The discovery of an important deposit of oil and natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea a few years ago in a triangular area just off the coasts of Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon, has the potential of bringing in billions of dollars to fill the state coffers – and a few pockets -- in Tel Aviv, Nicosia and Beirut. All three countries are badly in need of hard cash to help the state weather these tight economic times.
Each one of those three countries faces domestic budgetary problems. Israel has the expense of maintaining the region’s most powerful military and the cost of the continued occupation of the West Bank, as well as remaining in constant state of military readiness. Not exactly a state of war, but then again not peace, either. Thankfully for Israel, Uncle Sam is always there to help out.
And Cyprus is recuperating from a major banking catastrophe. Thankfully for Cyprus the European Union, which the island of Aphrodite joined some years back, is there to help out a member country.
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But perhaps for Lebanon, (who does not receive the generous donations that its neighbor to the south receives from Washington), the development offers the country a unique opportunity to jumpstart a sagging economy that has been eroded over the years by the political cancer that has been eating away the core of the Lebanese state.
But will the Lebanese realize that crazy as the gods may be, it seems they still have a soft spot for the amazing breath-taking country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, and is granting them yet another chance to turn this small piece of real estate into a potential lucrative business haven? As Dubai did several decades ago? Yes, Dubai, but with one major difference. Dubai had no politics, no guns and more importantly, no men mad enough to stand behind those guns and pull the triggers.
Whereas Lebanon has more guns than the National Rifle Association would know what to do with. One of the problems is that often the Lebanese appear to be their own worst enemy. The tendency here is to rally around other people’s causes rather than their own, be it Syria’s, Iran’s, Palestine’s, or others. As a result the country and its people end up suffering the most.
Lebanon’s oil offer’s the country a potential way out of the crisis, from a financial point of view. There is still, of course, the political and religious differences to sort out. Will the decision-makers in the country be astute enough to see this opportunity as an exit visa from the current crisis into brighter days ahead?
Lebanon, which has been without a proper government for almost a year as a result of political bickering between the various political parties is trailing behind the other two countries, in getting around to exploit the newly discovered resources.
However, many Lebanese remain highly skeptic that anything is likely to change anytime soon for the simple reason that the Lebanese have a knack for passing up golden opportunities and for choosing the wrong path when it comes to the well-being of their country. They tend to pledge allegiance to foreign powers and ideologies ahead of that of their own.
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For Lebanon to perform as a modern and progressive country two things need to happen. First, the drilling for oil needs to get underway so that Lebanon can jump into the energy market with its neighbors, and not get left behind.
And second, in order to attract business investors, tourists and anyone who wants to invest a single dollar in the Lebanese economy, or to take advantage of the country’s liberal but secure banking laws, there needs to be a climate of political stability and security in the country before anyone risks investing that dollar in a precarious political climate.
Lebanon’s politicians are today at a crossroad. They can either take their country in the direction of Dubai, and reclaim their place as the center of business in the Arab world, or they can continue to fight their petty quarrels and become more like the Baghdad of today. Everyone knows where it is but no one really has any great desire to go there.
By Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com