ROUNDUP 3: Israel approves gas deal with Lebanon – energy for Europe too? | news
BEIRUT/TEL AVIV (dpa-AFX) – It is a historic agreement that could also benefit gas customers in Europe: after years of wrangling, Israel’s government approved an agreement on a common sea border with hostile Lebanon on Wednesday. The country wants to start gas production in the disputed area in the Mediterranean Sea as soon as possible.
The agreement ends a decades-long dispute over an area of sea off the coast. Official confirmation from Beirut was still pending, but President Michael Aoun’s office said Lebanon was satisfied with the final version of the agreement. The negotiations were mediated by the United States.
The border conflict had intensified after the discovery of large amounts of natural gas resources. According to media reports, the economically ailing Lebanon will be able to develop the offshore gas field Kana. The area around the Karish gas platform, northeast of the Israeli port city of Haifa, remains within Israeli sovereign territory.
More gas for Europe?
The deal will provide countries around the world with clean and affordable energy, Prime Minister Jair Lapid wrote on Twitter. He recently announced that he intends to increase gas exports to Europe. “Hopefully that will be possible next year,” said Lapid after talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) in Berlin. Israel could replace around 10 percent of Russian gas. The country has already secured its energy needs with the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields offshore. The biggest problem is transporting the gas to Europe.
Israel is already one of the most important gas suppliers for Egypt and for neighboring Jordan. With a new agreement, liquefied gas is now to come to Europe via Egypt. To this end, both countries signed a declaration of intent in June in the presence of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Natural gas as an opportunity for a troubled country
Lebanon also draws hope from the agreement. The small country on the Mediterranean has been suffering from the worst economic crisis in its history for three years and could use a windfall. Oil and gas production will pull the country out of the “precipice,” President Aoun said on Wednesday. The state is practically bankrupt. The Lebanese lira has lost more than 90 percent of its value and continues to fall. Three quarters of the population now lives below the poverty line.
However, experts are cautious. So far it is not even clear whether the Lebanese reserves in the Mediterranean are so large that commercial extraction is worthwhile. There is also no infrastructure to export gas, neither pipelines nor LNG terminals. “None of that exists,” says Lebanese energy expert Laury Haytayan. For domestic use, the government would first have to invest in gas-fired power plants. It may take years for the country to benefit from the mineral resources.
More stability in the region
However, the significance of the agreement goes beyond the economic aspect: the warring states of Lebanon and Israel have agreed on a sea border for the first time. If the negotiations had failed, in the worst case a new war would have had to be expected. Officially, the two countries have been at war for decades. Tensions have repeatedly flared up on the border between the two countries between Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militia Hezbollah, a close ally of Israel’s archenemy Iran, and Israel.
But everything indicates that Hezbollah will not stand in the way of the gas agreement either, because it too is hoping for high revenues. In a television speech lasting more than an hour on Tuesday evening, Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah at least did not raise any objections, but indicated his approval: “I always said: We want to eat the grapes.”
And yet Lebanon wants to avoid any suggestion that the agreement with Israel could also be followed by a political rapprochement. The agreement is to be signed at the UN headquarters in Nakura in southern Lebanon – albeit in separate rooms./stz/jku/DP/stw