Lebanon has been facing an energy crisis for a number of years. The decline in foreign exchange reserves has made it difficult to pay overseas energy suppliers, leaving the country's power plants without the fuel they need to operate. In August last year, the then Minister of Electricity said that although the country needed 3,000 megawatts of electricity, it only had enough fuel to produce 750 megawatts. Many citizens have access to private generators, but the scarcity and staggering cost of the fuel needed to run them has made them both an expensive alternative and frequently unusable.
The crisis creates the conditions to boost Hezbollah's role in Lebanese energy security. Iran sends fuel to support Hezbollah as it is dissatisfied with the US and some Western countries. The US and its allies have presented their plan to supply energy to Lebanon, which relies on the Arab gas pipeline and the transfer of Egyptian gas. Egypt faced a shortage of gas after the Arab Spring, but the picture today in the Eastern Mediterranean is quite different.
In 2018, Egypt began production from its huge Mediterranean gas fields, and Israel also began to exploit the vast resources, some of which will be piped to Egypt and on to Europe. Another US plan is for Lebanon to import electricity from Jordan, which can also be implemented through Syria and could help resolve the power cuts in Syria.
However, both plans violate the sanctions arising from America's Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act against the Assad regime. America's regional partners, though, are reviving their ties with Syria and want to turn it into a Lebanese energy agent.
In recent years, Egypt has gradually increased its natural gas exports to neighbouring countries and is playing a role in regional energy security. At present, its gas production rate is about 204 million cubic metres per day, while domestic gas consumption is estimated to be 164 million cubic metres per day. That is the context behind Cairo's search for a huge investment of $6.5 billion in the oil and gas sector in 2022-2023.
Some energy experts believe that the plan to export Egyptian gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria is supported by the US, despite the sanctions it has imposed on Syria. Arab allies of the US, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iraq, support Egypt's supply of fuel to Lebanon because they believe that it will strengthen the Najib Mikati administration in Beirut and weaken Hezbollah, and thus lead to a cut in the flow of fuel from Iran to the influential movement.
Egypt had agreed to supply part of Lebanon's natural gas to Jordan's power plants via Syria. Syrian and Lebanese experts have completed the renovation of the pipeline, which was ready months ago. According to Walid Fayyad, Lebanon's caretaker Energy Minister, under the agreement about 650 million cubic metres of natural gas will be piped annually to the Deir Ammar power plant in northern Lebanon annually. By importing this amount of natural gas, Lebanon can reduce the number of blackouts by an average of four hours per day, by producing 450 MW of electricity.
Regarding the recent dispute between Israel and Lebanon over territorial waters, it should be said that the Israeli government believes that the gas field in question is in the exclusive domain of the country and not in the area in dispute with its northern neighbour. A recent statement from the Lebanese president's office stressed the need to continue negotiations between the two countries. The talks are underway to determine the maritime border. "Any action or activity in the disputed area indicates a provocation and an aggressive action," insist the Lebanese. Egypt's role in Lebanon's energy security and, more broadly, in the Mediterranean region, would increase if the US sanctions on Syria were lifted.
Political stability in Lebanon could pave the way for the extraction of energy resources off the coast in the Mediterranean. Cairo will play an important role in Lebanon's energy security and national security, if some gas exports go to Jordan to be converted into electricity for distribution in Lebanon. The implementation of this agreement is a win-win for all countries in the region.
The energy crisis in Lebanon will not be resolved in the short term, but the import of electricity from Jordan and the implementation of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline project to Lebanon will play an important role in reducing the impact of the energy crisis in the medium term. If the negotiations for the export of natural gas from Israel's Leviathan field to Lebanon lead to the signing of a contract and the start of the construction of the necessary pipeline, the energy crisis in Lebanon will be largely resolved. This would reduce the political and economic influence of some other foreign countries. At the same time, the implementation of these projects will both deepen regional cooperation and strengthen security and stability in the region. However, given the recent Lebanese Israeli dispute over a gas field in the Mediterranean, Israeli gas is not expected to reach Lebanon soon.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.