This OpED was written by LOGI's President and co-founder Georges Sassine and LOGI's Exective Director Diana Kaissy.
As Lebanon and Israel negotiate the delineation of their maritime borders, analysts focus their attention on the geopolitical ramifications of a potential deal and the geographical coordinates of border claims. LOGI, however, would like to highlight four additional objectives which we believe should also be a focus of all talks moving forward:
Goal #1: Avoid a regional war … don't forget Cyprus, and Syria
While the focus of the US mediated efforts is on the border disputes between Lebanon and Israel, we should not ignore the other regional maritime disputes. As oil and gas explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean continue, it is not unlikely that a new petroleum field will be found in the disputed Lebanese-Israeli waters while at the same time extending into Cypriot waters.
Cyprus is divided into two main parts: the Republic of Cyprus – a member state of the European Union – and the Turkish controlled area in the north. The ongoing dispute is likely to pull both the European Union and Turkey into a major brawl. Lebanon could then find itself in a scenario where instead of dealing only with Israel, it is drawn into a multi-stakeholder dispute directly involving Cyprus, Turkey, and the EU.
Any negotiation brokered between Lebanon and Israel must also consider resolving the Cyprus-Turkey part of the puzzle. Lebanon should likewise not ignore the lack of maritime border delineation to the north of the country with Syria. Both countries have overestimated their respective EEZ areas. There is no reason for Lebanon and Syria not to start resolving their maritime border dispute as soon as possible.
Goal #2: Manage transboundary environmental risks
Oil spills and severe environmental impacts resulting from oil and gas activities in the East-Med do not know geographical boundaries. Major environmental accidents are not uncommon in petroleum activities. They could have severe consequences to both Lebanon, Israel, and other countries on the Eastern Mediterranean coast.
LOGI highly recommends that negotiations include an agreement to mitigate transboundary environmental risks in the East Med and put forth a joint plan to deal with any such risks.
Goal #3: Enable Lebanon's O&G export options
For Lebanon to benefit and monetize its petroleum resources, it needs to secure economically viable export markets. As it stands, the Cairo-based East-Med Gas Forum has been created to forge partnerships with key petroleum importers and exporters in the region, except for Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Excluding Lebanon from regional consortiums and limiting its export routes will only further complicate and potentially delay the ongoing negotiations. Going forward, an inclusive and fair process that allows Lebanon to monetize its natural resources has to be a top priority.
Goal #4: Transparent negotiations, no corruption
Lebanese citizens have a deep mistrust of its political leadership and the related system. Not having the backing and trust of a large segment of the Lebanese population could negatively impact any Lebanese-Israeli agreement. This skepticism is even more profound as Lebanese citizens fear an unfair deal rushed by a Lebanese government desperate to end an economic meltdown and sanctions. All indicators presented so far clearly indicate that the disputed maritime area of 860km2 belongs to Lebanon. Relinquishing any part of this area in favor of a deal compromises the fairness of the negotiations. Many also suspect that certain Lebanese parties could be paid off to seal an unfavorable settlement.
The solution is to mandate a transparent negotiation process. The Lebanese public has the right to oversee how its government is running critical negotiations that could affect its natural resources and its future. That involves including independent civil society actors that are not politicized, selected based on an agreed-upon set of criteria, to participate in the negotiations. LOGI also recommends using existing transparency platforms such as the EITI. It could ensure that East-Med countries follow a uniform transparency agenda that maximizes the economic benefit of hydrocarbons.