In a recent column in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Nadim Koteich, a Shi'ite Lebanese journalist and media figure known for his opposition to Hizbullah, wrote that this organization is holding Lebanon hostage and is beggaring the country, for instance by preventing it from reaching an agreement with Israel that would enable it to exploit its natural gas resources. Referring to the deal that is currently under discussion, for alleviating Lebanon's energy crisis by importing gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan, Koteich wondered why, as a country on the shores of the Mediterranean, Lebanon could drill for its own offshore gas.
What prevents this, he said, is Hizbullah's culture of perpetuating the conflict with Israel in order to justify its existence as an armed organization. It is this 'conflict first' strategy, he explained, that keeps Lebanon from reaching understandings with Israel on the demarcation of the maritime border, which would enable it to drill for gas. Koteich called on the Lebanese to free themselves of Hizbullah's grip and sign a peace agreement with Israel, since there is no ideological dispute between them but only technical problems that can be resolved.
It should be noted that this is not the first time Koteich has called for Lebanon to make peace with Israel. In September 2020 he published a similar article under the headline "When Will There Be Peace Between Lebanon and Israel?", in which he advised the Lebanese to join the dynamic of peace in the region, and argued that peace with Israel was in Lebanon's interest, but that Hizbullah was standing in the way. Similar calls were also made by other Lebanese politicians and journalists over the last 18 months.
Nadim Koteich (Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London)
The following are translated excerpts from his column:
"A surreal [farce] is now unfolding in Lebanon: the country is about to be plunged into total darkness, yet the media, political and popular [arenas] are preoccupied with a 'criminal investigation' into suspicions that the Egyptian and Jordanian gas [delivered to Lebanon] might be 'contaminated' by molecules is Israeli [gas]. Lebanon, [the land of] 'heroism, honor and resistance,' insists that it can only enter the age of electricity… after making sure that every molecule of gas [it receives] is free of normalization bombs!...
"The Egyptian gas is to be delivered to Lebanon via Syria, through the Arab pipeline that starts in Al-'Arish in Egypt, reaches 'Aqaba [in Jordan], continues northward along Jordan's territory, and then crosses Syria before arriving in Lebanon. But the thing is that, in northern Jordan, this pipeline is joined by the Israel-Jordan pipeline, carrying gas from the shores of Haifa to Al-Khanasiri in the Al-Mafraq region in Jordan's north, as part of an agreement signed in 2016 and implemented since 2020. From this point onward, one can no longer be certain of the 'racial purity' of the gas piped to Lebanon.
"As for the Jordanian electricity that was promised Lebanon, 40% of it is generated using Israeli gas. This means that Lebanon cannot find a way out of its darkness while completely avoiding 'Israeli contamination.'
"But can Lebanon be sure that the pharmaceutical labs all over the world have no Israelis working in research and development? Can the Lebanese make sure that their children studying in universities abroad will graduate without having their ideas contaminated by ideas of Israeli philosophers, who are now among the world's leading thinkers, such as Yuval [Noah] Harari and Daniel Kahneman? Can they ensure that [what they watch] on Netflix and on similar entertainment platforms is free of Israeli content?
"All this militaristic nonsense is published in a country in severe and perpetual crisis, which is deteriorating by every realistic standard… Why does Lebanon need to bring in gas by this circuitous route, from Al-'Arish in Egypt through Jordan and Syria, when, as a country on the Mediterrenean, it could immediately start drilling and tapping its [own] gas [fields], adjacent to the Israeli ones? Alternatively, it could reach practical understandings with Israel and discuss joint energy projects with it, like the ones Israel has with Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece, or at least reach internationally-brokered understandings [with Israel] about dividing the natural resources in accordance with international law. Why do we not hear Nicosia or Athens complaining about 'Israeli greed' with respect to their natural resources, or at least not to the extent that we hear this in Lebanon?
"The strange thing is that, instead of starting its first meeting with a serious discussion about the demarcation of its maritime border with Israel, the [new] Lebanese government started begging Egypt and Jordan for gas and electricity, and demarcating the boundary between Israeli and Arab gas molecules in the pipe!
