Lebanon-Israel Maritime Dispute Could Use US Help
‘Lebanon is about to award offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in areas that encroach on Israel's exclusive economic zone (EEZ)’, official Israeli sources told the Globes. Israel claims that the Lebanese block 9 licence violates its EEZ. Earlier this year, in July 2013, caretaker Lebanese energy minister Gebran Bassil announced that Israel could, intentionally, or as a result of its offshore activities, syphon the gas offshore Lebanon. Bassil urged the Lebanese president, the acting prime minister and the speaker of parliament to hold two extraordinary cabinet and parliament sessions to pass two essential decrees that would allow oil and gas contracts to be awarded. The two decrees meant to demarcate the 10 maritime exploration blocks and to establish a revenue-sharing model have not been issued to date. Bassil’s concern followed the discovery of the Karish reserve offshore Israel located. Karish’s farthest point lies 15 to 17 kilometers from the Lebanese zone, while its closest point is located 4 kilometers from Lebanon’s block 8.
Lebanon’s EEZ is an area of 22,000 square kilometers divided into 10 blocks of which blocks 8, 9 and 10 are located adjacent to Israel’s EEZ. Lebanese President Sleiman reiterated last week the importance of the formation of a fully functioning cabinet that would issue the pending pieces of legislation for Lebanon to award contracts, launch its exploration phase and protect its resources.
The maritime border conflict between the two countries is considered one of the main obstacles to the effective development of the hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. Past efforts to resolve the dispute through intermediaries have failed to achieve results. U.S. Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs Frederic Hof was sent by the US in February 2013 to help find a solution to the problem but to no avail. The Israeli-Lebanese maritime conflict constituted a key point of the discussion between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the white house on 1st October 2013. Details of the discussion were not disclosed but the outcome is the US willingness to interfere in the demarcation issue between the two Eastern Mediterranean neighbours. Despite previous failed attempts and the fact that the news was received with a certain degree of skepticism, a well-intentioned US mediation aimed at solving the dispute would be highly welcome. Not only are natural resources at stake, but the already unstable region could do without a renewed military confrontation between the two countries.
Karen Ayat is an analyst focused on energy geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean. Follow Karen on Twitter: @karenayat