Lebanon Picks Fight with Israel over Natural Gas in Israeli Territory

Following the announcement that Israel discovered massive gas deposits in the Leviathan and Tamar fields off its coastline, Lebanon declared the fields as being in its territory and warned Israel to leave the fields to Lebanon.

The two fields in question each lie 130 and 90 kilometers of the coast of Israel, well within the 200 mile economic zone the United Nations declared to be a country’s maritime border. The Leviathan field is near the city of Haifa and the Tamar field is actually midway between Cyprus and Israel. The two fields’ massive size would make the owner a potential gas exporter.

On Friday, Bassil declared the Israeli discovery an attack on Lebanese sovereignty. According to him, Israel attacked when it wanted to harm the Lebanese tourist industry back in 2006 and now is doing the same thing to the gas industry. He hinted that the dispute could become a volatile issue that would escalate the instability present in the region. Bassil and Ali Shami, the interim Lebanese Foreign Minister has asked the UN to draw Lebanon’s border, as stated by Security Council Resolution 1701.

However, the UN has refused to involve itself, saying that UNIFIL has no authority regarding maritime borders and that the two sides must come to a peace agreement before the UN will help draw national borders. However, Shami refused to speak with Israel, referring to the country as “Occupied Palestine” and refusing to recognize the Israeli line of buoys which marks its maritime border.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon added that the UN will not involve itself in the gas dispute until Lebanon fulfills its obligations stipulated in Resolution 1701, which includes eliminating the violence and the presence of Hizbollah in southern Lebanon. As of late, the situation has not changed to the UN’s satisfaction.

One other player in the dispute is Cyprus, who has also laid claim to part of the Tamar field. However, they have reached out to Israel in search of a peaceful resolution rather than using explosive rhetoric and the two countries are now examining their borders to determine exactly where the fields lie.