Potential Lebanese- Israeli Conflict over Natural Gas Revisited

By Ghassan Karam

The USGS has declared the large potential of the Levant field in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea but the Lebanese authorities have failed so far to either demarcate officially the Lebanese exclusive economic zone, or initiate a process of attracting bids for exploration rights from credible exploration companies. The Lebanese authorities have even failed so far to pass a law to govern the exploration of such resources inspite of the fact that te process of adopting an institutional structure similar to that of Norway was started by the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

Israel on the other hand had auctioned some blocs, natural gas has been found and its commercial production is expected to start by 2012. The find at Tamar1 and the potential of the other fields could make Israel a major exporter of natural gas to Europe in a matter of years. The great potential of this find is not purely economic but carries with it huge political implications. Israeli exports of natural gas to Europe ,if they materialize could affect significantly the power that Russia hold over Europe by being the only major supplier of natural gas to Europe.

As the above map shows, the Tamar1 find is within Israel’s territorial exclusive economic zone. That is not an issue. The real problem arises if the Lebanese can show that a natural gas/oil field spans the territorial boundaries of the two state. In that case what is the accepted international procedure for determining who gets what?

Interestingly enough and maybe even surprising to some, there is no single standard principle. There are two principles:

(1) The Right Of Capture principle says that each side is permitted to lift as much as it can on its side of the border. This principle is in effect all throughout the state of Texas but more importantly it is what governs the relationship between the US and Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico.

(2) Both sides of the dispute would resort to international arbitration.

Keeping in mind that Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and given that the Israeli side has already started the exploration and the construction of the required infrastructure which of the above two principles is going to apply if Lebanon can demonstrate that there are natural resources that span the internationally recognized boundary? You have guessed it, The Right of Capture is most likely to be applied.

Based on the above what is the rationale of taking the Natural Resources discussion to the Hiwar/Dialogue table the place where nothing ever gets done?

This is a link to a map of the natural gas finds in the North Sea. Note that although some of the fields lie exactly at the border of the  territorial waters separating  the UK from Norway no armed conflict resulted:-)

http://www.aftenbladet.no/energi/energymap/ (North sea )