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Lebanon Passes Oil Law

Seen as provocation against Israel

Marc Tracy
August 18, 2010
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.(Michael Totten)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.(Michael Totten)

For ten years, Lebanon’s parliament could not agree on a law to permit offshore oil and gas exploration due to disagreement over which companies could benefit. But yesterday, Lebanon finally passed just such a law under the leadership of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. What broke the impasse? “The amount of debt and Israeli greed are major concerns,” said a Berri aide. “Passing the law is a message that shows Lebanon is serious and persistent.”

The law is the latest salvo in the cold war brewing between Lebanon and Israel over offshore hydrocarbons—a war that, as Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith reported in June, is liable to spark a second round of the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah (and its Lebanese host). After Berri asserted in June that parts of three natural gas fields discovered off Israel’s coast extend into Lebanese waters, Israeli Interior Minister Uzi Landau, of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, replied that Israel would “not hesitate to use our force and strength” to defend its offshore assets. (Israel denies that the fields lie also in Lebanese waters.)

In addition to providing yet more evidence that tensions on Israel’s northern border remain high, it is also yet more evidence—the skirmish earlier this month more as well—that the next conflict will be an Israel-versus-Lebanon, state-versus-state, affair.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.