Satterfield Meets Israeli Minister over Gas Row with Lebanon
by Naharnet Newsdesk

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met Sunday with a senior United States official seeking to defuse an escalating oil and gas dispute with Lebanon, his office said.

A statement from his spokesman said Steinitz held talks with Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield about conflicting claims to energy reserves off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel.

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that Lebanon was strong enough to withstand U.S. and Israeli pressure and to put Israeli gas rigs out of action.

Last week Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that Israel says belongs to it.

Lebanese officials have said the whole zone belongs to Lebanom while Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted it is solidly in Israeli territory.

Sunday’s Israeli statement quoted Steinitz as telling Satterfield that “a diplomatic solution is preferable for both sides.”

It added that the two agreed to meet again during the coming week.

Satterfield also held talks on the issue with top officials in Lebanon.

In 2006, Israel fought a 34-day war against Iranian-backed Hizbullah in which more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 120 Israelis, the majority soldiers, died.

Israeli authorities said that in the course of the fighting Hizbullah fired 3,970 rockets into Israel

Meanwhile work began on February 7 in Germany on four advanced corvettes for the Israeli navy “that will protect gas rigs and economic enterprises in Israeli waters,” the Israeli military said.

It said that the “Saar 6” warships, to enter service between 2020 and 2022, would be equipped with helipads and advanced missiles.

“Protecting strategic economic assets in Israeli waters is a priority for the state of Israel,” the Israeli navy’s website announced last week.

In November, Israel installed a battery of its Iron Dome anti-missile system on a warship for the first time, calling it a valuable asset in protecting its offshore natural gas fields.

Israel has major gas fields off its northern coast and is building valuable infrastructure to get the fuel out of the ground and onto land, all within range of Hizbullah rockets.

Tamar, which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic meters.

Leviathan, discovered in 2010 and set to begin production in 2019, is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.
Agence France Presse

Report: Satterfield Admits Block 9 Belongs to Lebanon, Suggests ‘Giving Something’ to Israel
by Naharnet Newsdesk

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State David Satterfield admitted during negotiations with Lebanese leaders that the offshore gas Block 9 belongs to Lebanon as he urged them to “give something” of it to Israel, al-Hayat newspaper reported.

Official sources informed on the negotiations also told the daily in remarks published Sunday that “Lebanon has a study and maps for the disputed maritime area that allow it to say that it owns an area exceeding the declared 860 square kilometers.”

“Some aspects of the maps were discussed during the meeting of the Public Works Parliamentary Committee on Thursday,” the sources added.

Lebanon this month signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that Israel says belongs to it.

The United States has sought to mediate the disagreement, with Satterfield meeting with top officials in Lebanon since February 6.

A consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI, and Novatek has pledged to begin drilling off of Lebanon’s coast by 2019.

Total has said that the dispute between Lebanon and Israel over Block 9 only covers eight percent of its surface area.

But Lebanese officials have said the whole zone belongs to Lebanon, and Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted it is solidly in Israeli territory.
Report: Israel ‘De-escalates’ Gas Dispute after ‘Warning’ from Drilling Companies

Drilling companies working offshore Israel have sent “warning signals” to Israeli authorities that escalating a dispute with Lebanon over oil drilling rights “could push them to withdraw which prompted Israel to de-escalate” tensions, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday.

The daily said a “Western ambassador has reassured that Israel has no intention of escalating tension with Lebanon, which was also reversed by the U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson during his stay in Beirut.”

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s fiery statement against Lebanon regarding Block 9 oil field “has triggered argumentation in Israel,” it added quoting the ambassador. “Companies operating in the field of offshore oil in Israel have sent warning signals to Israeli authorities informing them that any escalation of the situation would affect the work of these companies and push them to withdraw.”

The “warnings” were led by the Greek company, which is operating in the field close to the disputed area with Lebanon, prompting a change in the “Israeli threat tone” and a “reduction in escalation,” it added.

Lieberman has described as “very provocative” Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas exploration tender and suggested that Lebanon had put out a tender to international groups for a gas field “which is by all accounts ours (Israeli).”

Lebanon last year approved the licenses for an international consortium led by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of five blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one known as Block 9 that is disputed in part with Israel.

Lebanese officials say the country will start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019.

Tillerson was in Lebanon Thursday on a brief stopover, and the issue topped the agenda. Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield has also been holding talks with Lebanese officials on the subject.

Nasrallah Tells State It Has Hizbullah Support in ‘Gas Battle’, Warns of U.S. ‘Devils’إ
by Naharnet Newsdesk

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Friday warned the Lebanese state that the U.S. “is not an honest mediator” in the dispute with Israel over offshore gas drilling rights, urging it to show “strength” and “courage.”

“It seems that the entire region has entered the oil and gas battle,” Nasrallah said in an annual televised speech commemorating Hizbullah’s slain leaders Ragheb Harb, Abbas al-Moussawi and Imad Mughniyeh.

