OPINION: Development of natural gas reserves offshore Israel and Lebanon could be secured by a draft maritime boundary agreement between two East Mediterranean countries with a long history of hostility.

The deal should pave the way for development of the Karish gas field offshore Israel and allow more drilling on the disputed Qana prospect offshore Lebanon.

Karish, discovered by London-listed and Greek-owned Energean, is located in a maritime area previously disputed by Lebanon and threatened with attack from that country’s most powerful military group, Hezbollah.

There has been little comment from Hezbollah but it is understood to support Lebanon’s decision to sign the US-brokered pact.

Israel hailed a “historic achievement” that promises to inject billions into the local economy.

The response from Lebanon, a country wracked by political uncertainty and economic crisis, was more muted with President Michel Aoun describing the deal as “satisfactory”.

Both sides made concessions on where the maritime boundary should be drawn.

With Israeli national elections looming on 1 November, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would scrap the accord as the government led by Yair Lapid had “surrendered” to Hezbollah.

But the peace brokers appear to have the momentum and ministers stood their ground, claiming such a revocation would be irresponsible.

Karish is part of an increasingly prolific East Mediterranean gas play, which includes the big Leviathan and Tamar fields offshore Israel.

Much of the gas is expected to eventually end up in Europe as part of an energy export agreement signed in June between Israel, Egypt and the European Union.

New suppliers

European governments are casting around for new suppliers as they pivot away from a dependency on Russia.

Karish output would be transported to Egypt by existing pipeline and processed into liquefied natural gas for shipping.

Enthusiasm has returned for a $6 billion East Mediterranean gas pipeline that could link abundant gas resources in Israel, Cyprus and Egypt with European markets via Greece and Italy.

East Mediterranean discoveries continue unabated, with US supermajor Chevron now chasing another exciting wildcat to be drilled offshore Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Drilling offshore Cyprus remains another geopolitical flashpoint due to Turkey’s refusal to recognise the official exclusive economic zone (EEZ) designated by the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus in the south.

Turkey has threatened to use its navy to oppose drilling plans from the likes of ExxonMobil and agreed by Nicosia.

Meanwhile, a maritime exploration agreement signed earlier this month between Libya and Turkey conflicts squarely with exclusive economic zones claimed by other East Mediterranean countries, leading UK-based political risk firm Maplecroft to describe this as a “hot mess”.

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has edged closer to Moscow over proposals to make Ankara a new gas hub for Siberian supplies to Europe.

Yet by burying their own hot hatchet now, Israel and the Lebanon have offered a glimpse of the benefits of co-operation.

Success will provide encouragement for peace brokers in other regions, and the results could be as important for Brussels as it is for Tel Aviv or Beirut.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)