A state of controversy erupted several days ago about the source of natural gas that is supposed to reach Lebanon this year to contribute to solving the worsening electricity crisis there. The main reason for the controversy over the source of the gas that Lebanon will receive is due to Israel’s announcement through one of its television channels that the gas that will be pumped to Lebanon will be through a contract signed with American mediation between the Lebanese and Israeli sides, which allows the latter to pump natural gas from the Leviathan field to Lebanon. Through Jordan and Syria, the Israeli narrative contradicts what was announced in September 2021 of an agreement between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan to export Egyptian gas to Lebanon through the Arab Gas Pipeline in Jordan and Syria. At the same time, the United States denied Israeli allegations that it had mediated a gas deal between Lebanon and Israel.
I will try here briefly to verify the actual party that will supply Lebanon with natural gas, in other words, I will seek to reach an accurate answer as to whether it is Egypt or Israel that will export gas to Lebanon?
Challenges to the agreement
It was agreed last September, with an American welcome, to export natural gas from Egypt to Lebanon via the Arab Gas Pipeline, and since that time the agreement has faced a set of challenges.
First, the Arab Gas Pipeline needs technical repairs so that it can pass gas to Lebanon, as the pipeline extends from Sinai to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria, and the part extending from Jordan to Syria and Lebanon needs technical equipment because it has stopped working for more than a decade.
Second, Egypt is seeking clear assurances from the US administration that it will not be subjected to sanctions because of the passage of natural gas through Syria before it reaches Lebanon. The reason for Egyptian fear is that, according to Caesar’s Law, Syria’s participation in the agreement to transfer Egyptian gas to Lebanon could expose Egypt to sanctions.
It seems that the total challenges facing the agreement are not difficult, as the technical reforms of the northern part of the Arab gas pipeline need several months. On the other hand, there are repeated statements from the US side welcoming and supporting the agreement and resolving the electricity crisis in Lebanon.
The only path left to export gas to Lebanon is to pump part of the Israeli gas received by Egypt towards the south, so that the gas passes from Arish and through the Arab Gas Pipeline to Jordan and then to Syria and Lebanon. Accordingly, the gas that Egypt exports to Jordan, as well as the gas that Egypt is supposed to export it to Lebanon, both of which come from Israel.
Egyptian agreement and Israeli gas
In 2021, Egypt received 450 million cubic feet per day of Israeli natural gas, according to the gas agreement signed between the two parties in 2018, and the bulk of the gas, about 400 million cubic feet per day, is heading west from Arish and through the North Sinai pipeline to reach the Egyptian gas liquefaction stations. It is exported abroad, and the remaining gas – which is the smallest part – heads about 50 million cubic feet per day south from Arish and through the Arab Gas Pipeline to reach Jordan, and these facts lead us to two important conclusions.
FirstCurrently, the North Sinai pipeline operates in one direction only, from east to west, to receive gas from Israel and deliver it to the two liquefaction stations “Idku” and “Damietta” on the Mediterranean coast, and therefore it is not possible for this line to operate in a reverse direction from west to east. Gas is transported from the Egyptian fields to Sinai and then to the Arab Gas Pipeline. Accordingly, the natural gas that Egypt is supposed to export to Lebanon will in no way come from the Egyptian gas fields and through the North Sinai pipeline.
SecondlyThe only path left to export gas to Lebanon will be to pump part of the Israeli gas that Egypt receives in the south direction, so that the gas passes from Arish and through the Arab Gas Pipeline to Jordan and then to Syria and Lebanon, and accordingly the gas that Egypt exports to Jordan as well as The gas that Egypt is supposed to export to Lebanon, both of which come from Israel.
The Arab gas pipeline..a closed path
If the natural gas exported to Lebanon is in fact Israeli gas, will it actually be transported via the Arab Gas Pipeline from Sinai to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria, as we mentioned above?
