Alfredo Jalife-Rahme

Various qualified analysts had noted that Israel’s war against Gaza - ruled by the Islamic-Sunni group Hamas - bore a direct relation to the extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline on the Mediterranean Sea.

While having a total of 400 nuclear bombs and the best air force in the Middle East - following its recent defeats in Southern Lebanon at the hands of the Islamic Shiite guerrilla of Hezbollah and in Gaza against Hama, it can no longer be said that it still possesses the best army in the region -, Israel is plagued with two critical weaknesses:

 1. Water (hence its reluctance to return to Syria the occupied territories in the Golan Heights, bordering on the Lake of Galilee); and
 2. Oil: Israel imports over 300 000 barrels daily (most of that oil comes from Egypt), while its gas production is barely sufficient to cover domestic consumption.

We have just wound up a one-month tour of Greece, Lebanon and Turkey, where we measured the strategic importance of the gas reserves both for Gaza and Lebanon, which lie in waters shared by Israel and Cyprus (divided between Greeks and Turks).

On 28 June, Naharnet, a Lebanon-based pro-western Web portal, aptly commented that the vast gas reserves spread over Lebanese and Israeli waters could represent a huge financial manna, but they may also be the cause for a new Israeli war against its weak neighbor to the North.

The crux of the matter is that both Lebanon and Israel largely depend on hydrocarbon imports.

In the case of Lebanon, the situation is more severe since it has a run-down electric grid, which has not been repaired or improved since the country’s 15-year civil war.

To Israel’s like or dislike, it is none other than the Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla in Lebanon that, in the face of Israel’s cupidity, has risen to the defense of Lebanon’s gas. Within the vast Lebanese mosaic, no one except Hezbollah has thus far taken a public stand on a matter of such crucial importance since it could either generate large political and financial benefits or lead instead to an Israeli war against Lebanon (and not the other way round).

Not without precedents or historical justifications, Hezbollah accuses Israel of planning the "theft" of natural gas from Lebanese territorial waters. The Shiites from Southern Lebanon have already had ample experience with Israel’s plunder of waters from the Litani River.

Israel, on its part, argues that its oil and gas fields do not reach Lebanese waters.

The problem lies in the fact that territorial limits - and maritime borders by extension - have as yet to be demarcated since the two countries are technically at war.

Israel has taken the lead - thanks to its large technological advancement and the collusion of the Anglo-American oil and gas companies - in the development of the Tamar and Dalit oil fields, whose huge reserves triggered a stock market surge in Tel Aviv, precisely the exact same day that the extremist Netanyahu-Lieberman regime was facing widespread condemnation for its act of homicidal piracy in international waters against a humanitarian Turkish vessel that was headed for Gaza (the largest open air prison in the world).

The discovery of the Tamar and Dalit fields is a huge find: 160 billion of cubic meters that can meet Israel’s needs for two decades.

Texas’ Nobel Energy gas and oil company, which is part of a consortium in charge of exploring the gas reserves supposedly located in the Israeli zone of the Mediterranean Sea, has predicted that due to the discovery of a third field - symbolically named Leviathan (with 450 billion cubic meters; nearly three fold the Tamar and Dalit reserves) -, Israel could become a rich European and Asian supplier.

For the time being, Lebanese parliament leader and Hezbollah supporter Nabih Berri argued that Israel is becoming an “oil emirate” by exploiting gas that doesn’t belong to it while denying that the fields, as can be seen on the map, actually extend to Lebanese territorial waters. Is Lebanon doomed to repeat, with regard to Israel, Mexico’s own tragic experience vis-à-vis the United States in connection with its own “trans-border” reserves, which are unilaterally and continuously being exploited by Texan gas and oil companies thanks to their thieving siphoning technology?

Officials with Israel’s National Infrastructure - along with Texas’ Noble Energy and Norway’s Petroleum Geo-Services, as was to be expected - assert that the three newly discovered fields are located within the Israeli “economic zone”. What amazing precision on the part of divine geography!

On 4 June 2010, Hezbollah-friendly outlets lambasted "Israel [which was] about to legalize the theft of Lebanese gas" by means of a legislative amendment. The information quoted Israeli TV reports according to which the Netanyahu-Lieberman duo “considers the discovery of natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea as an Israeli find, over which nobody else can lay claim (super sic!).” Good Heavens! So, where does international law hide when the siphoning of other people’s property occurs at the hands of Anglo-American transnational companies, which are equipped with far more advanced technology than the affected - not to say plundered - nations?

Even worse, according to the aforementioned Israeli TV channel, “the Israeli Government’s executive committee and Parliament are jointly working on a law that will leave no room for any Lebanese rights.” And if need be, the Israeli army is always at hand to unilaterally enforce the new dispossession bill.

Aside from Israel’s legendary plunder of all territorial space, in defiance of established “maps” and/or laws, the Lebanese political class - caught up in sterile conflicts over the identity of the lucky oil and gas explorer and producer - let a crucial decade slip through its fingers: a territorial and time gap that has been exploited by Israel.

Last October, Norway’s Petroleum Geo-Services announced the likely existence of reserves both in Lebanon and in Cyprus. In this specific case, it would seem that the reserves will be shared by both neighboring countries. Geography has different tricks up its sleeve when it comes to sovereignty!

For Lebanon, any type of gas or oil find would be a blessing, helping it to slash its huge 52 billion-dollar debt, one of the largest in the world (147 percent) proportionally to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of some 33 billion dollars.

But, we need not overestimate the Lebanese debt, which - though undoubtedly huge - is being cushioned through large banking deposits up to 110 billion dollars, making it easier to manage.

In any event, the new oil and gas discovery in Lebanon - be it sovereign or shared with Israel and/or Cyprus - would translate into a fabulous one trillion dollars, equivalent to Mexico’s GDP, but with the significant difference that the country of the millenary cedars has only 4 million inhabitants.

Osama Habib, a journalist with Lebanon’s The Daily Star stated, on 28 June 2010, that “the wealth of Lebanon’s oil and gas is a mixed blessing” which generates both “encouragement and anguish” (in view of its geo-political consequences) and exposes the primary struggle smouldering among politicians over the control of the hydrocarbon sector.

According to experts, it would take 15 years of exploration activity in Lebanese waters to get to the production stage, but the largest risk comes from the insatiable appetite of Israel, which would be capable, for the nth time, of unleashing a new war to get hold of the gas in Gaza and the hydrocarbon reserves in Lebanon and Cyprus.

Translated from Spanish by Luís Chirino Gámez.