As Lebanon moves forward with oil and gas exploration it will have to contend with solidifying regional alliances between eastern Mediterranean nations that could either pressure Beirut to join, or isolate it from international markets.
In January, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a deal to construct an East Med pipeline to ship natural gas to Europe - a move staunchly opposed by Turkey.
At the same time, seven countries, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Israel, have agreed to lay the groundwork to create the Eastern Mediteranean Gas Forum, which aims to establish a regional gas market and share the burden of infrastructure costs, thereby lowering prices.
Meanwhile, Turkey has strengthened an alliance with Libya that has seen it gain large areas of Tripoli’s sea, leading Turkish President Recep Tayyip to say it was“no longer legally possible” for drilling activities or a pipeline to be established without either the approval of Turkey or Libya
Russia also has strong influence in the region, with oil and gas contracts in Syria, Libya and Iraq.
Russian company Novatek is part of the consortium that won two exploration and production agreements in Lebanon.
“Lebanon is caught between many dynamics in the region today and is a tiny country with many choices to make,” said Elias Hanna, a lecturer in strategic studies and retired Lebanese Army general.
Hanna said pressure would likely build on Lebanon in the case of a large hydrocarbon find, in which case the question of how to export it will become pivotal.
Hanna said Russia was attempting to “monopolize” the eastern mediteranean region and could become a main player in Lebanon, as it’s unlikely Beirut would join the Eastern Mediteranean Gas Forum, due to Israel’s participation. The two countries are technically still at war.
“Lebanon is in a situation where it needs to put its economy over geopolitics, but given the realities in the region it may struggle to do so,” Hanna said.
Photo by Gatestone Institute