Israel-Lebanon border deal could boost natural gas supplies

“Offshore energy infrastructure is very volatile and vulnerable,” said Gal Luft, a former Israeli military man who is co-director of the Institute for Global Security Analysis in Washington. “You have to manage the risk.”

Theoretically, transporting gas through pipelines would be easier than liquefying natural gas for export before converting it back to gas at its destination. But the construction of long-distance pipelines is expensive and difficult. A long-running conflict involving Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece, for example, has made building a pipeline from Israel to southern Europe incredibly challenging, if not impossible.

Even a border deal between Israel and Lebanon faces risks. Hezbollah has threatened to attack the Karish countryside and sent unarmed drones over it in July; Israeli officials said they had shot down the plane.

Still, Israeli and Lebanese officials have said in recent days that they are pressing ahead with negotiations, with Biden administration officials acting as brokers, and are close to reaching a deal. The talks gained momentum during the United Nations General Assembly last week.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Thursday at the United Nations that he was confident of reaching an agreement with Israel. “Lebanon is well aware of the importance of the promising Eastern Mediterranean energy market for the prosperity of all countries in the region,” he said, “but also for meeting the needs of importing nations.”

The United States and other Western oil companies have long distanced themselves from Israel, in part because they do not want to alienate Arab countries. But, as relations between Israel and countries such as Egypt, Jordan and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates have improved, more companies have expressed interest in the Eastern Mediterranean.

An agreement between Israel and Lebanon could accelerate that trend.

“I think it will put a lot of minds to rest,” said Leslie Palti-Guzman, CEO of Gas Vista, a consulting firm. “Companies that have been reluctant to invest may have more incentive to develop additional projects.”