unmarked line 17 km. long that has been now included by Israel in its EEZ which she has no right to.”6 Mansour said that the area included in the Israeli map was equivalent to 1,500 square kilometers of Lebanese territory lost to Israel.7
Mansour added that no agreement can be obtained without the acquiescence of the three parties involved. But with Lebanon being in a state of hostility with Israel, Lebanon had asked UNIFIL to intervene and assist in drawing the maritime line between the parties. UNIFIL declined to accept the request arguing that this was not in its mandate.8 Mansour reported on July 10, 2011, that following this refusal, Lebanon had requested help from the UN to demarcate its maritime borders with Israel. However, the UN had yet to respond to the request.9
Lebanon’s Energy and Water Resources Minister Jibran Bassil assured the Lebanese that the country’s natural resources were “not in danger.” Bassil said that Lebanon had acted in accordance with maritime law and “Israel should first sign this law before invoking international law.” Bassil added that Lebanon would wait and see what Israel is presenting to the UN: “If it respects international law, then no problem. But Lebanon has been accustomed to Israeli aggressions on its sea, waters, skies, and now on Lebanon’s oil and gas rights.”10
Answering Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that Lebanon was acting under pressure from Hizbullah, Bassil said: “If Israel wants to aggress us, then Hizbullah is not the only one concerned, but it is the whole state of Lebanon. No Lebanese will agree to desist himself of his oil and gas rights.” Bassil pointed out (as did the Lebanese foreign minister before him) that no international oil and gas company will be active in an area of conflict.
“We are determined to defend our rights, especially since we are fully committed to the law of the sea. If Israel violates this law, it will pay the price.” Bassil said that Lebanon had given its maritime maps to the UN and the “UN should behave in line with the law.” The minister said that he would call for placing the issue first on the agenda of the next Cabinet session.11 “We will take the suitable measures, like launching a diplomatic and political campaign [to defend our right],” he said.12
On January 4, 2011, Lebanon had requested UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ensure that Israel’s plans to drill for gas in the Mediterranean would not encroach on its own offshore reserves. Lebanon’s then foreign minister, Ali al-Shami, wrote to Ban asking him to “exert every possible effort to prevent Israel exploiting Lebanon’s maritime hydrocarbon resources which fall within its exclusive economic zone.”13
Shami’s letter came a week after Texas-based Noble Energy and its Israeli exploration partners said the Leviathan prospect – 130 km. (80 miles) off the Israeli port of Haifa – was the world’s biggest deepwater gas find in the past decade.14
Shami stressed: “Lebanon’s right to exploit fully its hydrocarbon resources, which fall within its exclusive economic zone, is based on legitimate rights established by international law….Any Israeli exploitation of this resource would be a blatant violation of these laws and an attack on Lebanese sovereignty.”15
Spurred on by Israel’s plans to drill for gas, Lebanon’s parliament adopted a long-awaited energy law on August 17, 2010, which paves the way for exploration of offshore reserves. Representatives of energy companies are already in Beirut lobbying for potentially lucrative oil and gas concessions. In an October statement, Norway-based Petroleum Geo-Services confirmed that Lebanese waters contained potential valuable deposits and may prove to be an “exciting new province for oil and gas.”16
Indeed, the prospect of oil and gas beneath Lebanon’s coastal waters could have immense benefits for a country with one of the highest debt rates in the world – around $52 billion, or 147 percent of gross domestic product. But progress has slowed down because of the collapse of the government in January and the delay in the formation of a new Cabinet due to political bickering.17
Moreover, Lebanon is well aware of the UN reluctance to venture into this field. A reflection of this was seen during the visit of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, who declared after his visit on March 3, 2011: “I assured the Minister that the United Nations is considering how best it can help Lebanon…in regard to the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel. But I also stressed to the Minister that there are many steps that Lebanon itself can take….For example, Lebanon can move towards defining the maritime borders with other neighbors, for example Cyprus and Syria, through the ratifications of agreements that have already been negotiated, or through the negotiation of other agreements. We also look forward to Lebanon accelerating the implementation of the oil and gas exploration law, which Parliament adopted last year.”18(The agreement between Cyprus and Lebanon has not been ratified by the Lebanese parliament because the government has not submitted it for ratification, in order not to antagonize Turkey that is fiercely opposed to any deal with the Cyprus government regarding resources.