Transporting gas to Lebanon via this route faces two main challenges:
First, Egypt seeks to increase the volume of Israeli gas imports so that it can use the bulk of the liquefaction and export stations abroad, and sends the remaining part to Jordan and Lebanon via the Arab Gas Pipeline, and in accordance with the gas export agreement between Egypt and Israel; Israel is supposed to raise the volume of its natural gas exports to Egypt from 450 to 650 million cubic feet per day during the current year. But will Israel be able to commit to this increase during 2022? In fact, Israel will not be able to increase the quantities of gas exported to Egypt in the coming period, and the reason is that the absorptive capacity of Israel’s internal network that transports gas to Egypt does not exceed 450 million cubic feet per day, and Israel is currently increasing the absorptive capacity of that network, which will not be achieved before March 2023, and therefore the quantities of gas coming from Israel to Egypt will not witness any increases during the current year, and this means that Egypt will continue to pump the gas it receives from Israel to Jordan, but it will not be able to pump more to Lebanon during 2022.
Second, in order for the gas coming from Sinai to Lebanon to pass through Jordan and Syria, it will have to pass through the northern part of the Arab gas pipeline in Jordan, and here the gas coming from Egypt will face a technical problem that prevents it from passing through, as this part of the Arab pipeline receives gas through Jordan According to the agreement signed between the two parties in 2016, Israeli gas will then head south through the Arab Gas Pipeline to Jordanian power plants. This means that gas coming from Egypt to Lebanon and heading north to cross Jordan will certainly not be able to pass against the direction of the gas flow in the south.
Based on the challenges we have mentioned, the transfer of Israeli gas exported to Egypt from Sinai to Lebanon through the Arab Gas Pipeline will not be available in any way.
All roads lead to Israel
It seems that the only alternative that can be implemented on the ground; It is for Israel to supply Lebanon with natural gas through Jordan, and this means that Israel will increase the quantities of gas it pumps from the Leviathan field to Jordan, and when Israeli gas reaches Jordan, the latter will pass its portion south through the Arab Gas Pipeline, as is the case now; At the same time, it will pass the part of Lebanon north through the Arab Gas Pipeline to pass through Syria and then reach Lebanon, and Israel will calculate the quantities of gas it exported to Lebanon as part of its natural gas exports to Egypt and within the increase that it was supposed to send to Egypt at the beginning of this year.
Here we arrive at an answer to the question that we presented at the beginning, which, according to what we referred to and in which we relied on the arrangement of points, the natural gas that is expected to be pumped to Lebanon in the coming months through an official agreement between Egypt and Lebanon and with an American welcome; It will be Israeli gas coming from the Leviathan field in northern Israel to Lebanon, passing through northern Jordan and Syria.
Geopolitical risks on the way
At a time when Lebanon is suffering from a severe electricity crisis, Israeli gas will contribute to lighting Beirut and other suburbs of Lebanon, and it seems that Lebanon does not stand alone in this scene in which it will rely heavily on Israel to solve its energy problems, as Jordan is also dependent With little on the Israeli gas flowing from the Leviathan field to light Amman and the rest of the cities of Jordan. And we will have – without going into many details to clarify the extent of the risks of Israeli gas flowing to the Arab countries – to imagine that two Arab capitals whose energy security will depend on Israel in the short term.
In addition to Egypt, which, despite achieving self-sufficiency in natural gas in the past years, – according to many studies – it will be expected that this sufficiency will end during the current decade as a result of increasing domestic consumption at large rates, and this means that Egypt in the medium term will depend Limited on Israeli gas exports, which will be directed to domestic consumption rather than exporting to foreign markets. Here, it is easy to clearly understand the size of the geopolitical gains that Israel can achieve by exporting natural gas to its neighbors and by entering as a major and effective component of energy equations, in a region most of whose countries suffer from severe energy crises.
On the other hand, our findings will lead us to another question that may need more detail elsewhere, what is the motive of the Egyptian government to move forward with the gas export agreement to Lebanon if the role that Egypt will play does not go beyond the role of the mediator who will sign the agreement only While in reality Israel will export gas to Lebanon? Of course, it would be difficult to imagine the motive being economic; As the amount of gas that will be exported to Lebanon does not exceed 65 million cubic feet per day, which is a very limited amount, in addition to that this gas is mainly Israeli gas purchased by Egypt. In the same context, it will also be difficult to imagine that the Egyptian government’s motive is to achieve geopolitical gains, and that If, for the first time, Israel will be in control of the energy security of its Arab neighbors.