The Gaza Post | The News of Palestine – Beirut
The new Lebanese government, led by President Michel Aoun, published a tender to explore untapped gas and oil reserves that lie in the eastern Mediterranean, earlier this month.
Lebanese Minister of Energy and Water Cesar Abou Khalil has said that the offshore resources could be a major economic boost for the country at a time when its financial lifelines, namely tourism, have taken a major hit due to the ongoing war in neighbouring Syria.
However, other troubles have quickly appeared on the horizon.
The fate of the project is now in jeopardy after Israel made the claim this week that the maritime area off the coast of the Israel-Lebanon border is “Israeli territory”, thus should be placed under Israeli sovereign control. Following that proclamation, the Israeli government announced that the Knesset will soon vote on a bill clearly defining where its maritime economic border with Lebanon lies.
In response, Lebanon’s parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, said last week that the Israeli bill claiming the 860sq km zone was a “new attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty”. “The recent decision taken by Israel on the territorial waters is equal to a declaration of war on Lebanon,” he told local media.
The area claimed by both countries covers a triangular expanse of approximately 800sq km, which is rich in coveted natural resources like gas and oil.
The move comes on the heels of years of failed initiatives by the United States and United Nations to mediate a peaceful resolution to the maritime dispute. While the initiatives were unsuccessful in yielding the desired result of splitting the territory between both countries, they were successful in stalling Israel’s unilateral annexation of the area.
However, if passed by the Knesset, Israel has said that the new bill will provide it with the political justification for annexing the territory, and effectively place it under Israeli sovereignty, mainly for the purpose of harvesting the natural resources found there.
Elias Khoury, a local journalist in Beirut who has been focusing on the issue since 2007, told Al Jazeera that Israel’s threats of annexation are unacceptable.
“Both Lebanon and Israel have been unofficially exploring those waters for years now, and there’s been a tacit agreement that they will stay out of each other’s way,” he said.
“But Aoun’s government broke that status-quo recently by announcing its intention to search for gas and oil, which officialized Lebanon’s claim that the area is Lebanese territory.”
After news of the proposed Knesset bill broke out earlier in the week, senior legislators in Aoun’s government were reported as saying that Lebanon will not yield its maritime territory to Israel.
Both countries have made claims to the ocean territory for decades, but the dispute was exacerbated following separate maritime agreements with Cyprus, signed by Lebanon in 2007 and Israel in 2010.
Overlaps between the distance of both the Israeli and Lebanese borders caused a diplomatic quarrel to break out, ending with each side accusing the other of territorial theft.
Source: Al Jazeera News