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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
[Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey]
Follow the author of this story, Neal Ungerleider, on Twitter.