Israel Mulls Law to Regulate Offshore Border with Lebanon
Israel is mulling a new law on offshore zones which Lebanon sees as laying claim to a disputed 860 km² block. A spokeswoman for Israel's energy ministry told NGW: "The maritime zones law is intended to precisely define the various maritime zones according to the international law and the Israeli laws that will prevail there. As for the disputed zone with Lebanon, Israel did not include it in its competitive licensing round zones in question. Israel is open to every dialogue in order to solve the dispute while safeguarding the Israeli interests."
Israel claims that five blocks in Lebanon's new licensing round are penetrating into Israel's EEZ. However since no political ties exist between the two countries and the Lebanese government is backed by Hezbollah, a group which is hostile to Israel and is the regarded by Israel as a terrorist organisation, the two sides cannot find a political solution to the problem.
Yedioth Ahronot, a Israeli daily, reported this week that it was decided to bring forward legislation concerning the maritime zones. The Israeli version of the law would unilaterally annex zones that are in dispute between the two countries. Israel claims that Lebanon broke the uneasy peace when it published its licensing round. That accelerated the legislation which will annex those zones to Israel.
Israel, according to Globes, a business daily, has turned to the US administration in order to pressure Lebanon to change the areas of the licensing round.
The dispute over these zones is a longstanding issue between Israel and Lebanon. In August 2010 the lower house of the Lebanese parliament approved legislation for the Lebanese ZZE. However since then, despite involvement from the UN, no solution was found.
The dispute also preoccupied the Obama administration, which took the Lebanese side but could not advance a solution. Now Israel hopes that the new American administration will be more supportive of the Israeli stance. Lebanon estimates its natural gas reservoirs can top 2,700bn m³ and 850mn barrels of oil.
Israel's energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, said last week that he sent a letter to the UN for it to take care of the situation. "At the beginning of February we sent a letter to the UN in which we protested the behaviour of Lebanon," Steinitz was quoted as saying, "which published a tender in its own territorial waters which go beyond the edge of Israel's territorial waters. Israel will protect its rights and is open for a dialogue."
According to an Israeli expert, Eran Etzion, the subject of the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon is a very sensitive one. "It is a complicated and sensitive [subject]," Etzion was quoted in Globes. "It is filled with diplomacy, security, judicial and of course energy perspectives."
Etzion said that in the Trump era when Russia has a more important role in the eastern Mediterranean, "new diplomatic and energy opportunities are being opened up for Israel."