BEIRUT: Lebanon and Egypt inked, on Tuesday, a deal to import Egyptian gas to a power plant in northern Lebanon through Syria. The agreement would increase badly needed electricity supplies in Lebanon that is suffering a severe energy crisis and chronic outages. However, US assurances are needed that the countries involved namely Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan will not be targeted by American sanctions and the Caesar Law imposed on Syria. This is not yet guaranteed.
The deal would see gas piped to Lebanon’s northern Deir Ammar power plant, where it could add some 450 megawatts, or around four extra hours of power per day to the grid.
“This agreement would not have happened without Egypt adopting the project from the first moment and following it up with its details and supporting all its stages to ensure an increase in quantity,” said Walid Fayad, minister of energy in the Lebanese caretaker government, at a press conference held at the Ministry of Energy after the signing of the two contracts.
With the signing of the agreement, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria have completed all steps to move forward to secure electricity for the Lebanese people.
“We are looking forward to get the final guarantees from the United States, especially regarding sanctions, therefore the support of the United States and the international community is essential,” Fayad said.
The agreement was signed by the director general of oil facilities at the Lebanese Energy Ministry Aurore Feghali, Chairman of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) Magdy Galal and the Director of the Syrian’s General Petroleum Corporation Nabih Khrestin.
“Lebanon, Syria and Egypt agreed to transport 650 million cubic meters of Egyptian gas through Syria to Lebanon annually,” the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan reported.
“Syria has made great efforts despite the pressures and difficulties to prepare the line that was damaged, during a short period of time. We are now ready to transport the Egyptian gas, and there are no legal problems,” said a representative of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon.
Political observers in Lebanon have linked the facilitation of the file of gas import through Syria to bartering with the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.
Former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora said that the “initiative to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Egypt and Lebanon to import Egyptian gas is a very good one.”
“In the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was an agreement to build a pipeline to transport oil from Iraq (IPC) through Syria, and then to two Mediterranean estuaries in Syria and Lebanon," Siniora said in an interview with the Egyptian channel DMC. “In the early 1950s, the Tapline pipeline was built to transport oil from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. These lines were practically discontinued in the 1980s. The signing of the agreement today is very important economically, politically and nationally.”
Siniora noted that “the gas to be transported to Lebanon through the construction of pipelines across the Mediterranean was the idea of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2003, but the Syrian-Lebanese security system, which the government was suffering from at the time, hindered this plan.”
Siniora said that during his tenure as prime minister “an agreement was signed between Lebanon and Egypt to transport Egyptian gas to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria and Egyptian gas was pumped for nearly a year between 2008 and 2009 to Tripoli. However, the problem that still exists so far is that there is not yet a complete gas pipeline connecting southern and northern Syria. Therefore, the transfer of Egyptian gas to Tripoli was replaced by the pumping of Egyptian gas from Egypt to Jordan, and therefore to southern Syria. Syria used this gas in its south and in turn supplied Lebanon with the same amount of gas from the gas fields in Homs in northern Syria and transported it to northern Lebanon, i.e. to the Deir Ammar power plant.”
The gas supply to Lebanon still requires Lebanese logistical preparations. The World Bank has said it is ready to finance the operation with a 270-million-dollar loan, provided that Lebanon enacts long-awaited power sector reforms. But Lebanon has not yet made the reforms.
Amos Hochstein, the US mediator of Lebanon’s maritime borders negotiations with Israel, who visited Lebanon last week, was informed of an undisclosed Lebanese position on the demarcation of the maritime border.
Lebanon appeared to have abandoned line 29, which is being advocated by a technical team in the Lebanese army based on British documents.
President Michel Aoun refused to sign an amendment to a decree handed over to the United Nations years ago saying line 23 was the border line, making line 29 the correct line.
Aoun said line 29 was a “negotiating line.”
During his recent visit to Lebanon, Hochstein met with the Lebanese ministry of energy as part of his political meetings.