Lebanese Navy set for bigger energy exploration role

While rarely in the public eye in the past, Lebanon’s Navy is set for an increased role in the country’s security as the first oil and gas explorations start near the disputed maritime border with Israel. Lebanon announced last week the beginning of the first explorations in energy blocks 4 and 9 off the northern and southern coasts respectively. Security is a concern as Block 9 is on the disputed maritime border with Israel.

Naval Forces commander Brig. Gen. Hosni Daher said he was hopeful that this new phase in Lebanon’s maritime presence would lead to improved equipment and a greater role for the Navy.

“If a platform for this exploration is to be built, it will need protection and the Navy should do that. Hence, there has come a need for the Navy to be able to be present in the sea in order to protect these platforms and the resources in general,” Daher told The Daily Star.

Lebanon’s naval capacities are in need of an upgrade, Daher said, as most of the ships are old and small.

“We don’t have big ships,” he said. “The biggest [ship] that we have is 40 meters in length and was a donation from the United States.

“We have two other vessels that are bit smaller that were given to us by Germany, while the other ships are old ones.”

The quality of equipment impacts the Navy’s ability to have ships at sea at all times, Daher added.

“These are small ships that can’t be at sea for long stretches. Once conditions at sea are rough, it becomes very difficult [for the ships] to stay out,” he said.

In addition, the differences across the German, French and American-produced vessels present challenges for maintenance and repairs, and Navy armament is very expensive and costly, Daher said.

Still, he expressed hope that the Navy could soon add some larger ships to its fleet that can stay at sea around the clock.

“Once the [exploration] area is even more secure, that would create an atmosphere for investment and will attract companies,” he said.

While Daher underscored that the situation off Lebanon’s coast is stable at the moment and the Navy is coordinating with UNIFIL – the peacekeeping mission that also assists in monitoring the territorial waters – he said there is a need for greater security.

Until this happens, the Navy will continue doing its job with its available capabilities, he added.

Lebanon’s Navy was established in the 1950s and was first based in Beirut, but was then transferred to Jounieh for a couple of years during the Civil War before operations at the Beirut headquarters resumed.

“Since then we’ve had two naval bases with the command here in Beirut,” Daher said. “The Jounieh base is responsible for the [water] territorial sector extending from Nahr al-Kalb toward the northern border, [while] the Beirut base is responsible for the area from Nahr al-Kalb toward the southern border.”

Daher added that along the two sectors, there are different Navy centers that assist the main bases in maintaining the state’s authority in its maritime territories.

The Navy was responsible for monitoring the shoreline during the 2006 war, and suffered personnel and equipment losses during the conflict. Israel “hit all of [the radars] along the coast and we even lost soldiers from the forces that were responsible for these systems,” Daher said.

The Navy includes around 2,000 soldiers and 110 officers who are distributed between the Beirut and Jounieh bases, departments and centers. They are enrolled through the naval academy based in Jounieh, and from there are assigned to an area of specialty.

While awaiting the start of offshore explorations that may bring it into the limelight, the Navy’s tasks will for now include search and rescue missions, pollution cleanup, protecting water resources and fighting the smuggling of people and drugs. For the time being, “You can consider us to be the ‘unknown soldiers,’” the Navy officer said.

 

Source: The Daily Star