“The Americans did not withdraw from eastern Syria because the most important oil and gas fields are present there… The Americans are overseeing the oil and gas battle,” Nasrallah charged.

Noting that the offshore oil and gas reserves could be Lebanon’s “only hope for economic relief” and “salvation,” Nasrallah said “the unified official and popular stance is the most important factor to win this battle.”

“The Lebanese must not allow the devils to sow discord among them, and by devils I mean the Americans,” Hizbullah’s leader added, referring to visits to Lebanon by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield.

“State officials and institutions must rise to the level of confidence and responsibility regarding this critical file and they must show courage. The state should approach this file from a position of strength. Showing weakness would spell the end of the battle,” Nasrallah warned.

Pointing out that “the Americans know that Lebanon’s only strength in this oil and gas battle is the resistance,” Hizbullah’s leader warned Lebanese officials that “the Americans are not honest mediators, especially when the other party is the Israeli entity.”

“The state must deal with the U.S. mediator as being Israel’s lawyer,” he cautioned.

And in Hizbullah’s strongest warning to Israel since the beginning of the latest gas row, Nasrallah threatened that “should the Higher Defense Council decide that Israel’s offshore oil installations should cease to operate,” Hizbullah “can disable them within hours.”

“Can anyone deny the presence of expansionist Israeli ambitions and threats against Lebanon?” Nasrallah added.

On the possibility of war, Hizbullah’s leader said Lebanon “must remain vigilant and alert.”

“I’m not saying that we’re heading to a war but vigilance is needed. What prevents Israel from waging a war is its inability to confirm in advance that it would emerge victorious,” Nasrallah noted.

Details of the U.S. mediation over offshore gas and oil rights are yet to be unveiled but Tillerson was in Lebanon on Thursday and the issue topped his agenda. Satterfield was on Friday holding talks with Lebanese officials over the matter.

The dispute dates back years but recently resurfaced when Lebanon invited companies to bid for drilling in areas near Israel’s maritime border.

Commenting on the downing of an Israeli F-16 warplane during raids in Syria, Nasrallah announced that “Syria can defend itself,” describing the development as “a major military achievement.”

“The situation from now on will not be the same and Israel is no longer operating freely,” Nasrallah noted.

“Claims that the Israeli warplane was shot down by the Russians or the Iranians are empty claims. The decision to down the plane was taken by the Syrian leadership and President Bashar al-Assad,” Hizbullah’s leader stressed.

Turning to Lebanon and the upcoming elections, Nasrallah emphasized that “Iran does not interfere in anything in Lebanon.”

“Iran does not try to impose presidents and premiers on Lebanon, unlike other countries… Iran does not detain a Lebanese premier,” Nasrallah added, referring to Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation from Saudi Arabia in November that was later rescinded.

Describing the new electoral law that is based on proportional representation as “one of the most important achievements in the country,” Nasrallah noted that “this law takes us to calm elections that do not stir strife in the country.”

“There will be no sharp rift and the elections won’t be between two camps – March 8 and March 14 – but rather between several political forces that will form mixed lists,” Hizbullah’s leader said.

“Hizbullah is not seeking the parliamentary majority in Lebanon,” he added.

And responding to Hariri’s announcement on Thursday that al-Mustaqbal Movement’s electoral battle “will be against Hizbullah,” Nasrallah said: “We had never thought of allying with al-Mustaqbal and our electoral battle is not targeted against anyone.”
Aoun Briefs Cabinet on Tillerson, Satterfield Talks, Says Lebanon to be ‘Gas Producing Country’
by Naharnet Newsdesk

President Michel Aoun on Thursday briefed the Cabinet on his separate talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield, while noting that Lebanon will become a “gas producing country.”

“We have informed the U.S. side of Lebanon’s stance over the issue of the (Israeli) cement wall and territorial waters, and we focused on continuing discussions and consultations to reach solutions for these issues,” Aoun said, noting that Tillerson was appreciative of the Lebanese stance during his talks earlier in the day with the president.

“Several proposals will be discussed,” Aoun revealed.

The president also noted that Lebanon will become “a gas producing country” and that the Lebanese should be ready to benefit from the development, especially in the transportation sector.

“It costs less and its environmental impact is lighter,” Aoun noted, reminding of a draft law for switching to natural gas vehicles that he had submitted when he was the head of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc.

Turning to the crisis in the education sector, the president stressed the need to hold a session dedicated to educational affairs, amid a continued boycott of Cabinet sessions by Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri meanwhile said he endorses Aoun’s remarks on the talks with Tillerson and Satterfield.
Tillerson to Urge Neutrality in Lebanon, Propose Offshore Gas Settlement
by Naharnet Newsdesk

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stress during his Thursday visit to Lebanon the need for the country to abide by a policy of neutrality towards regional conflicts in order to guarantee continued support from the international community for its security and sovereignty, a media report said.

