An offshore drilling rig has arrived in Lebanese waters to begin oil and gas exploration, 10 months after a landmark deal that mapped out the hotly contested maritime boundary between Lebanon and Israel.
TotalEnergies, the French company leading the project at an area called Block 9, said drilling was expected to begin later this month.
Lebanon and Israel have technically been in a state of war since the latter's creation in 1948 and the US-led negotiations over theirw maritime boundary were fraught with sensitivities, which at one point risked spilling over into open hostilities.
"The arrival of the equipment marks an important step in the preparation of the drilling of the exploration well in Block 9, which will begin towards the end of August 2023," TotalEnergies said.
Ali Hamie, Lebanon's Minister of Public Works and Transport, said any discoveries could help a country grappling with one of the worst economic crises in modern history.
“Hopefully before the end of the year there will be positive results and Lebanon becomes an energy producer. This offers a glimmer of hope," he said.
“We hope that Lebanon will become an oil state,” said Energy Minister Walid Fayyad.
The rig is about 120km off the Lebanese coast.
How much gas or oil Block 9 holds – if any at all – is not clear.
The maritime border cuts through a natural gas field called Qana. Production will be based in Lebanese waters. However, any gas extracted from Israeli maritime territory will lead to Israel being compensated according to a separate deal it signed with Total.
The maritime agreement was an unprecedented understanding between Israel and its northern neighbour Lebanon and ended years of tense negotiations.
Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese armed group that is particularly strong in southern Lebanon, has repeatedly engaged in conflict with arch enemy Israel.
Last summer it launched three unarmed drones towards the Karish gas field, which was also at the time claimed by Lebanon and Israel.