Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday that his group has the "capacity to prevent" Israel from extracting gas from a field that Lebanon describes as disputed waters between the two countries.
Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed Shi'ite militant group, said that "all options are on the table," and that Hezbollah is "not afraid of war," amid Lebanese ire over the drilling rig in Karish gas field.
The British-Greek energy firm Energean, which has held the rights to the Karish gas fields since 2016, set up a drilling 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 claimed on Sunday that Israeli naval battleships are already on location protecting the rig, even before it is connected to gas deposits.
On Wednesday, top Israeli officials stated that the Karish gas-drilling rig will not pump gas from the contested zone, saying that it will remain within Israeli territorial waters.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati accused Israel on Sunday of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty in its territorial waters. 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 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."