Recent discoveries of oil and natural gas fields off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel are not likely to settle any of the region’s long-standing disputes. Rather they may instead accentuate some of the differences between the various groups that populate this violence-prone society where logic is more precious – and rare — than the oil and gas waiting to be extracted.
Here’s how the situation becomes complicated; part of these fields are situated in the waters between Lebanon and Israel. In any normal environment a joint corporation may be formed to exploit the common resources and bring in the maximum amount of revenue to both parties. But seeing that Lebanon, despite an armistice agreement signed with Israel in 1948, considers that a state of war still exists between the two countries, and that it remains, in the eyes of the Lebanese judiciary, a crime for Lebanese citizens to talk to Israelis, let alone “conspire” to establish a joint venture with the enemy.
So passé is the thinking here that even a Westerner who has the misfortune of having an Israeli visa or entry or exit stamp in his passport, will be denied entry into Lebanon. The penalty for the “crime” of having visited the “Zionist Entity,” is detention at the Beirut Airport until the authorities can get you onto an outbound flight.
And even if the state of Lebanon ever comes around to establishing some sort of dialogue with Israel, there is still Hezbollah, the Iranian backed Shiite militia who considers itself at full frontal war with the Jewish state.
Now what would be more beneficial to the individual Lebanese Shiite residing in South Lebanon, or one of the thousands of unemployed or underemployed residents of Beirut’s southern suburbs? An agreement that would establish ground rules to begin exploiting the oil and natural gas fields to their maximum capabilities, and in so doing bring in much needed revenue for the sagging economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs for the people of Lebanon, thus raising the standard of living. Not to mention all the spin off jobs that the oil industry would create.
Continue with current policies of putting the interests of others ahead of those of Lebanon. Instead of turning itself into a mercenary force, into a rent-a-militia, and willing to fight and die for a cause that revolves around the ego and the bank account of the Assad clan, would it not be wiser to think of Lebanon first? And to do what is beneficial for the greater good of the country as a whole? Well, yes, but that is far too simplistic thinking for the ways of the Middle East.
If that were ever to happen, if some of the Party of God’s ardent followers were suddenly to find decent and honorable employment they would not need to be so dependent on the party their very existence. The party would end up losing adherents and along the way some of its clout.
Creating tens of thousands of jobs? Giving the stagnant economy a boost of adrenalin in its central nervous system? Justifying to the people the reason for reaching an agreement with the neighbor to the south, although he has been anything but a good neighbor.
These are things that any politician anywhere in the world would give his right arm to achieve. Indeed, but we are not anywhere in the world, we in the Middle East. That is far too logical to possibly make any headway in the Middle East where there should be a huge sign hanging over the region for all travelers to see as they approach the turbulent Levant: “suspend all logic ye who enter here.”
As an Egyptian police officer once pointed out to his reporter during an argument in Cairo regarding the right to cover a news event: “My friend, what you are saying is very logical. But this does not work in Egypt.”
That oil and natural gas will eventually be exploited. The question remains whether logic will remain buried under the sands and the sea of the Middle East or will it ever surface?
Claude Salhani is a political analyst, journalist and author. He is editor of Arabspringnow.com. He tweet @claudesalhani.
This piece is cross-posted from Oil Price.com with permission.