Israel Rejects UN Demand to Pay Lebanon $850 Million for 2006 Oil Spill

The United Nations General Assembly approves a resolution calling for Israel to compensate Lebanon for damages caused by an IAF strike during the Second Lebanon War.

Dead fish rot on a popular Beirut beach August 6, 2006
Dead fish rot on a popular Beirut beach August 6, 2006, following major pollution caused by an oil spill during the three-week conflict between Hizbollah and Israel. Reuters

Israel has strongly rejected a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling on it to pay Lebanon over $850 million in damages for an oil spill caused by an Israeli air force attack on oil storage tanks during its war with Hezbollah in July 2006.

"It's the sort of UN decision that we're used to, mixing alternative history, manipulation politicization and self-interested narrow-mindedness," the Israeli mission to the UN said in a statement issued on Friday night.

"The UN has never stopped to check the cost of the war on Israel. Apart from the heavy cost in lives, the war caused huge environmental damage in the north of the country. All that, without even mentioning that the war was a consequence of a terrorist organization, Hezbollah," the statement continued.

"The time has come for the UN to look around and notice the real sources of the threats against it."

The assembly voted 170-6 in favor of the resolution on Friday, with three abstentions. Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Micronesia and Marshall Islands voted against the resolution.

General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they do reflect world opinion.

The resolution says "the environmental disaster" caused by the destruction of the tanks resulted in an oil slick that covered the entire Lebanese coastline and extended to the Syrian coastline, causing extensive pollution.

"Israel Immediately responded to the oil slick incident by cooperating closely with the United Nations Environment Program, as well as other UN agencies and NGOs, addressing the environmental situation along the coast of Lebanon," the Israeli statement reads.

"This resolution has long outlived the effects of the oil slick, and serves no purpose other than to contribute to institutionalizing an anti-Israel agenda at the UN."

The assembly acknowledged the conclusions in an August report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that studies show the value of damage to Lebanon amounted to $856.4 million in 2014. It asked Israel to provide "prompt and adequate compensation."

The assembly also asked Ban to urge UN bodies and other organizations involved in the initial assessment to conduct a further study, building on the work conducted by the World Bank, to measure and quantify the environmental damage sustained by neighboring countries.

The resolution notes that "the secretary-general expressed grave concern at the lack of any acknowledgment on the part of the government of Israel of its responsibilities vis-a-vis reparations and compensation" to Lebanon and Syria for the oil spill.

It notes that Ban concluded that the spill is not covered by any international oil spill compensation funds and therefore recognizes "that further consideration needs to be given to the option of securing the relevant compensation from the government of Israel."

Lebanon's UN Ambassador Nawaf Salam said his country considers the resolution to be "major progress" because it puts forward a figure for compensation, acknowledges the conclusions of the secretary-general's report, and reaffirms the General Assembly's commitment to justice.

"We affirm that Lebanon will continue to mobilize all resources and resort to all legal means to see that this resolution is fully implemented, and that the specified compensation is paid promptly."