During the last quarter of 2021, Egypt reached an agreement with Lebanon to export natural gas to the country during the first quarter of 2022.
The first time the deal was made public was through the US State Department’s senior adviser on global energy security, Amos Hochstein. His announcement was a clear indication that the plan was essentially an American construct designed to be a “conflict resolution” measure to help reduce the impact of Lebanon’s economic free fall.
Apart from its control by a militia whose protracted regional wars have stifled economic growth, Lebanon’s latest political nightmare is reflected in the power and electricity cuts plaguing the country. Lebanese citizens are grappling with the state’s electricity company, ElectricitÃ© du Liban, and the complete shutdown of the country’s electricity grid after its two main power plants ran out of fuel.
According to Bel Trew, a Beirut-based journalist, Lebanon now has no state power, which means the whole country operates on private generators.
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âThe generators are prohibitively expensive: my bill last month was 3.75 million lire, or 2,500 dollars at the official rate and about 250 dollars on the black market. How does the airport work? What about hospitals? She referred to these to highlight Lebanon’s chaotic energy situation.
While Lebanon is experiencing a very difficult energy crisis, the country is also engaged in a bitter rivalry with other countries, notably Israel over the energy reserves of the Eastern Mediterranean. Attempts to resolve the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel are still evolving. In 2019, Lebanon did not sign the Eastern Mediterranean Forum Agreement because it was hosted by Israel. Since the United States is the main supporter of this gasoline pump proposal from Egypt, the key question is whether this move would be significant enough to have an impact on American mediation efforts between Israel and Lebanon.
Although Israel wants to engage with Lebanon on Eastern Mediterranean energy policies, Lebanon does not want to join the club as it is still technically at war with Israel. Last May, former Ambassador to Cyprus Michael Harari said that an Israeli diplomat invited Lebanon to the East Med Forum, but Lebanon was reluctant to join under the current circumstances. The United States, it seems, is ready to help Lebanon instead of encouraging hostility from Israel. The main reason for this soft diplomatic approach by the United States to Lebanon is the support offered by Egypt and France, both of which wield considerable political influence in Lebanon.
Ultimately, American services to Lebanon aim to connect it to a framework that is beneficial for the region in general, and for Israel in particular. After all, Lebanese energy reserves (oil and gas) in the eastern Mediterranean would contribute to regional potential and aid in the rehabilitation of Lebanon. For the United States, it is also vital to support the “wave of normalization” between Israel and the Arab states. This process was created by the Abraham Accords despite Israel’s endless occupations.
Last September, when Ambassador Dorothy Shea met with energy ministers from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt, she said her country had a plan whereby Washington would facilitate energy payments to Cairo, on Beirut’s behalf, using World Bank aid funds budgeted for Lebanon. President Michel Aoun, for his part, boasted that the electricity crisis in Lebanon is coming to an end soon.
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On the other hand, it should be noted that the Syrian regime is included in this energy plan, despite the Caesar law. According to the project, Egyptian gas will be protected under Caesar’s civil protection law in Syria. Syrian officials have so far expressed their willingness to facilitate the US plan. As a result, Egyptian natural gas will be piped to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria to help boost its power generation as part of a plan agreed to by the four governments to alleviate the severe electricity crisis. If this plan comes to fruition, it will be to the credit of the Biden administration for having been able to reconcile Lebanon with Assad’s Syria in a way that would end the energy crisis in Lebanon.
To sum up, by using the electricity crisis as a tool for conflict resolution, Washington is poised to gain a huge mediating role between Israel and Lebanon in the Eastern Mediterranean energy dispute. And second, by circumventing Caesar law, the Biden administration would recognize and support the Assad regime, which is responsible for the murder of more than 500,000 people over the past 11 years.
The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.