Israel's Karish gas-drilling rig, which has been stationed along what Lebanon claims is a disputed maritime border, will not pump gas from the contested zone, top Israeli officials stated Wednesday via social media.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar released an official statement in Hebrew, Arabic and English, saying the rig remains within Israeli territory, "several kilometers south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted" between Israel and Lebanon.
Since 2000, there have been intermittent, U.S.-mediated negotiations over the zone, but Israel maintains that the location of the rig is not in the disputed area. According to Israeli sources, 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.
The rig is a "strategic asset" intended to "advance Israel’s green economy," the joint statement said, adding that Israel is ready to defend "the security of its infrastructure."
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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. The rig is expected to be operational in the next three months.
On the same day, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati accused Israel of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty in its territorial waters after the rig entered the contested border area.
Lebanon warned Israel not to start drilling in the Karish field, with Aoun adding that maritime border negotiations had not ended and that any move by Israel would be considered “a provocation and hostile act.”
Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said in an interview on Monday with Army Radio that the field was “entirely in undisputed territory” and called on Lebanon to return to indirect negotiations.
“It’s not even (above) the southern line that Lebanon submitted to the United Nations. Even according to the United Nations, it’s not in Lebanon,” she said. Elharrar added that the Israeli defense ministry is taking the necessary steps to protect the rig, without elaborating further.
Elharrar also told the 103FM radio station that the Lebanese allegations were “very far from reality” and that “all the relevant forces are involved, and I recommend not trying to surprise Israel.” But she said the likelihood of conflict was small.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.