Related:A new geopolitical confrontation is shaping up in the Middle East, and not only between Israel and Syria or Iran. Like most conflicts there, it involves a fight for hydrocarbon resources—oil and gas. The new focus is a dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the precise demarcation of the Exclusive Economic Zone between the two countries. The prime actors at present, in addition to the governments of Israel and Lebanon include Russia, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and the US in the shadows. The latest Israeli attacks on alleged Iranian bases or Hezbollah camps inside Syria are closely tied to the Israeli aim to prevent a land link from Iran through Syria to the Hezbollah home-base infrastructure in Lebanon. The whole situation has the potential to lead to an ugly wider war nobody wants, at least almost nobody . .In 2010 the oil and gas geopolitics of the Mediterranean changed profoundly. That was when a Texas oil company, Noble Energy, discovered a huge deposit of natural gas offshore Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, the so-called Leviathan Field, one of the world’s largest gas field discoveries in over a decade. The same Texas company later confirmed significant gas resources offshore in Cyprus waters near the Israeli Leviathan, called Aphrodite. Until recently, political paralysis inside Lebanon and the war in Syria had prevented Lebanon from actively exploring its offshore gas and oil potential. Now that’s changing. With the change, the tensions between Israel and Lebanon are escalating, and Russia is engaging in Lebanon in a bold way.
At a formal ceremony in Beirut on February 9, together with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, the heads of Total, ENI and Russia’s Novatek signed the first agreements to drill for oil and gas in the offshore sector claimed as part of Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The event drew a sharp attack from Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who called Lebanon’s exploration tender “very provocative,” declaring Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field “which is by all accounts ours.”
The energy tenders from Lebanon take place amid a backdrop of dramatic new defense relations between Russia and Lebanon, creating an entirely new political calculus in the Mediterranean region.
The Riches of Levant BasinWhat’s clear at this point, after some eight years of exploration offshore in the Eastern Mediterranean, is that the region is awash with hydrocarbons, something neither Israel nor Lebanon had previously been able to find. For Lebanon, to develop its own sources of natural gas would be a literal godsend. The country has been subjected to electricity blackouts since the 1975 civil war. The country daily must experience cuts in electricity, because the peak demand exceeds production by a large margin. Lacking its own gas or oil Lebanon must import expensive diesel fuel at an annual loss to the economy of some $2.5 billion. Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries with debt to GDP of some 145%. The Syrian war and internal Lebanese political stalemate have frozen its offshore energy exploration until now.
A UK company, Spectrum, conducted geophysical surveys in the offshore Lebanese section of the Levant Basin in recent years, including 3D seismic, and estimated that the Lebanese waters could hold up to 25 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable gas. Development of those gas reserves would alter the entire economy of Lebanon. Until now the war in Syria and political paralysis inside Lebanon had prevented exploitation of the offshore region.
The prospects are promising enough that an international consortium led by the giant French Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek, a private oil company close to Vladimir Putin has stepped forward to bid for rights to drill. Consortium leader Total has announced the first well will be drilled next year in Block 4, an undisputed sector, and that a second well will be in Block 9, the block that falls partly within an area claimed by Israel. Total was quick to clarify that the Block 9 drilling would occur more than 15 miles from the disputed zone claimed by Israel. Despite this, Israel is vehemently protesting the drilling. Lebanon has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a triangular area of sea of around 330 square miles along the edge of three of its 10 blocks.
Russian buffer between Hezbollah and Israel?Given the potential for conflict over the energy resources of the region, it’s no coincidence that just as Lebanon welcomes the participation of a major Russian oil company, Novatek, in development of its offshore resources, the Russian government has authorized the Russian Defense Ministry to prepare a military cooperation treaty that includes a “comprehensive framework for coordination,” with the Lebanese military. The framework reportedly includes joint military exercises and Russian usage of Lebanese ports and airfields as well.
The Russian-Lebanese cooperation reportedly also includes, “exchanging information on defense means and enhancing international security capabilities; activating anti-terror cooperation; improving joint cooperation in the fields of cadre training, military exercises and armed forces building; exchanging IT expertise; establishing mechanisms for cooperation between the two countries’ armies.” In short it is major....MORE
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