The long-standing dispute between Lebanon and Israel over offshore oil and gas exploration rights has flared again as Lebanon is about to award drilling licenses in Israel’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Globes reports.
The issue is not just one of money, but is entangled with political and security interests. Hizbullah and Shia Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri have in the past claimed that Israel’s huge Tamar and Leviathan gas fields are located in Lebanese territory, even though both are south of the border that Lebanon claims.
In 2010, Lebanon submitted its claim to the U.N., and the U.S. tried to mediate the dispute, but without success. At issue is an area covering 850 square kilometers in a triangle whose western apex is the Israeli-Lebanese land border and whose seaward base are Israel and Cyprus’s EEZs.
International law experts say that Israel cannot afford to remain passive in the face of the Lebanese challenge. It could lose valuable territory if it does not take legal or military action to protect its rights.
Adv. David Kornbluth, an expert in national borders, told Globes that “Legal practice says that a country that does not respond to such an act is considered as waiving its claim.”
However, to date, Israel has not responded to the Lebanese move in early September to publish tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in five blocks in its EEZ. Israeli sources found the coordinates of the southernmost license, Block 9, encroaches Israel’s EEZ. That particular license is thought to have good prospects of a major natural gas discovery.
Kornbluth suggested a demonstration of sovereignty in the form of patrols by Navy ships in the area Israel claims for itself. In addition, he urged immediate formal actions, including an official statement objecting to the Lebanese move, approaching a third country considered as an honest broker, and contacting the foreign companies participating in the tenders to warn them that the area is in dispute.