UN Refuses Lebanon Request to Intervene in Israel Gas Drilling

Lebanese FM urged Ban Ki-moon to prevent Israel from exploiting Lebanon's maritime wealth, but UN spokesman says it won't demarcate border.

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The United Nations on Wednesday declined Lebanon's request to protect the country's natural gas reserves by demarcating its maritime border with Israel.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Shami sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Tuesday urging him to prevent Israel from exploiting Lebanon's oil and maritime wealth. He presented the UN with maps to support Lebanon's claims regarding these apparent borders.

Gas drilling rig

The move came just after Texas-based Noble Energy Inc. announced an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas found in a field off Israel's Mediterranean coast.

But UN spokesman Martin Nesirsky said in response to the request that the international body was not prepared to intervene in the dispute. The United Nations demarcated the land border separating Israel and Lebanon in 2000, but there is no official naval border.

"Security Council Resolution 1701 does not include delineating the maritime border," Nesirky said. "We are talking about two different things - coastal waters and a disputed maritime border."

The gas reserve in question is estimated to be worth more than $95 billion. It is the largest amount of natural gas discovered in the world in the last decade and is located in approximately 5,400 feet (1,645 meters) of water, about 130 kilometers offshore of Haifa.

Lebanese officials and even Hezbollah have raised their concerns regarding the maritime border in the, after the Dalit and Tamar natural gas discoveries.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri last year urged Lebanon to start exploring its offshore natural gas reserves, warning that otherwise Israel would claim the resources.

"Israel is racing to make the case a fait accompli and was quick to present itself as an oil emirate, ignoring the fact that, according to the maps, the deposit extends into Lebanese waters," Berri said then.

The head of petroleum and natural gas exploration in the National Infrastructures Ministry, Dr. Yaakov Mimran, called the claims "nonsense."

He said that the latest offshore discoveries in the Leviathan field, as well as the earlier Tamar and Dalit finds, are absolutely within Israeli territory.

Senior Israeli officials said it was Lebanon that set the limits on its own territorial waters after it had given out exploration licenses exactly along these borders. "What are they complaining about now?" asked one official.

"That is how Cyprus acted, which set the border of its exclusive economic zone between countries at a distance of 200 kilometers from Israeli shores and sold the [licenses] for exploration to private entrepreneurs along this line," said the official.

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