What Damascus Gains in Egyptian Gas Transit to Lebanon

“Egypt’s Project is Part of a Regional race to supply Lebanon with Power” – Oil Expert to Majalla
Lebanon's Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar, attends a news conference with Jordan's Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Hala Zawati, Syria's Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Bassam Tohme and Egypt's Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El Molla in Amman, Jordan September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Alaa Al Sukhni

The issue of supplying Lebanon with Egyptian gas through Jordanian and Syrian lands has raised many questions about how to repair the damage caused to Syrian gas pipelines and electricity towers as a result of the war which has been raging in the country for more than a decade. Moreover, there are the conditions set by Damascus in return for allowing Cairo to supply Lebanon with gas passing through its territories and the Jordanian lands within the framework of the Arab Gas Project, to provide electric power to Lebanon, which is witnessing a stifling electricity and fuel crisis.

The Syrian Minister of Electricity Ghassan Al-Zamil estimated the cost of rehabilitating the destroyed part of the Syrian electricity network at about US$ 3.5 million while Bassam Tohme, the Syrian Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources, announced during his visit to the Jordanian capital that the gas pipeline is practically ready inside Syrian territory, despite being subjected to military attacks, explaining, "It has been repaired and has become part of the internal lines."

Chalang Omar, a Syrian academic and economic expert, explained that, "Each country will maintain faults in the gas and electricity networks within its territory and at its own expense, meaning Syria will carry out these maintenance works alone without asking Cairo for this, for example, but Syria will also get a specific percentage of Egyptian gas in return for allowing Cairo access to transfer it to Lebanon."

He also added, "Syrian gains from this project are more political than economic, as prominent Syrian officials, including ministers, visited Amman for the first time since the Syrian war, as well as the visit of senior Lebanese officials to Damascus that was also the first since the war. This means the return of Syrian relations with Arab countries, even partially, after a long rupture."

He also stressed that "The approval of the United States to supply Lebanon with Egyptian gas through Syria means ignoring the Caesar sanctions imposed by Washington on Damascus. In other words, this is also a political gain for the Syrian government, especially that Damascus' participation in this process means, in one way or another, that it is part of the Egyptian-Jordanian-Iraqi cooperation project, as the gas that will reach Syria to be sent to Lebanon, may also be sent to Iraq in the future."

"Syria will benefit from the quantities of gas that will reach its territory and will contribute to alleviating the fuel and gas crisis, at least in the southern regions of the country, but I repeat that the political benefit for Syria is greater than its economic gains from this project, which has ended the Arab boycott of Damascus,” he revealed.

For his part, Amer Al-Shobaki, the Jordanian Economist and Energy expert, considered that "There is a race in the region between two regional powers over the delivery of energy to Lebanon, namely Egypt, which enjoys American support, and Iran, which supports the Lebanese Hezbollah, and therefore whoever can accomplish this task first, will break sanctions imposed by Washington on Syria."

He also noted, "The gas line linking Syria and Lebanon, which is owned by a Russian company, is ready and has been under maintenance for 3 months. The gas line between Arish in Egyptian Sinai and Jordan’s Aqaba is also ready and owned by an Egyptian company. Therefore, there are logistical matters such as the tripartite agreement among Egypt, Jordan, and Syria regarding fees paid for Amman and fees for gas transit through Syrian territories."

He continued, "It also depends on the readiness of Syria’s Deir Ammar station to receive the Egyptian gas. At first, there will be a trial pumping, and then the gas will be sent regularly to it to secure 15-25% of Lebanon's electricity needs, after Beirut stopped Turkish power ships as a result of the economic crisis."

The energy expert said, "Lebanon has abandoned Turkish ships due to the high prices of electricity they supply, and terminated its contracts with these companies. But today there is an opportunity to get a fund from the World Bank which will solve Lebanon's financial problem. I think in just two or three weeks after the arrival of the Iranian fuel ships, the Egyptian gas will reach Syria’s Deir Ammar station to be delivered to Lebanon.

The economic sanctions imposed by Washington on Damascus were the "first obstacle" to the arrival of Egyptian gas to Lebanon through Syrian and Jordanian territories, according to a Jordanian Energy Expert, who added that "Washington exempted Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon from Caesar sanctions with the visit of Jordanian King Abdullah II to Washington earlier, and the US ambassador in Beirut announced her country's readiness to solve the power problem in Lebanon by allowing the passage of Egyptian gas through Syria and Jordan."

Hashem Akl, who is also an expert in the field of energy, commented, "The gas pipeline is ready in both Jordan and Egypt, and is already delivering gas to Jordanian territories on a daily basis. The Syrian government, on the other hand, has also completed the maintenance of gas lines within its territories, and Damascus has announced the readiness of the gas line. There is a gas line on the Lebanese side that linked with Deir Ammar station in Homs. It needs maintenance work, but would not take long."

He added to Majalla, "There are scheduled meetings for the joint technical committees of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to arrange the necessary agreements and determine quantities and prices, followed by a meeting of the four energy ministers to announce the deal. Caesar Act has been bypassed with American approval, and therefore the issue of the arrival of Egyptian gas to Lebanon as a whole may take from 6 to 7 weeks, and now after the formation of the government in Lebanon, this process will be easier."

More than a week ago, the energy ministers of Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon met in the Jordanian capital, and agreed on a road map for transporting Egyptian gas by land to Lebanon after ensuring the readiness of the infrastructure.

That ministerial meeting came after the first visit of a Lebanese government delegation to Damascus. It was the first of its kind since the Syrian war which broke out more than 10 years ago.

Lebanon currently needs "600 million cubic meters of gas to generate 450 megawatts of electricity.” Beirut has announced ongoing negotiations with the World Bank to provide a "financial cover" to import the Egyptian gas.

The roadmap also included scheduling a second meeting about two weeks after the first one. In addition, the ministers of the four countries agreed to conduct maintenance operations for gas pipelines and electricity towers within the assigned period, while technical committees are discussing gas prices and transit fees.


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