View of Israel's Tamar gas field in 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90) (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Tamar gas field

Terror chief Hassan Nasrallah calls for Iranian companies to drill for gas in Lebanese waters adjacent to Israeli gas fields.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah raised the specter of Iranian personnel drilling for natural gas in Lebanese waters adjacent to Israel’s gas fields.

In a speech on Sunday, urging Lebanon’s next government to exploit gas and oil reserves, the terror chief said that if international companies won’t do business with Beirut — either fearing Western sanctions or “Israeli strikes” — an Iranian company should be brought in.

Seismic studies suggest Lebanese waters may contain 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth billions of dollars. When Lebanon began selling drilling rights to blocs in it’s economic exclusion zone (EEZ) in 2018, two of the blocs stretched into a 330 sq. mile triangular area of water claimed by Israel. But Beirut’s political paralysis has prevented Lebanon from developing its offshore riches.

Lebanon and Israel never demarcated a maritime border and the discovery of offshore gas and oil raises the stakes. U.S. mediation during the Obama and Trump administrations didn’t make much headway.

Hezbollah has periodically threatened to attack Israel’s gas rigs. The Israeli Navy has responded by beefing up its capabilities and developing a version of Iron Dome that can be deployed on ships.

Many major Iranian businesses are owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) or people with ties to it. The IRGC is a designated terror organization.

But a Lebanese gas venture would be more than just a financial windfall for the IRGC. Gas exploration and drilling would give the IRGC an offshore foothold to gather intelligence and threaten Israeli gas fields and shipping.

A case in point is the the July attack on the Mercer Street, a tanker owned by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer. Israel didn’t just blame Iran for that attack. It publicly identified Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Air Force and Saeed Ara Jani, the head of the IRGC’s UAV command.

Israel’s Tamar and Tanin gas fields are closest to Lebanese waters. Tamar began producing gas in 2013. Operated by Houston-based Noble Energy, Tamar is said to hold 223 billion cubic meters of gas. The Tanin field is expected to begin production in 2022. It is operated by Energean Oil & Gas, which is based in London.

Just the threat of Iranian attacks could scare off Israel’s investors, or scuttle Israeli, Cypriot and Greek plans for a joint gas pipeline to deliver gas to Europe. The Turkish and Russian navies have been more active in the Eastern Mediterranean as well, and an Iranian presence would complicate matters even more.

At a time when Israel worries about Iran and its proxies gaining strength in the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the IRGC is looking to entrench itself off Israel’s shores too.