Now more than ever Lebanon matters. And more than it ever has before.
It matters because it continues to be a buffer zone and a contention state (be it a dysfunctional as it is now) between secularism and religious extremism. (Call them Shiite theocracy, Sunni/Wahhabi Shekidoms and Fiefdoms, etc.). The point is that Lebanon keeps itself a democracy, even with its called caretaker government, thanks to the intransigent attitude from Hezbollah and the clashes with Israel and the West. Not to forget the relevance of Syria as a key player in Lebanese internal politics.
Lebanon matters, as well, because of the religious tolerance that reigns there (having a confessionalist political system for decades long), and it matters much more now that the country has discovered considerable offshore petroleum reserves. With a successful and coherent strategy to develop these reserves, Lebanon could become a Mediterranean energy hub, a development that could transform the geopolitical landscape, easing a strong international dependence on Persian Gulf oil and gas; especially for the United States and the Western world. But the real reason why Lebanon will matter more and more in the near future is if the oil and gas incomes will be handled by a secularist state (western leaning) or, to the contrary, Hezbollah and other extremist factions will come to grip the steering wheel and take control of the rising energy industry in this country – which could deal a fatal blow to Washington in this area.
For the here and now, many foreign investors have decided to move forward undaunted with initial steps, participating in bidding rounds for blocks and fields off shore. All this offers the hope of recovery to the ailing Lebanese economy, and the opportunity for Lebanon to reorganize itself as a country. However, if the aforementioned scenario comes to fruition, this could threaten the energy landscape in the whole of the Mediterranean.
That is why Lebanon matters.
Jose Chalhoub is an international energy expert with a BA and MA in Politics.