Lebanon threatened on Thursday adjacent littoral states that the envisaged EastMed pipeline project must not violate its maritime territorial waters. The EastMed pipeline project aims to transfer natural gas resources from Israeli territorial waters to Europe via underwater pipeline networks connecting with Cyprus, Greece and Italy. The pipeline project which is expected to deploy 2.000 kilometres of undersea pipeline networks, will cost roughly $7 billion.
Beirut issued this formal declaration given the longstanding maritime boundary dispute it has with Tel Aviv. The dispute relates to an area of 860 square kilometres located in between Lebanon’s southern territorial sea and Israel’s northern maritime boundaries. Besides Israeli authorities, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil informed U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini and the Foreign Ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Italy that they must respect Lebanon’s maritime sovereignty rights within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday announced that the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend the forthcoming energy summit expected to be held in Tel Aviv next week. The trilateral summit will be attended by high-level diplomatic representations of Athens, Nicosia and Tel Aviv. The presence of U.S. Secretary of State signifies the importance of the EastMed venture and potentially may signal the intention to resolve such operational problems that stem during the execution stages of the project. For this reason, the chief American diplomat will also attend Beirut and Kuwait in the aftermath of Tel Aviv summit.
Lebanon has also started making plans for its offshore natural gas energy resources. Preliminary gas exploration reports since 2009 have indicated the presence of lush gas fields in Lebanon’s undersea. In 2018, it established a consortium of Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek energy giants to undertake energy exploration operations in two blocks of within Lebanon’s EEZ. Block No. 9 nonetheless, which is undertaken by the consortium lies within the disputed maritime territory with Israel.
Besides this development, Lebanon also does not have the infrastructural capabilities to extract enclosed gas resources and has established rather frosty relations with the energy quartet of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, and Israel. For example, in January 2019 the strategic quartet agreed in Cairo to establish a regional stock exchange market to moderate natural gas prices, reduce infrastructural costs in offshore gas extraction operations and conclude lucrative deals with other energy stakeholders in the world. The agreement nonetheless excludes three key stakeholders in the region. Turkey comes first for obvious geostrategic reasons, Syria was also excluded given its long-term political turmoil but also Lebanon was not invited to participate in the new initiative. This development signals potential isolation of Beirut from the energy developments in Eastern Mediterranean Sea.