Hezbollah Second-in-command: ‘Lebanon Will Not Let Israel Seize Its Natural Gas Fields’

Israel rejects possibility of indirect talks via United Nations; calls on Lebanon to begin negotiations on all border issues. According to the foreign and infrastructure ministries, Lebanon is claiming vast offshore territories belonging to Israel under international law.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem said that Lebanon will not tolerate Israel seizing its oil, gas, and water resources, Channel 10 reported yesterday.
“Lebanon will stand guard in order to protect all its rights no matter the cost,” Qassem stressed during a speech on the Israel-Lebanon maritime border conflict.

In addition, the Lebanese Cabinet has scheduled a meeting regarding the contentious issue of Beirut’s energy policies in relation to the country’s offshore energy assets. At stake are massive offshore Mediterranean sub-sea natural gas reserves; the issue involves competing seabed claims not only with Israel, but also Lebanese claims against Cyprus and Turkey.

AP

Qassem said Hezbollah supports Lebanon’s insistence to protect its maritime rights, as well as the proposal it had submitted to the United Nations last August on where its maritime economic border should be.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently said that the maritime borders proposed by Lebanon encroach upon Israeli territory, and are significantly further south than those recognized by Israel and determined in previous deals.

Qassem said yesterday that Israeli threats do not scare Hezbollah. “Israel knows its threats are worthless in Lebanon after the bitter experience it had gained in the face of Lebanon’s steadfast stance,” he said.

Israel plans to submit coordinates to the United Nations to suggest where its maritime economic border with Lebanon should be, as the two countries scramble for gas reserves estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

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 Lebanese proposal does not include the huge Tamar and Leviathan gas prospects, operated by Delek Energy and U.S. company Noble Energy. But the National Infrastructure Ministry found that the proposal contains reserves with a potential value in the billions of dollars.

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. The foreign and infrastructure ministries believe Lebanon is claiming vast offshore territories that belong to Israel under international law.

“It’s important to provide the UN with the Israeli version of the border as soon as possible, to react to Lebanon’s unilateral move,” a senior Foreign Ministry official told TheMarker. “Not responding could be interpreted as a tacit agreement. We must act fast to ensure Israel’s economic rights in these areas.”

Israel has become even more concerned about the positioning of the border after learning recently that a Norwegian company has begun searching for gas in the area. The search is due to be completed within months, and the Lebanese government hopes to use the findings to license international energy companies to probe areas that could be in Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources familiar with Lebanese government discussions said the 2007 rejection by the Turkish government of the proposed demarcation maritime border between Lebanon and Cyprus resulted in the failure of the governments to ratify a proposed bilateral agreement.

Issues between Turkey and Cyprus, a member of the European Union, remain complex and tense because the northern part of Cyprus is home to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, established in 1974 in the wake of the Turkish invasion of the island and only recognized by Ankara.

Last week, Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour stated that Lebanon would file a complaint with the United Nations against Israel. “Lebanese diplomacy is always ready to confront any Israeli threat to Lebanon,” he said.

Commenting on recent Israeli maneuvers near Lebanon’s frontiers, seen in Beirut as a provocation over the issue of offshore energy reserves, Mansour added, “The Israeli enemy’s continuing threats are not confined to maneuvers. Lebanon is always exposed to air, sea and land Israeli violations, which average 11 violations daily. Therefore, Israel’s threats are not confined to maneuvers or training inside the occupied territories but they go beyond that to daily violations [of sovereignty] in Lebanon.”