Lebanon Slams Israeli 'Aggression' After Rig Enters Disputed Natural Gas-rich Maritime Zone

Lebanese prime minister warns of escalation after new gas drilling rig enters maritime zone between countries, though Israel denies location is in disputed area

London-based Energeans drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean, last month.
London-based Energeans drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean, last month.Credit: ARI RABINOVITCH / REUTERS

Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati accused Israel on Sunday of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty in its territorial waters, after a new Israeli gas-drilling rig entered a disputed maritime zone between the two countries.

A Presidential Palace announcement stated that the Lebanese army learned that an Israeli ship had entered the disputed region for the purpose of drilling for gas.

The contested territory between Israel and Lebanon

The British-Greek energy firm Energean, which holds the rights to the Karish gas fields since 2016, set up the rig Sunday, some 80 km west of Haifa. In the coming days, workers will connect the rig to gas deposits. The rig is expected to become operational in the next three months.

Israel's navy has been securing the rig since it left the Suez Canal. Last week, the Knesset’s Economy Committee approved regulations prohibiting maritime traffic in a radius around the rig — as is customary with operational rigs. Lebanon claims that Israeli naval battleships are already on location protecting the rig, even before it is connected to gas deposits.

Israel has previously said that any damage to its gas rigs will be perceived as a declaration of war. Israeli defense officials recently informed Lebanon that the new gas rig will start operating in the area soon and believes there is no intention to attack the rigs during the works.

Najib Mikati, head of Lebanon's transition government, said that "the Israeli enemy's attempts to create a new crisis, by encroaching on Lebanon's maritime wealth, and imposing a fait accompli in a disputed area in which Lebanon adheres to its rights, is extremely dangerous."

Since the year 2000, there have been intermittent, U.S.-mediated negotiations over the zone, but Israel claims the location of the rig is not in dispute. According to sources in Jerusalem, even by the standards of Lebanon's plan, the area of the rig is not in question, as it sits south of the maritime border that Lebanon proposes.

According to President Michel Aoun, since negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over the naval boundary are ongoing, any unapproved activity in the area constitutes provocation and aggression against Lebanon.

Israel has not responded officially to the Lebanese claims, and at this time have no plans to do so, in order to avoid legitimizing the claim that the area is indeed disputed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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