In the past decade, Lebanese officials have talked about the rich natural resources that lay underneath Lebanon’s waters. These statements, however, were not simply another form of populism that Lebanese politicians used to silence their critics.
These statements were rather based on seismic surveys conducted in 1993. These surveys aimed to identify the geological characteristics of Lebanon’s waters and to find any potential signs of hydrocarbon accumulation.
Luckily, the surveys showed a favorable environment for hydrocarbon accumulation, therefore more surveys were conducted in the following years.
This, however, was not the first time Lebanon explored its offshore riches. Back in the middle of the 20th century, particularly between 1947 and 1967, seven onshore wells were drilled, showing the presence of natural gas.
Despite these discoveries, no further steps were taken to exploit these resources, since the cost of extraction was deemed too high.
The first serious step taken toward extracting Lebanese gas was done in 2012 when the Lebanese Petroleum Administration was established to handle the gas sector. Further steps were taken the following year when licensing rounds were opened for bidding and in 2018, the licenses of Blocks 4 and 9 were awarded to Total.
Many argued that the Lebanese government was still stalling and not taking the necessary steps to extract its natural gas, moreover, these accusations intensified as soon as the economic crisis erupted in 2019. Many people saw that Lebanon no longer had the luxury of waiting.
That is when the Lebanese political class decided that it needed to act swiftly. However, many obstacles stood between Lebanon and its natural resources.
In 2007, Lebanon signed a treaty with Cyprus which outlined each country’s maritime borders. Lebanon, however, does not recognize Israel as a state at its southern border, therefore no agreement could be reached regarding the maritime borders.
In 2010, Israel signed an exclusive economic zone agreement with Cyprus, which kickstarted the maritime border dispute with Lebanon. According to the 2010 agreement between Cyprus and Israel, Israel’s claimed northern maritime border overlapped Lebanon’s southern one.
Lebanon could do little to stop the agreement besides denouncing it as an attack on its sovereignty.
Israel ignored Lebanon’s statements and, in 2020, announced that it will start gas exploring in Block 72, which fell inside of the disputed zone. Israel claimed that Lebanon still officially recognized line 23 as its maritime border according to Decree No. 6433.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, unfortunately, did not amend Decree No. 6433, for reasons still unknown to the public.
Nonetheless, US senior energy adviser Amos Hochstein played a mediator role between Lebanon and Israel in order to find an agreement that suits both parties. To this day, however, both Lebanon and Israel still lay claim to lines 29 and 23 respectively.
Tensions reached an all-time high in recent times when Israel sent a vessel operated by the international company Energean to start extracting oil from the Karish gas field. Karish falls in the disputed area, which led to Hezbollah threatening to disrupt its operations by force if necessary.
Related: Lebanon Extended The Licensing Deadline For Gas Exploration.