Implications of the Dispute
The dispute over the gas fields along the Lebanon-Israel maritime border has been described by some analysts as another Shab’aa Farms issue, which historically has been a periodic clash point between Hizbullah and Israel. However, on the gas issue it seems that the parallel is misplaced. Lebanon has a real interest in developing potential fields and a possible confrontation with Israel will not assist in obtaining the energy independence it is seeking. Analyzing Lebanese declarations, it is clear that the Lebanese have chosen first to seek a diplomatic solution either through the UN apparatus or through international courts and bodies of arbitration that specialized in those disputes.
It comes as no surprise, however, that the sudden interest in the potential fossil-fuel wealth off the Israeli and Lebanese coastlines has turned the Mediterranean into a potential theater of confrontation between Israel and Hizbullah. The Lebanese group already boasts an amphibious warfare unit trained in underwater sabotage and coastal infiltration. Hizbullah’s ability to target shipping – and possibly offshore oil and gas platforms – was exposed in the war with Israel in 2006 when Hizbullah came close to sinking an Israeli missile boat with an Iranian version of the Chinese C-802 missile. Hizbullah fighters have since hinted that they have acquired larger anti-ship missiles with double the 72-mile (116 km.) range of the C-802 variant.
Last year, Hizbullah leader Nasrallah warned that his organization now possesses the ability to target shipping along the entire length of Israel’s coastline. Nasrallah even promised that if Israel threatens future Lebanese plans to tap its oil and gas reserves, “only the Resistance [Hizbullah] would force Israel and the world to respect Lebanon’s right.”19 In this context, one cannot dismiss the possibility that in time of conflict Hizbullah would use its weapons to target and hit Israel’s gas installations in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
Responding to this threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in January that the offshore gas fields were a “strategic objective that Israel’s enemies will try to undermine” and vowed that “Israel will defend its resources.”
No doubt the U.S. has a keen interest in preventing any conflagration in the region, especially in an area where American drilling and oil and gas exploration companies are involved. A report in Ha’aretz20 pointed to the U.S. as having adopted the Lebanese position on the issue, but this has been denied by government spokesmen. It is clear that the U.S. will not blindly accept either of the two positions: the U.S. will follow the legal lines of international jurisdiction and encourage both parties to do so. In this realm it seems that the U.S. will advise the Lebanese government to exercise some restraint over Hizbullah and will signify that any military intervention by Hizbullah could come at the expense of Lebanese interests.
As for Israel, the Cabinet has already approved a budget to protect Israel’s “strategic maritime energy sources.” It would be a fair assessment that any damage incurred due to Hizbullah’s activities would generate retaliation that would be aimed against the infrastructure of the Lebanese state.
* * *
1. Liban-Israel: la bataille du gaz offshore,l’ONU refuse de se prononcer sur ce conflit, http://www.lepost.fr/, 8 January 2011; Nicholas Blanford, “The Next Big Lebanon-Israel Flare-Up: Gas,” TIME, 6 April 2011; http://lebanonmatters.com/2011/04
2. www.dailystar.com, 10 July 2011
5. Israeli TV Channel 22, 10 July 2011
6. http://www.annahar.com/, 10 July 2011
7. http://www.assafir.com/, 10 July 2011
9. www.yalibnan.com, 10 July 2011
14. www.yalibnan.com, 5 July 2011.
17. Nicholas Blanford.
18. http://unscol.unmissions.org/, 3 March 2011.
19. Nicholas Blanford.
20. http://www.haaretz.co.il/, 10 July 2011.
* * *
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
For most countries, the existence of a massive fossil-fuel deposit within its sovereign territory would be gratefully welcomed as an economic windfall. But the delight in Israel at the recent giant gas discovery off its northern coastline is tempered by the knowledge that it could provide the spark to ignite the next war between the Jewish state and its mortal foe to the north, Lebanon’s militant Shi’ite Hizballah.
