Israel Open to Border Talks With Lebanon to Boost Mediterranean Gas Exploration

The two countries are in a dispute over an energy block extending along their maritime borders

File photo: In this undated file photo made available by Albatross Aerial Perspective shows an aerial the Tamar Lease natural gas rig, located 90 kilometers west of the city of Haifa, northern Israel.
AP Photo/Albatross Aerial Perspective, File

Israel voiced openness on Monday to U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on resolving a dispute over the neighbours' maritime border that has dogged Mediterranean oil and gas exploration.

Such talks, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz's office said in a statement after he met U.S. envoy David Satterfield, could be "for the good of both countries' interests in developing natural gas reserves and oil" by agreeing a border.

There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or U.S. officials.

Technically at war since Israel's founding in 1948, Lebanon and Israel have long disagreed on border demarcations, a dispute affecting a sea area of about 860 sq km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon's southern energy blocks.

Waters in one of those blocks are also claimed by Israel, which kicked off a gas bonanza in the eastern Mediterranean almost a decade ago with the discovery of two huge gas fields.

The dispute has led to years of brinkmanship with both sides promising to protect their resources and warning about encroachment.

In March, Lebanon warned Israel that it's planned EastMed gas pipeline from Israel to the European Union must not violate its maritime borders. 

Israel is hoping to enlist several European countries in the construction of a 2,000 km (1,243 mile) pipeline linking vast eastern Mediterranean gas resources to Europe through Cyprus, Greece and Italy at a cost of $7 billion.

Lebanon last year licensed a consortium of Italy's Eni, France's Total and Russia's Novatek to carry out the country's first offshore energy exploration in two blocks. One of the blocks, Block 9, contains waters disputed with Israel. 

A number of big gas fields have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean Levant Basin since 2009. However, the region lacks significant oil and gas infrastructure and political relations between the countries - including Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria - are strained on a number of fronts.