As for the latest territorial and maritime border disputes between Lebanon and Israel, the top U.S. diplomat will call on Lebanon to “exclusively resort to the United Nations to defend its sovereignty,” al-Joumhouria newspaper quoted diplomatic sources in Washington and Beirut as saying.

Tillerson will say that Lebanon “should maintain its traditional policy of seeking diplomatic action before resorting to violence,” the sources said.

He will also urge the Lebanese state to “distance itself from Hizbullah because the international community led by the U.S. is determined to continue imposing sanctions on the party until it abides by the international and Lebanese legitimate authorities.”

In this regard, Tillerson will announce that Lebanon can continue to count on the U.S. and the international community as long as it commits to the relevant U.N. conventions and resolutions.

Sources informed on the negotiations over the territorial and maritime borders meanwhile told al-Joumhouria that the Lebanese side “has prepared a unified stance that will be told to Tillerson.”

Lebanese officials will tell the U.S. visitor that Lebanon “will not accept to negotiate on the offshore (gas and oil) blocks as per former U.S. envoy Frederick Hoff’s suggestion that Lebanon get 55% of the Exclusive Economic Zone,” the sources said.

“Tillerson will try to convince Lebanese officials to accept 55% of Blocks 8, 9 and 10 according to the border line demarcated with Cyprus which ends at Point (1),” the sources added, noting that Lebanon “wants the demarcation line to end at Point (23) in line with international maps and its maritime rights that are documented with the U.N.”
Lebanon Signs Offshore Drilling Deal amid Row with Israel
by Naharnet Newsdesk 09 February 2018,

Lebanon Friday signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas off its coast with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek, including in a block disputed by Israel.

Israel says one of two blocks in the eastern Mediterranean where Lebanon wants to drill for oil belongs to it, and last week denounced any exploration by Beirut as “provocative”.

President Michel Aoun said at a signing ceremony that Lebanon has “entered a new chapter in its history and is now a member of energy-producing countries”.

Looking to tap potential oil and gas reserves after major offshore discoveries by neighbouring Israel and Cyprus, the Mediterranean country in December approved a bid on blocks four and nine.

Block nine is the disputed block with Israel.

Exploration is set to begin in 2019.

French energy giant Total and Italy’s Eni each hold a 40 percent stake in the consortium, and Russia’s Novatek has a 20 percent stake.

Total welcomed the deal, saying it stipulates that drilling will take place in “at least one well per block in the first three years” and that the “consortium’s priority will be to drill a first exploration well on Block 4 in 2019”.

“As for Block 9, Total and its partners are fully aware of the Israeli-Lebanese border dispute in the southern part of the block that covers only very limited area (less than 8 percent of the block’s surface).

“Given that, the main prospects are located more than 25 km (15.5 miles) from the disputed area, the consortium confirms that the exploration well on Block 9 will have no interference at all with any fields or prospects located south of the border area,” it added in a statement issued in English.

Last week, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Lebanon of “provocative behaviour”.

“They issue a tender on a gas field — including a bloc which by all accounts is ours — to international groups that are respectable companies, which to my mind are making a serious mistake since it’s against all rules and protocol in cases like this,” he said.

Lebanese Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil responded by saying Lebanon would defend its right to drill there.

“Israel will do what it can to block us from taking advantage of our oil wealth, and we will do everything in our power to defend it,” he said.

Tensions between the two neighbours — which are technically still at war — have also mounted as Israel pursues the construction of a wall along the border.

Lebanon says part of the wall follows the UN-demarcated “Blue Line” drawn up after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory.

Israel dismissed the claim and said on Tuesday the work is being carried out on Israeli territory.

Israel began building the wall in 2012, six years after fighting a devastating war with Hizbullah.
Qabalan Calls for Campaign to Support Lebanon’s Oil Extraction Rights
09 February 2018,

The deputy head of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan voiced calls to launch vigorous campaigns to support Lebanon’s right to extract its oil, preserve its borders and sovereignty following Israel’s threats against the country, the National News Agency reported on Friday.

“Israel’s construction of a cement wall constitutes a new aggression against Lebanon adding to the series of repeated Zionist violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Thereforeو the Lebanese at all levels are required to confront this arrogance and adhere to the golden formula (Army, People, Resistance) that protected Lebanon and liberated its land,” said Qabalan.

He said the Lebanese must “launch a campaign” to support Lebanon’s right to extract its oil and preserve its borders and sovereignty by “mobilizing Lebanon’s international and regional relations to serve the interests of their homeland.”

Qabalan also hailed the overall agreement between Lebanon’s officials and their will to overcome difficulties in reference to a political spat between Foreign Minister Jebran and Speaker Nabih Berri.

He said “national solidarity” between Lebanese politicians is necessary to be able to confront Israel’s threats and preserve the country.