The stakes are enormous. Both Lebanon and Israel currently have little or no oil or gas deposits, and are dependent on neighboring countries for importing fuel and power. Israel presently relies on Egypt for most of its gas, but the durability of that arrangement has been cast into doubt following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The Egyptian pipeline supplying gas to Israel and Jordan was blown up in January and only began operating again only a couple of weeks ago.
Key to the tensions over the potential gas bonanza is that the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon has never been delineated because the two states are still technically at war.
* The two countries have no agreed maritime border
BEIRUT, Jan 4 (Reuters) – Lebanon has asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ensure that Israel’s plans to drill for gas in the Mediterranean do not encroach on its own offshore reserves, the National News Agency said on Tuesday.
It said Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami wrote to Ban asking him to “exert every possible effort to prevent Israel exploiting Lebanon’s maritime hydrocarbon resources which fall within its exclusive economic zone”.
Shami’s letter came a week after Texas-based Noble Energy (NBL.N:Quote) and its Israeli exploration partners said the Leviathan prospect — 130 km (80 miles) off the Israeli port of Haifa — was the world’s biggest deepwater gas find in the past decade. [ID:nLDE6BS10F]
Lebanon says that seismic surveys have identified promising quantities of natural gas in its own waters.
But Israel, which fought a month-long war with Lebanese group Hezbollah in 2006, has no agreed maritime border with Lebanon. Lebanese politicians say they fear Israel may drill in Lebanon’s waters or extract gas from common fields. Israel has said the gas falls within its own waters.
Shami stressed “Lebanon’s right to exploit fully its hydrocarbon resources, which fall within its exclusive economic zone, based on legitimate rights established by international law,” according to the news agency.
“Any Israeli exploitation of this resource would be a blatant violation of these laws and an attack on Lebanese sovereignty,” he added.
Spurred on by Israel’s plans to drill for gas, Lebanon’s parliament ratified a long-awaited energy law last August, which paves the way for exploration of offshore reserves.
But it still has a long way to go to catch up with Israel. It must identify blocs for exploration, supply data to interested investors, select bidders and have companies start work, while the Israelis already have firms drilling for gas. (Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jane Baird)
Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon says Teheran to conduct a 3D seismic survey to map possible oil and natural gas-bearing structures.
The Iranian Labor News Agency quoted Roknabadi as saying, “Lebanon has [an] oil field shared with Israel. Threequarters of this field belongs to Lebanon and a quarter of the field belongs to the occupying regime [Israel],” “This country is about to exploit oil soon, but the Lebanese have not done anything in the field yet,” he added.
“Even when we expressed readiness to help the Lebanese in this field, the parliament of [Israel] voiced objection and said that Iran should not do this. But Lebanese officials have much welcomed our participation in oil exploration in this country.”
Lebanon has a delineation agreement with Cyprus. It hopes to start offshore gas and oil exploration in its waters by early 2012.
Russian news agency, Russia Today, reports on Israel’s recent oil and gas discoveries and international tensions with Lebanon over disputed territorial boundaries. Onshore, Russia Today, briefly reports on Givot Olam’s Rosh Ha’Ayin site but does not mention the Zion Oil & Gas exploration area or the Joseph Project.
Israeli Natural Gas Find Keeps On Getting Bigger But Could Ignite Trouble
Vosizneias Tel Aviv – Israel’s natural gas bonanza in the eastern Mediterranean just keep getting bigger, with reserves currently pegged at around 25 trillion cubic feet.
That’s enough to guarantee the Jewish state, dependent on imported energy since it was founded in 1948, energy security for at least two decades.
The strikes at three fields, dubbed Tamar, Dalat and Leviathan, could even turn Israel into a gas exporter and transform its economy. There are indications that there’s oil down there as well.
But the offshore finds may become a casus belli (case for war) as Lebanon, Israel’s northern neighbor and longtime battleground, lays claim to the gas fields as well.
Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper reported June 8 that the biggest field found off Israel, Leviathan, extends north into Lebanese waters and could well aggravate tensions between the countries.
Under the headline “Israel prepares to steal gas fields in Lebanon’s waters,” the leftist daily said if Israel tried to siphon gas from Lebanese territory, Beirut would be forced to defend its resources.
