Natural gas could lead to new Lebanon-Israel war

My Way News (Link) - AP - Bassem Mroue (July 27, 2010)

The discovery of large natural gas reserves under the waters of the eastern Mediterranean could potentially mean a huge economic windfall for Israel and Lebanon, both resource-poor nations - if it doesn�t spark new war between them.

The Hezbollah militant group has blared warnings that Israel plans to steal natural gas from Lebanese territory and vows to defend the resources with its arsenal of rockets. Israel says the fields it is developing do not extend into Lebanese waters, a claim experts say appears to be correct, but the maritime boundary between the two countries - still officially at war - has never been precisely set.

�Lebanon�s need for the resistance has doubled today in light of Israeli threats to steal Lebanon�s oil wealth,� Hezbollah�s Executive Council chief Hashem Safieddine said last month. The need to protect the offshore wealth �pushes us in the future to strengthen the resistance�s capabilities.�

The threats cast a shadow over what could be a financial boon for both nations, with energy companies finding what appear to be substantial natural gas deposits in their waters.

Israel is far ahead in the race to develop the resources. Two fields, Tamar and Dalit, discovered last year, are due to start producing in 2012, and experts say their estimated combined reserves of 5.5 trillion cubic feet (160 billion cubic meters) of natural gas can cover Israel�s energy needs for the next two decades.

In June, the U.S. energy company Noble Energy, part of a consortium developing the fields, predicted that Israel will also have enough gas to export to Europe and Asia from a third field - Leviathan, thought to hold up to 16 trillion cubic feet (450 billion cubic meters) of gas.

Israel relies entirely on imports to meet its energy needs, spending billions to bring natural gas from Egypt and coal from a variety of countries. So just freeing the country from that reliance would have a major impact.

When Tamar begins producing it could lower Israel�s energy costs by a $1 billion a year and bring $400 million a year in royalties into government coffers. That suggests a total of about $40 billion in savings and $16 billion in government revenues over the total yield of the field. Those numbers would only rise as Leviathan comes on line.

�Israel�s always looked for oil,� said Paul Rivlin, a senior research fellow with Tel Aviv University�s Dayan center. �But I don�t think it ever thought of itself as becoming a producer. And now that you�ve got a high-tech economy that�s doing quite well, this comes as an added bonus.�

Hezbollah�s warnings, however, quickly followed the announcement by Houston, Texas-based Noble Energy.

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, warned that Israel is �turning into an oil emirate while ignoring the fact that the field extends, according to the maps, into Lebanon�s territorial waters.�

Israel�s Petroleum and Mining commissioner at the National Infrastructure Ministry Yaakov Mimran, called those claims �nonsense,� saying Leviathan and the other two fields are all within Israel�s economic zone.

�Those noises occur when they smell gas. Until then, they sit quietly and let the other side spend the money,� Mimran told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Maps from Noble Energy show Leviathan within Israel�s waters. An official with Norway�s Petroleum Geo-Services, which is surveying gas fields in Lebanese waters, told The Associated Press that from Noble�s reports there is no reason to think Leviathan extends into Lebanon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by his company to speak on the subject.

The rumblings are worrisome because Israel and Hezbollah each accuse the other of intending to spark a new conflict following their devastating 2006 war. That fighting, in which Hezbollah�s capture of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid sparked a massive Israeli bombardment, killed about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis.

Since then, there has been a rare interval of peace. Hezbollah, a close ally of Syria and Iran, has not fired a rocket into Israel since. Israeli officials, however, say they believe Hezbollah has managed to triple its prewar arms stockpile to more than 40,000 rockets.

The warnings from Hezbollah and Berri could be as much for domestic consumption as directed as Israel, aiming to press for the passage of a long-delayed draft oil law, needed before any Lebanese fields can be developed.

Oil and gas exploration has been a source of disagreement between Lebanese politicians over the past decade. The change of several governments and disputes over what company should do the surveying have caused delays.

In October, Petroleum Geo-Services said fields in Cypriot and Lebanese waters �may prove to be an exciting new province for oil and gas in the next few years,� noting signs of deposits in Lebanon, though their size is still not known. �It is very encouraging for Lebanon,� the PGS official told AP.

Any finds could help Lebanon�s government pay off what is one of the highest debt rates in the world, at about $52 billion, or 147 percent of the gross domestic product.

Israel and Lebanon are among the few countries in the Middle East without substantial, lucrative natural resources. Israel has built a place for itself with a powerful high-tech sector, while Lebanon has boomed in recent years with tourism and real estate investment. While the gas may not transform them into Gulf-style spigots of petro-cash, it would be a major boost.

Rivlin doubts Israel could become a significant exporter, saying nearby countries don�t need or aren�t willing to buy from it, and the costs of liquifying gas for transport to further markets like Europe may be prohibitive. But Eytan Gilboa, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said that with the world �so hungry for energy,� Israel won�t have a problem finding buyers.

But the development raises security worries, as the offshore gas infrastructure could become a target. During the 2006 fighting, Hezbollah succeeded in hitting Israeli warships off Lebanon with its rockets.

�Once those rigs start producing gas, it�s going to be difficult to secure them,� Gilboa said. �So on the one hand, you reduce dependency on imports in times of crisis, but at the same time, you make yourself vulnerable because those sites are exposed.�

Ezekiel 38:10-23
Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil? Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say unto Gog, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it? And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army: And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes. Thus saith the Lord GOD; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them? And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man's sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD.