Beirut: Lebanon’s prime minister and other senior figures in the country’s government reacted angrily to comments by an Israeli official once again laying claim a disputed maritime area said to be rich in oil and gas.
International oil companies are making a “grave mistake” participating in bids to explore in an area that belongs to Israel and and doing so “is contrary to all the rules,” according to a ministry statement citing Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Observers describe as a bullying tactic to discourage companies from doing business with Lebanese authorties.
Late last year, Lebanon awarded bids to Total SA, Eni SpA and Novatek PJSC to explore for oil and gas in blocks 4 and 9 in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Israel lays false claim to block 9 among two others.
The US is working on resolving the dispute, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said last month.
Responding to Liberman, Hariri said Israel’s claim was invalid and is within Israeli policies “to undermine the rights of others and threaten regional security.”
President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil joined Hariri with the president describing the comment as a “direct threat to Lebanon,” the state-run National News Agency reported.
Total declined to comment while Novatek said it would not comment outside business hours in Moscow. Eni didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.
Bassil published a letter Lebanon sent to the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations in which the country voiced concern over Israel’s repeated “illegal threats.”
Lebanon and Israel are no strangers to fiery rhetoric and accusations as both countries are technically in a state of war. Lebanon is expected to sign exploration contracts with the companies to begin work in its waters on February 9.
Last year, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted a letter to the United Nations to protest a pending bill in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) that calls for the illegal annexation of a disputed maritime border area with Lebanon.
According to a detailed report in the daily Al Jumhuriyyah, the Israeli government’s move mobilised Lebanese officials suspicious of Israeli designs on the area abundant with hydrocarbon gas.
The 860 square kilometres area could contain energy reserves that could generate up to $600 billion over the course of a few decades.
Lebanon, which suffers from crippling debt and economic stagnation, is in dire need of such oil and gas resources.
Although Washington managed to reach a draft accord in 2016 guaranteeing allocated zones, Israel has refused to commit, and has stuck to the false claim that the Leviathan field was mostly inside ‘Israeli’ territorial waters.