deep-sea rig at Tamar
The deep-sea rig at Tamar, off the Haifa shoreline.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded on Sunday to a recent dispute on Israel’s maritime border with Lebanon, saying at a cabinet meeting that the lines delineated in a Lebanese proposal are significantly further south than those recognized by Israel and determined in previous deals.

“The lines declared by Lebanon contradict both the maritime border agreement signed by Israel and Cyprus, as well as the border agreement signed between Lebanon itself and Cyprus,” Netanyahu said at the meeting, adding that Israel is actively working to clarify the border based on international maritime law.

The cabinet meeting was convened days before Israel plans to submit coordinates to the United Nations its take on where its maritime economic border with Lebanon should be, as the two countries scramble for gas reserves estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Last August, Lebanon submitted to the United Nations its version of where the maritime border should be - the exclusive economic zone. In November, it submitted its version of its western border, with Cyprus. The United States has endorsed the Lebanese proposal.

The Lebanese proposal does not include the large Tamar and Leviathan gas prospects, operated by Delek Energy and U.S. company Noble Energy. But the National Infrastructure Ministry found that the proposal contains reserves with a potential value in the billions of dollars.

Israel has rejected the possibility of indirect talks via the United Nations to resolve the issue, calling on Lebanon to begin negotiations on all border issues, not just the maritime border. The foreign and infrastructure ministries believe that Lebanon is claiming vast offshore territories that belong to Israel under international law.

"It's important to provide the UN with the Israeli version of the border as soon as possible, to react to Lebanon's unilateral move," a senior Foreign Ministry official told Haaretz. "Not responding could be interpreted as a tacit agreement. We must act fast to ensure Israel's economic rights in these areas."

Israel has become even more concerned about the positioning of the border after learning recently that a Norwegian company has begun searching for gas in the area. The search is due to be completed within months, and the Lebanese government hopes to use the findings to license international energy companies to probe areas that could be in Israel's exclusive economic zone.