A gigantic natural gas field that could yield millions of barrels of oil was recently discovered on the maritime border between Israel, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Cyprus, and Northern Cyprus. While it could be a military catastrophe, steps are being taken to divide the spoils.
It can be said that God has a sick sense of humor. Scientists recently discovered a massive offshore reserve of an estimated 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas called the Levant Basin Province. While it is one of the world’s richest natural gas reserves, the Levant Basin Province is located between countries with endless amounts of mutual hatred. It straddles the sea borders of Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The largest section discovered so far, the Leviathan gas field, is believed to possibly contain, alongside natural gas, 4.2 billion barrels of oil. Leviathan straddles the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border. Israel is currently in a state of war with Lebanon and does not recognize the de-facto Hamas Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip.
Sharp words are already being exchanged between Jerusalem and Beirut. Upon discovery of the fields in June, Lebanon warned Israel not to drill within their maritime borders. Israel then escalated the rhetoric with military threats, as Minister of National Infrastructures Uzi Landau threatened to use force to protect the natural gas fields. Following Landau’s announcement, sophisticated security arrangements for Israeli natural gas rigs were leaked to the country’s press. As of press time, further surveying is underway.
It is not unimaginable that, in the next regional war, Israeli and Lebanese military elements could target the other’s natural gas drills. This has the potential to cause a regional ecological catastrophe.
However, progress is being made. Israel is demarcating their maritime borders with Cyprus. According to Batsheva Sobelman of the Los Angeles Times
Israeli diplomats say the agreement should secure Israel’s economic interests in the Mediterranean. Cyprus says this doesn’t conflict with a similar agreement signed with Lebanon, still awaiting ratification in parliament.
Cyprus is ending up as the natural mediator in this dispute. While sections of the Levant Basin Province stray into the county’s maritime borders, their shares are comparatively small. More importantly, Cyprus enjoys warm relations with both Israel and Lebanon. When large-scale harvesting of these natural gas fields begins, Cyprus may be able to work with other third parties to broker an agreement between Israel and Lebanon.
Meanwhile, as so often happens in the Middle East, other countries are trying to extract as much influence as possible from the natural gas hullaballoo. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has stated that they are “closely following” the Cyprus-Israel agreement, as reported by al-Masry al-Youm
The ministry is carrying out technical and legal research to ensure that borders under the agreement between Israel and Cyprus do not affect the Egyptian zone, [government spokesperson Hassam] Zaki said.
Egypt is in contact with Cyprus on the issue given the previous agreement between the two countries, he added.
Meanwhile, Turkey went on the diplomatic offensive against the Cyprus-Israel agreement. A Foreign Ministry statement called the maritime border accord “null and void” because it ignored the jurisdiction of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was formed following a military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 following massive intercommunal violence. The only country to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is Turkey, and 35,000 Turkish troops are currently stationed in Northern Cyprus.
Turkey has stated that it “does not have any claim regarding the maritime areas” subject to the demarcation agreement. Cyprus announced plans to have Noble Energy explore the 800,000 acres of Cypriot waters within the Levant Basin a year prior to the demarcation agreement.
BY Neal Ungerleider