Israeli resistance to Block 9 license eases Lebanese rift

Feb. 12, 2018
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Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman probably didn't think he'd stabilize Lebanese politics when he challenged an oil and gas license.

At a conference in Tel Aviv, Lieberman called Lebanon's awarding of offshore Block 9 "very, very challenging and provocative conduct."

Lebanese President Michel Aoun tweeted that Lieberman's words represented "a threat to Lebanon and its right to sovereignty over its territorial waters."

Israel claims part of Block 9. Contracts for Blocks 9 and 4, both won by a Total-Eni-Novatek group in bidding last year, are to be signed Feb. 9. The blocks are on trend with deepwater gas discoveries off Israel.

Lieberman's pointed commentary gave Aoun and Nabih

Berri, the parliamentary speaker, common cause with which to ease a political rivalry otherwise headed for crisis.

They hold two of three positions in a government in which the president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim, and the speaker Shia Muslim.

Longstanding resentment between Aoun and Berri escalated in late December when Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri issued a decree crediting 200 military officers for service during a transitional government Aoun led in 1988-90.

The decree apparently contributed to Hariri's decision to revoke the resignation he announced from Saudi Arabia in November.

But Berri thought he and the finance minister, a political colleague, should have signed the decree, too. He also might fear revival of cooperation between Christian and Sunni factions at the expense of Aoun's accommodation of Hezbollah, which receives support from Iran.

Hariri complained of rising Hezbollah influence when he resigned.

Animosity between Aoun and Berri worsened recently when a video emerged showing a high-ranking member of the president's political group calling the speaker a thug.

In what the Lebanese press called a de-escalation of tension, however, the antagonists spoke by phone on Feb. 2 and planned talks on how to respond to the Israeli defense minister's saber-rattling over Block 9.

Historical note: The bid round, Lebanon's first, was delayed more than 3 years by contentious politics.

(From the subscription area of, posted Feb. 2, 2018; author’s e-mail: [email protected])