Israel-Lebanon Sea Boundary Row Obstructs Energy Development


London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean, May 9. (REUTERS/Ari Rabinovitch/File Photo)

A dispute between Lebanon and srael over their maritime boundary has obstructed energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and risks exacerbating tensions.

After months of deadlock in U.S.-mediated talks, Beirut on Sunday warned against any activity in the disputed area, responding to the arrival of a vessel to develop a field for Israel. 

Lebanon has said the field in question, Karish, is in disputed waters. Israel denies this.

Lebanon and Israel are located in the Levant Basin, where a number of big sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009. Israel already produces and exports gas.

But while Israel has moved ahead, Lebanese hopes of producing energy have been hamstrung by political paralysis.

Lebanon’s one and only attempt at drilling – an exploratory well in 2020 – found gas traces but no reservoirs, according to France’s Total, part of a consortium with Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek that was awarded Lebanon’s first oil and gas offshore license in 2018.

A gas find would be a major boon for Lebanon, which has been mired in financial crisis since 2019. Eventually, such a discovery could fix Lebanon’s long-standing failure to produce adequate electricity for its population.

Israeli officials have previously said they hoped the negotiations would take a short time and that an agreement would strengthen both countries’ economies.

But while an agreement could allow both sides to benefit, the issue could risk conflict if unresolved.

Lebanon is home to the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has fought numerous wars with Israel and has previously warned Israel against drilling in the disputed zone. 

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