Lebanese civilians fear there could be another war between Israel and Hezbollah after the discovery of rich offshore oil and gas reserves on disputed territory.
International oil and gas exploration company, Energean, announced in November, 2019 that the waters near Lebanon’s southern border contains recoverable resources of 0.9 trillion cubic feet of gas, and 34mm barrels of light oil and condensate. The oil and gas reserves – worth tens of millions of dollars – is present in a triangular area of water known as Block 9.
Israel And Palestine Both Claim The Reserves
The offshore borderline is disputed between both countries, because of its incredible oil and gas wealth. Although Lebanon is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Israel is not. Article 3 of the UNCLOS concludes that, “every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from base lines determined in accordance with this Convention.” Israel, however, operates under international maritime law.
“We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law,” Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructures, Uzi Landau, said years before.
“I Think That There Would Be A War”
Speaking about the conflict last year, former Lebanese army general, Eliad Farhat, said emphatically: “I think that there would be a war.” The Foreign Policy Research Institute argued last month that Israel’s border dispute is an issue of financial security. It wants to solidify its economic and political power on the national stage.
For Lebanon, however, the stakes are even higher. The nation was driven to mass protests at the end of 2019, as protesters, fed up with decades-long economic, social and environmental crises, demanded revolution. At an estimated 155 percent of gross domestic product, Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries. Its government has been accused of decades of corruption, sectarianism and mismanagement of public funds.
“I am taking part because over the last 30 years warlords have been ruling us. I am about to be 30 and my parents still tell me tomorrow will be better. I am not seeing better days ahead,” said Sylvia Yaqoub, 29, a laboratory manager taking part in the protests. “We want back the money they stole because 30 families are ruling five million people. We won’t accept this any longer,” she added.
Lebanon’s Utilities Company: A Financial Black Hole
The country’s infrastructure is also severely lacking, under a government that refuses to diversify its rentier economy, with an equal dependence on remittances from its emigrant population. Its estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees are an additional financial and infrastructural strain on Beirut’s already failing government. Arabian Industry has called the government’s utilities company a huge financial drain and “major source of the nation’s ballooning debt”.
“The electricity sector in Lebanon is undergoing a transition from heavy fuel oil to natural gas,” the Lebanese Petroleum Administration wrote in a statement.
“Most of the existing power plants and all the planned plants are equipped to run on natural gas. A prospective natural gas discovery is expected to first fulfill the needs of the local market, in particular the electricity sector, which is the main off-taker of natural gas.”
Additionally, access to this natural gas reserve would increase Lebanon’s export and revenue, reducing the country’s debt and unemployment problem.
Crisis Point: South Lebanon
South Lebanon, Hezbollah’s heartland – and bordering Israel – has been a war zone for forty years. In 2018, attacks from both sides of the border saw a one-day battle between Hezbollah and Israel, in a sign of the diminishing relationships between leaders of both countries. Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim movement, and Amal, both received support in last year’s protests.
“If we don’t work towards a solution we’re heading towards a collapse of the country, it will be bankrupt and our currency will not have any value,” Hezbollah leader, Sayeed Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech targeting the nation “The second danger is a popular explosion as a result of wrong handling of the situation,” he added.
Lebanon’s problem is multi-generational. It is a shared problem between its government, its banks, its militia-leaders and its wealthy elite. Its disputed oil and gas reserves may improve the country’s financial standing, but there is no guarantee that an already broken government and political system would be able to economically manage such a big responsibility for the benefit of the people.
Partly a failure of international laws, where two different laws override the same jurisdiction, the problems facing both sides of the border are multi-faceted and driven by deeply nationalistic and tribalistic sentiments. Diplomatic talks have been tenuous and unsuccessful, yet threats of war, attacks and violence have been plenty. The only sure thing going forward is that civilians on both sides of the dispute will suffer the consequences of both nations’ actions.