An offshore drilling rig has arrived in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon’s coast to begin oil and gas exploration in the coming weeks, Lebanese officials said Wednesday.
The drilling near the border with Israel follows a U.S.-brokered deal last year that set a border between the neighboring countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) for the first time.
Cash-strapped Lebanon hopes future gas discoveries will help it pull out of one of the worst economic crises in modern history, one that has cost the local currency more than 98% of its value, eroded the country’s foreign reserves and led to rolling blackouts across the nation.
Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamie from the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization said in a statement, “Hopefully before the end of the year there will be positive results and Lebanon becomes an energy producer.”
Energy Minister Walid Fayyad told reporters in Beirut, “We hope that Lebanon will become an oil state,” adding that the results of the drilling are expected in two or three months.
Lebanon has approved licenses for an international consortium including France’s TotalEnergies SE, Italy’s Eni S.p.A. and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development in the Mediterranean. The borders of one of the areas in question were disputed by Israel until the maritime border deal was reached last year.
Under the U.S.-mediated deal between Lebanon and Israel that was signed last year under the government of then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the disputed waters were divided along a line straddling the Qana natural gas field. Gas production is to be based on the Lebanese side, but Israel is to be compensated for gas extracted from its side of the line under a separate deal between TotalEnergies and Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who strongly opposed the agreement, has called it a capitulation to Hezbollah that will end up enriching the most powerful force in Lebanon.
The premier labeled the deal, which was reached by a transitional government weeks before the Nov. 1, 2022, election and without parliamentary approval, a “historic surrender” and a “huge grant” to Hezbollah.
“This money goes from Lebanon straight into [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah’s hands,” Netanyahu said last year.