yaalon - Moti Milrod - May 22 2011
Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon, May 22, 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Haaretz
A schematic diagram of Northern Maritime Border. Photo by Haaretz

The Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said at a meeting of cabinet ministers on Sunday that Iran and Hezbollah are behind the government of Lebanon's petition to the United Nations concerning the maritime border with Israel.

Ya'alon said that Iran and Hezbollah are purposefully trying to create a new source of friction with Israel.

"We signed an agreement with Cyprus that is in keeping with its agreement with Lebanon," said Ya'alon. "When we announced our gas drilling, the Iranians and Hezbollah decided that it would be a good excuse for conflict with us."

"They decided to sketch a new border south of the line that was agreed to in talks between Lebanon and Cyprus, and basically entered our territory," Ya'alon continued. "It was done with premeditation in order to create conflict with us, just like the Sheba Farms."

Earlier Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting, the government approved the decision to submit the Israeli proposal to demarcate the northern maritime border of the State of Israel.

The demarcation will establish the area in which the state retains economic rights, including the right to exploit underwater natural resources. In the coming days, Israel will submit its position to the United Nations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting, "The maritime border that Lebanon submitted to the United Nations is significantly further south of the border, as Israel understands it."

According to Netanyahu, "The Lebanese line runs contrary to Israel's border agreements with Cyprus, and Lebanon's own border agreements with Cyprus. We are working towards the demarcation of the border as per international maritime law." However, the U.S. Administration adopted the Lebanese position.

The proposal that was submitted to the United Nation Sunday is expected to have long-term implications for the underwater oil and gas fields that are thought to be worth billions of dollars and are located in the disputed territory in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the Lebanese proposal does not include the large Tamar and Leviathan gas prospects, operated by Delek Energy and U.S. company Noble Energy.

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 maritime border between Israel and Lebanon is divided in two: there is a 12-mile line extending from the coast, on either side of which the respective countries have full sovereignty; and a more than 100-mile line designated "economic area only" or "economic waters". In this second area, both countries have economic and scientific rights.

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.