The issue of offshore oil has returned to the forefront of government attention now that Lebanon is determined to make use of the oil and gas reserves located within its maritime economic zone. The screening of applications for the petroleum sector’s board of directors is expected to finish tomorrow [May 9, 2012]. Applications that meet the conditions for employment will then be sent to the appropriate committee, which will then choose the applicants for each specific job.
Yesterday [May 7, 2012], a meeting was held at the presidential palace in Baabda. President Michel Suleiman chaired the meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, Justice Minister Chakib Cortbawi, Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil, Chairman of the Coordination Committee with the UNIFIL General Abdul Rahman Shailty, Director General of the Presidency Dr. Antoine Shakir and the Director General of Oil Sarkis Hlais, as well as a number of consultants. The meeting addressed the issue of oil and gas in Lebanon.
According to official reports, attendees discussed “the steps taken in determining the exclusive economic zone and Lebanon's rights to it, in preparation for oil and gas exploration.” Official sources told As-Safir that Suleiman asked the attendees to keep the content of the meeting confidential to avoid any complications. The sources added that the meeting initiated the operational phase of the project, the specifics of which will be determined by the Council of Ministers in a session scheduled for tomorrow [May 9, 2012] at the presidential palace. There are 36 items on the agenda, most notably “financial items.”
Sources said that attendees studied the results of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ diplomatic ventures, Lebanon's readiness to accept bids for oil exploration and the contact between Beirut and the United Nations. The UN said that while it understands Lebanon’s position on the oil issue, it has repeatedly advised Lebanon “to avoid any provocative steps.”
The sources revealed that the attendees discussed a “serious idea,” which is not yet final, about “drawing a maritime Blue Line” similar to the Blue Line in southern Lebanon which demarcates the Lebanese-Israel border. The maritime Blue Line would determine the maritime economic zones between Lebanon and occupied Palestine and leave the disputed area — more than 860 square kilometers — for later subsequent negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, within the forum of the United Nations.
The sources said that drawing a maritime Blue Line was originally a Lebanese idea put forth by the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its official objection to the United Nations regarding Israel’s activities in the area. The ministry asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to "take the measures he deems appropriate in order to avoid any dispute.” Among those measures, said the sources, was drawing “a maritime Blue Line similar to the Blue Line on land.”
Sources indicated that the president was enthusiastic about the idea because it would enable Lebanon to begin benefiting from its resources immediately. The prime minister and the foreign minister felt the same way.
The sources indicated that Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil was not comfortable with this proposal. He wanted Lebanon's position to be more solid and coherent, saying that “there should not be any missteps; we are treating the Lebanon-Syria and Lebanon-Cyprus maritime border in the same way. With Syria and Cyprus, we have common ‘wealth regions.’”
At the meeting’s conclusion, it was decided that a committee will be formed, to be chaired by the foreign minister and include representatives from the Foreign Affairs, Energy, Defense, Justice, and Public Works Ministries. Minister of Public Works Ghazi Aridi was reportedly absent from yesterday's meeting because he objected to the committee being chaired by the foreign minister.
Sources noted that the meeting was held the day after US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to Beirut. The source did not rule out a link between that visit and American envoy Frederic Hof’s visits to Beirut, which was intended to resolve the Lebanon-Israel maritime border issue.
Another Ammunition Seizure
In the port of Tripoli yesterday [May 7, 2012], the Lebanese army seized ammunition for 9mm, 12.7mm, and Kalashnikov machine guns. The ammunition was being smuggled in a Renault Rapid car which was seized yesterday as it was leaving port after arriving amid a large number of cars on a ship belonging to the Italian company Grimaldi. The car and its contents were transferred to the military intelligence branch in Qibba, where an investigation has been launched.
According to information from security sources obtained by the As-Safir reporter in Tripoli, Ghassan Rifi, the Grimaldi ship bearing the Italian flag arrived from Germany to Tripoli yesterday. On board were a large number of cars, which were unloaded in the harbor. They included two Renault Rapid cars belonging to a trader with the initials AM. Both cars contained toys and carpets, but one of the cars carried 15 boxes of ammunition, each containing a thousand rounds for various types of machine guns.
As the cars were being taken out of the port, the Lebanese army seized both of them and found the ammunition boxes during an inspection. A number of people were arrested and taken to the intelligence branch in Qibba for investigation. In addition, the places frequented by AM, who remains to be found, were raided.
As-Safir learned that the vessel sailed from Italy to Germany, made a stop in the port of Alexandria, then sailed toward Tripoli. That raised a number of questions because the Lutfullah II ship also stopped in Alexandria before it headed to Tripoli.
Security sources reasoned that this amount of ammunition was intended either for trade or for distribution to some political party. Sources in the Tripoli port assert that the Lebanese army is taking strict security measures with all the ships that reach the port and that any attempt to smuggle weapons or any other prohibited material will be unsuccessful.