Sam Menassa

The Oil Consortium and the Lebanon Being Built

Two amending annexes to the two gas exploration and production agreements in Lebanese waters were signed over the past month, Qatar Energy entered a partnership with the French company TotalEnergies and the Italian petroleum company Eni.

A mere few hundred meters away from the place where the deal with the Arab-international consortium was, a totally different picture emerged. In developments that would make one think they are in another country, an unprecedented judicial dispute broke out between the investigator of the Beirut port blast and Lebanon’s public prosecutor.

The dispute spilled over to the entire judiciary, from the Supreme Judicial Council to the bottom of the pyramid. If this were merely a question of a legal dispute between judges, the repercussions would remain limited despite the gravity of such a state of affairs.

The situation at hand, however, is tied to a series of collapses weighing on state institutions, from the presidency of the Republic, which has been vacant for three months, to the government, which has effectively resigned and is incapable of even undertaking its caretaker role, to parliament, which has almost been hijacked by a disjointed mosaic incapable of electing a president and carrying out its other roles in the first place.

This extraordinary and bizarre discrepancy is indicative of many issues and raises several questions. First, how can major international companies invest in a country where the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary are in doubt, as shown by its total inability to uncover the truth of the political assassinations that have targeted prominent figures since 2005 and the Beirut port blast crime that blew up the judiciary itself?

Investors do not venture to take risks unless they are sure of an independent and effective judiciary that translates texts in a manner that ensures justice, equality, rights, and respect for the law. On top of the weakness of the judiciary, law enforcement is blatantly incapable of implementing verdicts. Are the signatories to the agreements and those they represent signing a deal with a different Lebanon currently being built rather than the one we know today?

Indeed, these investments have major connotations, especially given the current instability in the region. To paint a full picture, a brief overview of what is happening around us is needed.

Syria remains far from stable. It is hit, daily, by Israeli military attacks against the Iranian forces who are expanding at the expense of Moscow, which is preoccupied with Ukraine. Conditions in the north and east of the country fluctuate with those of the mood of its Turkish neighbor, and the collapse of its economy has led to Syria’s transformation into a drug manufacturing and smuggling hub.

A conflict between Iran and Israel could be sparked in Syria against the backdrop of Tehran’s nuclear enrichment, its precision and ballistic missile program, and the actions of its allies in the region. In fact, Tel Aviv’s conflict with Tehran seems to be undergoing strategic changes, especially since the new Israeli government came to power. The attacks on military facilities, deep inside Iran in Isfahan, are only a prelude to the changes we will see.

As for the situation inside Israel, it also calls for concern and threatens the stability of the region. Indeed, tensions between the right, the left, and the secular center have heightened, as have problems with Arabs of Israel and the Palestinians in the rest of the occupied territories.

The fact that we are seeing investments of this kind amid the complicated state of affairs and turmoil in the region and the country means that the Lebanon we know is a thing of the past. Another Lebanon is being built, and the countries involved know the shape it will take - one that does not resemble their values. With that, they have overlooked this issue in service of their interests.

The fact is that all of the political, economic, social and security developments we are seeing indicate that Hezbollah is the only faction capable of making commitments and implementing them. We first saw this with the maritime border agreement that was approved and encouraged by the party, as well as sponsored by Iran. This was the first testament to its ability to comply. On the other hand, the parties opposed to Hezbollah are incapable of forming a united group to push foreign countries to reconsider their position.

The great powers understand this, and the companies making the investments probably did so because they know who is behind the maritime border demarcation agreement with Israel. The deal’s security and political implications reassure these international investors, allowing these companies to begin working on the implementation of the deal.

It seems that the heresies we are seeing come out of the Lebanese judiciary are merely the first steps towards Hezbollah imposing its total control, which reassures most of these companies. Indeed, this judicial infighting is little more than Hezbollah’s most recent coup, which it launched to tighten its grip on law enforcement.

Throughout its history, Lebanon was accustomed to leaning on its relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the East and France and the United States to the West, as well as the Syrian tutelage that went on for nearly thirty years. The US, as we well know, has abandoned Lebanon and withdrew from the country since the Marines headquarters and the American embassy were bombed in 1983, leaving this small country to manage its affairs and deal with the covetous and brutal Syrian regime and Iran’s aggression.

The ensuing developments opened the door to the intervention of Qatar, while France can no longer play its traditional role as Lebanon’s protector. As for Washington, its ambitions for Lebanon do not go beyond keeping the domestic scene quiet and preventing the security situation from deteriorating. They merely want to avoid seeing the security forces and the army become decapacitated and lose their role, the situation between Hezbollah and Israel deteriorating, and the UNIFIL forces and Israel’s security being exposed to threats.

To achieve these ends, the US did everything it could to ensure the success of the maritime border demarcation agreement between the two countries. It is also worth mentioning, in this context, that the Americans, the French, and others separate, or rather distinguish, between their relationship with Iran and its fluctuations and their relations with Hezbollah. They have insisted on dealing with it as a purely Lebanese actor like the other forces and political parties in the country.

Of course, ascertaining what this future Lebanon under construction will look like is difficult. However, one matter we can be certain of is the death of Lebanon as we know it. It has lost its role in the region and the world, to which it owes its position, importance, and form. The Lebanon we used to know broke down over years of tutelage, occupation, and the wanton violence of militias and their masters.

The country used to be seen as a link between East and West, an active mediator in the disputes of its brothers, and a reliable financial and banking center, a place where one could find the best hospitals and universities in the region that was a safe and attractive destination for visitors and tourists.

None of these things is true of today’s Lebanon. Retrieving its previous functions requires something more important from the expected oil and gas revenues. The country has been deserted, its cities have withered, and the aspirations and interests of its rulers and citizens are short-sighted and opportunistic. While their neighbors are taking a new, promising path, and the entire world is undergoing challenges on several levels, the Lebanese people are still quarreling over the rights of its sects.

To conclude, we are not at all against foreign investment in Lebanon or its oil resources. However, just as we criticized holding the Baalbek International Festival under Hezbollah’s protection because the festival whitewashes the party’s image - making it seem like Hezbollah is an innocent Lebanese party open to global art and culture - we are now saying the revenue we expect to garner from the gas will not compensate for losing our sovereignty and identity, becoming a piece of land controlled by a revolving door of occupiers.