"[To outline it very] briefly, the maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon revolves primarily around an area of 860 square kilometers, and stems from an error made by Lebanon when it delineated its border with Cyprus. The [dispute] emerged after Lebanon discovered the error and after Israel unilaterally demarcated its border with Lebanon. After five long rounds of U.N.-sponsored talks aimed at reaching understandings regarding this area, Lebanon decided to introduce new parameters in determining the boundaries of its exclusive economic zone. This expanded the disputed area to 2290 square kilometers… suddenly enlarging Lebanon's territory by some 10% and the disputed area by 1,430 [square] kilometers! As a result the talks came to a halt, and the Hizbullah militia scored a new victory, adding the 'maritime Shab'a Farms' to the Shab'a Farms on land. This paves the way to perpetuating the dispute with Israel and as a result also the legitimacy of [Hizbullah's] weapons.
"This is the 'conflict first' strategy, [promoted] even [at the cost of] pauperizing the [Lebanese] republic. As part of this strategy the 'resistance' [i.e., Hizbullah] neutralizes every option of drilling for gas, and distances Lebanon from the economic reality emerging in the Middle East. Because, even if Lebanon had started drilling for gas yesterday, it would still need seven years before seeing any profits from the gas, and this assuming it could invest the funds needed in order to [build] the drilling infrastructures [and then] drill, produce, distill and pipe the gas. Israel, on the other hand, was quick to reap profits from its gas. Instead of waiting for an undersea pipeline to be built from its shores to Europe, and spending $7 billion on this, it started piping its gas to Egypt, and from there to Europe…
"What prevents Lebanon from being part of the changes that have taken place in the Eastern Mediterranean in the area of gas? Very simply, what prevents this is the culture of perpetuating the conflict with Israel. Lebanon insists on ignoring the fact that the most conspicuous wave of changes in the Middle East is the recent wave of peace [with Israel], which was spearheaded by the UAE and joined by the kingdoms of Bahrain and Morocco and by Sudan, and which was welcomed [even] by Arab capitals that did not join the peace [agreements].
"Thanks to this peace, Morocco made a series of important [achievements involving] recognition of its sovereignty over the Sahara… and for Morocco, this is a strategic issue. Thanks to this peace, a strategic economic conference was held on Sudan, following which many of its debts were forgiven and an economic roadmap was drawn for [the country]… As a result it has started to recover and is becoming one of the most promising countries in Africa, according to reports by the World Bank.
"The Lebanese have no reason to perpetuate an ideological conflict that does not involve a single ideological element impinging on the [relations between] the Lebanese and the Israeli peoples. After all, Lebanon is not under Israeli occupation. The two [countries merely] disagree whether certain territories, such as the Shab'a Farms, belong to Lebanon or to Syria. Furthermore, Lebanon is not part of the 'Jewish homeland enterprise,' and its dispute with Israel is over specific technical issues, for which there are specific technical solutions.
"I understand [why] Lebanon does not dare sign a peace agreement with Israel, even if I disagree agree with this reluctance. In fact, [I believe such an agreement] would be one of the most reasonable moves in the overall context of Israeli-Arab relations. [But] what no Lebanese must accept is that Lebanon is being prevented from [utilizing all its] options, with the aim of perpetuating the weapons of the Hizbullah militia and the factors that enable it to justify itself. It is unacceptable to keep Lebanon hostage to the Hizbullah militia's narrative on the conflict with Israel, and to preoccupy the Lebanese with divining the 'identity' of each molecule of gas they beg [from other countries], while the Lebanese gas [still buried] in the Mediterranean is slowly being dropped from the gas equations in the Middle East."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8962 – Lebanese Journalists: Lebanon Must Advance Towards Peace With Israel, October 12, 2020; MEMRI TV Clip No. 8271 - Former Lebanese Minister Sejaan Azzi: Israel No Longer Presents An Imminent Threat To Lebanon; Israel Wants Peace With Lebanon; We Cannot Live In Constant War – March 9, 2021; MEMRI TV Clip No. 8345 - Lebanese Journalist Rami Naim: Peace With Israel Is Coming No Matter What; Normalization Started When Speaker Berri Announced Border Negotiations – October 2, 2020.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 12, 2021.