Israel has reportedly signed a secret agreement to supply natural gas to energy-starved Lebanon, through Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
Amos Hochstein, the U.S. senior adviser for energy security, brokered the deal signed on Saturday in which Israeli gas may end up in Lebanon, Israeli media reported.
Gas would be pumped from the Leviathan offshore extraction station, 81 miles west of Haifa, and shipped via a pipeline through Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian territory. However, its construction would take several years to be completed, the report suggested.
The deal was supervised by the United States and Russia, in an effort to provide Lebanon with an alternate solution to its energy crisis that does not come from Iran.
There has been, however, no official acknowledgment of such a deal, neither from the Israeli nor from the Lebanese government.
Moreover, on Sunday morning, reports of an agreement started making the rounds, Lebanon’s Energy Ministry issued an official statement denying the existence of such a pact.
The ministry added that the deal that it had been working on “explicitly states that the gas should come from Egypt, which owns large quantities of it, and consumes within the country itself more than a hundred times what it will secure to Lebanon.”
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and deputy head of assessment for Military Intelligence, expressed skepticism.
“This deal is very shaky, and I don’t believe it is going to materialize, certainly not in the near future," he said.
“This would perpetuate the idea that Lebanon, by receiving the Israeli gas, would be legitimizing Israel, a thing that it has never done and which is unacceptable to Hezbollah and to other Iranian partners in Lebanon.
“It would constitute a step toward normalization, which is unacceptable in Lebanon because of its current political reality.”
Many ask why Egypt cannot just supply gas to Lebanon from its own production.
However, both the Egyptian and Jordanian pipelines are already used to transport gas from Israel’s Leviathan station to both these countries, making it impossible not to involve Israel when trying to supply Lebanon.
Neriah said that most natural gas used in Egypt is supplied by Israel, despite the assertions of Lebanon’s Energy Ministry to the contrary.
Prof. Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University and a senior research fellow at the university’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, said that even if the gas originated from Israel, this would not have to be official “in the sense that once it is in another country, it is not Israel’s anymore.”
Neriah disagrees. “This [the gas coming from Israel] would be something that Lebanon could not deny,” which is why, he reiterated, “I don’t think this is possible because of the political implications inside Lebanon that this would bring.”
Prof. Meir Litvak, a Middle East expert at Tel Aviv University, explained that the Lebanese economy had collapsed and that this, in addition to the lack of fuel and electricity, had left citizens desperate.
On top of it all, Lebanon has been unable to exploit its own offshore natural gas deposits, he explained.
“Hezbollah has been opposing any attempt at arbitration between Lebanon and Israel to determine the maritime border between the two countries. And as long as this doesn’t take place, Lebanon cannot explore for gas in its own territorial waters,” Litvak said. “Hezbollah is undermining Lebanon’s economy.”
Since last September, Iran has been providing Hezbollah with occasional tankers of oil it brings in via Syrian ports. The Lebanese government, however, says the shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty, and that they did not receive government approval.
Nevertheless, Iranian oil has been the main energy source entering Lebanon lately. That is why, with the reported deal for Israeli gas, Neriah said, “The U.S. is trying to undermine the Iranian influence in Lebanon.”
Another problematic aspect of the deal is Syria’s participation. The international community and specifically the United States have imposed sanctions on Syria in the last decade. However, Washington has made an exception and agreed to allow the gas to pass through Syrian territory. “The Americans were ready to do that in order to limit Hezbollah’s ability to exploit the crisis,” Zisser explained.
Article written by Debbie Mohnblatt and reprinted with permission from The Media Line