Natural Gas for Hezbollah, but Not the EU? | Opinion

In one of his first official acts, President Joe Biden canceled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which had been expected to carry upwards of 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude per day to the U.S. In the same month, Biden banned new oil and gas leases on public lands. One year later, the U.S. pulled support from a pipeline designed to bring natural gas from Israel and Cyprus across Greece to Italy and Bulgaria. Amos Hochstein, now Biden's senior advisor for energy security, was reported by The Jerusalem Post to have previously said he would be "extremely uncomfortable with the U.S. supporting" EastMed. "Why would we build a fossil fuel pipeline between the EastMed and Europe when our entire policy is to support new technology...and new investments in going green and in going clean?"

Clean, green and more expensive, with security implications for European allies who will be increasingly reliant on unreliable Russian gas. But hey, it's for the environment. Unless...

Hochstein was recently in Lebanon and Israel, trying to resolve a long-standing maritime border dispute to enable Lebanon to take part in the natural gas drilling and exploration revolution in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Yes, that would be the same Lebanon that is occupied by U.S.-designated terror organization and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, and which has built an enormous and increasingly powerful military force aimed expressly at Israel. Yes, that Lebanon.

In an interview with Lebanese media released by the U.S. State Department, Hochstein never mentions Hezbollah.

Hochstein: "We cannot allow Lebanon's electricity system to degrade any further than it already [has]. How can we tell Lebanese people to stay in Lebanon, to work toward Lebanon, that there's hope for a renewed economy and a [re]building, after so much despair? If you can't even have reliable electricity, we will just see a continued degradation of the economy and the energy system, which will lead to loss of hope. That leads to a failed state. We cannot allow that to happen."

News for Hochstein: Lebanon is already a failed state. Hezbollah ransacked it and destroyed it. Electricity won't solve Lebanon's problems. Liberation might, but Hochstein isn't going there. And where will the gas come from?

Hochstein: "In order to get the gas, you have to come through somewhere. Egypt has to go through somewhere. Israel is probably not the right place for it to come, and therefore Syria is the only option."

This is a staggering thought in two ways. First, not Israel—well, that Hezbollah would 100 percent rather rule a "failed state" than take gas from Israel is a given. That the U.S. government agrees with Hezbollah about this is troublesome, to put it mildly. And THROUGH SYRIA? The U.S. will facilitate commerce through the criminal and sanctioned Assad regime, responsible for the deaths of an estimated half-million-plus people, including through the use of chemical weapons, rather than issue an ultimatum to Hezbollah—gas from Israel or no gas at all.

Now, THAT is staggering.

Fighters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah
Fighters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah take part in a ceremony commemorating the memory of its fallen leaders, in the Ghobeiry neighbourhood of southern Beirut on February 15, 2022. ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

Hochstein: "There's no transaction with the Syrian regime. We do not believe in normalizing Assad...and this is in no way, shape or form a waiving of those sanctions or undermining them. This will allow Syria to keep some of the gas—a small percentage of the gas in Syria, for electricity for Syrian people, in exchange—as a payment for the tariff, for the gas to go through Syria."

Cue laughter. What percentage, who will monitor it and how will Syria be penalized if/when it takes too much?

As for EastMed?

Hochstein: "I've always believed...countries deserve to have affordable and reliable sources of energy. ...By and large, I don't advocate for natural gas in almost any other place in the world, except when it's for immediate use now, not for legacy projects that will be forever."

Translation: Gas for Hezbollah now because there are pipelines already in existence. New pipelines to reduce future European reliance on Russia? No. But...

Hochstein: "With Russia threatening its neighbors with invasion, and with Russia under-supplying the European market because it wants it to have leverage over Europe through natural gas, sending prices soaring across Europe and wreaking havoc for people as they struggle to heat their homes in the middle of the winter—we need to make sure that there's enough natural gas and enough energy products for today's world, while not losing focus on the energy transition."

Translation: Finishing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia? OK. Future allied-operated natural gas for European use? No.

Hochstein: "The gas market in the Eastern Mediterranean all around [Lebanon] went from nothing to everything. The Zur discovery in Egypt, the discovery is in Israel, the infrastructure in Cyprus, in...Greece. The infrastructure in Turkey. All around you—in 10 years, [it] went from literally zero to transformational. Except in Lebanon. So, you're not losing by compromising. You're gaining."

Translation: Get in on the action, Hezbollah. Europe, not so much. Israel, not with any help from us.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.