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Qatar to join consortium pumping gas from offshore field straddling Lebanon, Israel

Last week’s deal with France’s TotalEnergies and Italian ENI includes approval for state-owned energy giant to join group exploring in formerly disputed area

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Qatar's Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, center left, awaits a posed photo op with Emirati Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei, center right, during the Gastech 2021 conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Qatar's Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, center left, awaits a posed photo op with Emirati Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei, center right, during the Gastech 2021 conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The Energy Ministry acknowledged on Wednesday that a state-owned Qatari company will join the consortium exploring a gas field Israel shares with Lebanon.

Last Tuesday, Israel signed a framework agreement with French energy giant TotalEnergies and Italian hydrocarbon concern ENI.

An Energy Ministry official told The Times of Israel that approval was given as part of that agreement for Qatar Energy to join the consortium, though the announcement released by the ministry last week did not mention Qatar or the energy company.

Instead, it noted only that “any future partner in the consortium will be approved by Israel and will be bound by this agreement.”

It was widely understood that Qatar Energy was the “future partner” alluded to in the deal.

Qatar Energy did not respond to requests for comment.

Lebanese protesters take part in a demonstration in the border town of Naqoura, on June 11, 2022, days after Israel moved a gas production vessel into the offshore Karish field, a part of which is claimed by Lebanon. (Mahmoud Zayyat/ AFP)

Earlier last month, Lebanon and Israel announced that they had struck a “historic” deal to resolve a maritime border dispute involving offshore gas fields after years of US-mediated talks.

Shortly afterward, Lebanon asked TotalEnergies to kickstart gas exploration off its shores, including in the Qana or Sidon reservoir, parts of which fall in Israel’s territorial waters. Under the deal, Israel it receive a portion of the revenues from gas extracted from the field.

Qatar Energy, responsible for all of the Gulf emirate’s oil and gas development, is limited to a maximum share of 30 percent of the consortium, according to Kan news.

The company effectively replaces independent Russian natural gas producer Novatek, which in September revealed it would be leaving the consortium.

TotalEnergies now holds a 60% stake in Lebanon’s block 9, which covers the Qana play, while ENI holds 40%. Novatek’s 20% stake was held in a temporary entity called Daja 216, Reuters reported in October, whose registered address is the same as that of  TotalEnergies.

Qatar and Israel, who do not have diplomatic relations, recently cooperated to allow Israeli visitors to attend the World Cup soccer tournament. Two weeks ago, Israel reached an agreement with FIFA and Qatar to allow direct charter flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Doha for the Mondial.

People check in at a counter in Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv, the first commercial flight from Israel to Doha for the World Cup 2022 tournament, on November 20, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The two countries also agreed on an arrangement in which Israeli diplomats would openly operate in the country, working out of a private travel agency.

Jerusalem engages with Doha to grant permissions for the distribution of Qatari aid in the Gaza Strip, but details on such contacts are rarely publicly confirmed.

Qatar hosted an Israeli trade office from 1995 to 2000, but is seen as unlikely to join other Gulf states in establishing full ties with Israel, due to its own relationship to Iran.

An Israeli delegation arrives at the Israeli border with Lebanon in Rosh Hanikra, on October 27, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

With demand for gas rising worldwide because of the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lebanon hopes exploiting the offshore field will help ease its economic crisis.

A day before the border pact was signed, London-based gas company Energean said it had begun extracting from Israel’s Karish field, which also lies in the formerly disputed area.

Energean’s floating production system (FPSO) at the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. (Energean)

Under the agreement with Lebanon, Israel will receive recognition for its buoy-marked boundary five kilometers (3.1 miles) off the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra, which it established in 2000. After that, Israel’s border will follow the southern edge of the disputed area known as Line 23.

Lebanon will enjoy the economic benefits of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana gas field, while Israel will move ahead with gas production at the Karish field and will receive revenues from Qana if and when it begins operations.

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