One of Hezbollah’s top leaders, Hashem Safieddine, head of the Iranian-backed movement’s executive council, has declared it won’t allow Israel to “loot” Lebanese gas resources.
Israel’s military chiefs say Hezbollah currently possesses around 45,000 missiles and rockets, which could be fired at Israel’s emerging energy infrastructure centered on the port of Haifa.
The city was repeatedly hit by Hezbollah rockets during the 34-day war with Israel in July and August 2006.
These days, Hezbollah purportedly has long-range weapons that have greater accuracy and carry more destructive warheads than those used in 2006. These are capable of hitting just about anywhere in Israel.
In the event of renewed hostilities, and both sides are talking tough again, Israel’s energy installations would be prime targets.
Lebanon’s parliament speaker, Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri, has urged the Beirut government to move swiftly to start its own offshore exploration or risk Israel claiming whatever resources there are.
“Israel is racing to make the case a fait accompli and was quick to present itself as an oil emirate, ignoring the fact that, according to the maps, the deposits extend into Lebanese waters,” said Berri.
The speaker, who has submitted a parliamentary bill to launch exploration of Lebanon’s potential offshore reserves, declared: “Lebanon must take immediate action to defend its financial, political, economic and sovereign rights.”
Israeli officials insist that the gas fields lie within Israeli territorial waters.
However, the liberal Haaretz daily noted Tuesday, “Israel has yet to declare its exclusive economic zone, though this usually applies to what in the sea, such as fish, and not what lies under the continental shelf.”
It quoted Professor Moshe Hirsch of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, an expert in international law, as saying that problem could arise when the continental shelf is shared by more than one country.
But he maintained the gas lies squarely in Israel’s sector of the continental shelf and so there was no need top declare an exclusive economic zone.
The first strikes were made early this year at the Dalit field off Hadera, south of Haifa by a consortium headed by Noble Energy, a U.S. company with headquarters in Houston, which is working with three Israeli firms.
Tamar, 50 miles east of Haifa, was found in April. Last week Nobel raised its original estimate of the field’s size by 33 percent to 8.4 trillion cubic feet of gas.
But then came the discovery of Leviathan, double the size of Tamar at an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of gas, further off the coast.
Nobel said that total offshore reserves could top 30 trillion cubic feet, double Britain’s giant gas fields in the North Sea, with a conservative value of some $300 billion. Nobel is moving a drilling platform from the Gulf of Mexico to step up exploration.
Gas production is to begin in 2012. Israel is planning to build a liquefied natural gas plant near Haifa but it probably won’t go online until 2015.
The gas finds, particularly Leviathan, which may turn out to be even bigger, are “nothing short of a geopolitical gamechanger,” Gal Luft, executive director of the U.S.-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, wrote in Haaretz Sunday.
“Altogether the basin the eastern Mediterranean … could contain an amount of gas equivalent to one-fifth of U.S. natural gas reserves.”
(AFP) BEIRUT — Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday urged his government to begin exploring offshore natural gas reserves, warning that neighboring Israel planned to lay claim to the prospective resources.
“Lebanon must take immediate action to defend its financial, political, economic and sovereign rights,” said Berri, who has submitted a bill to launch exploration of potential offshore reserves.
“Exploring our options in this field is our best bet to pay off Lebanon’s debts,” he told reporters.
Lebanon’s national debt, among the highest in the world, currently stands at more than 50 billion dollars (41.6 billion euros), equivalent to some 148 percent of GDP.
“Israel is racing to make the case a fait accompli and was quick to present itself as an oil emirate, ignoring the fact that, according to the maps, the deposit extends into Lebanese waters,” he said.
In a statement on its website, Norway-based Petroleum Geo-Services recently announced it had explored Lebanese waters which contained “valuable information” on potential offshore gas reserves in coordination with the Lebanese energy and water ministry.
And US-based Noble Energy said on its website that it had discovered enough natural gas at the Israeli Tamar and Dalit offshore fields to meet Israel’s needs for years.
It also announced the Leviathan prospect, offshore Israel in the Rachel and Amit licenses, as its next planned exploration target in the region in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Lebanon and Israel remain technically in a state of war and have no diplomatic ties.