The Lebanese government has hired a Norwegian firm to conduct a seismic survey on the border of Israel's exclusive economic zone. Lebanon intends to parcel out the rights to search for natural gas and oil in the area, which may also include part of Israel's exclusive economic zone, according to information obtained by the Israeli government.

As a result, the cabinet will be asked to approve an official decision on Sunday detailing the borders of Israel's exclusive economic zone. This decision will be submitted to international institutions, including the United Nations, in response to a similar decision submitted by Lebanon six months ago. Lebanon told the UN at the time that it controlled areas included in Israel's exclusive economic zone.

"A lack of an Israeli response to the Lebanese machinations could be interpreted by legal bodies as tacit consent," the cabinet resolution states. Israel and Lebanon have never agreed on their maritime border; hence the need for an official statement detailing Israel's claim.

The law of the sea defines an exclusive economic zone as an area in which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources. It stretches from the seaward edge of the state's territory to 200 nautical miles from its coast. In casual usage, the term may also include a country's territorial waters and even the continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit. If there is more than one country with rights inside the 200-mile zone, the issue is supposed to be resolved through a procedure similar to arbitration in the UN.

But the exclusive economic zone usually applies to what is in the sea, such as fish, and not to what lies under the continental shelf. Thus problems may arise when a continental shelf is shared by more than one country, such as can occur in the Mediterranean.

In December 2010, Israel and Cyprus signed an agreement officially delineating the maritime border between them. But the border between Israel and Lebanon has never been agreed upon, and in practice, Lebanon has in the past made its own determination by selling off exploration franchises.

Lebanon did reach an agreement on the boundaries of its exclusive economic zone with Cyprus, but it never ratified the agreement - and now it is claiming the boundary runs further south than specified in that agreement.

Israel has tried to keep a low profile on the matter of its maritime borders with Lebanon. A year ago, however, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau warned Beirut that Israel would not hesitate to use force to protect its natural gas fields.