BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman warned Israel Monday against taking any unilateral measures to exploit Lebanon’s resources in the demarcation of disputed maritime borders, vowing that the country would defend its sea and land boundaries and rights through all legitimate means.
Sleiman’s warning came as a dispute over offshore gas and oil reserves between the two countries, technically at war, worsened following the Israeli government’s approval of a map of its proposed maritime borders which Lebanon deemed an aggression and an infringement on its right to an exclusive economic zone.
“President Michel Sleiman warned against any unilateral decisions Israel might take on the issue of maritime borders in breach of international laws, as Israel did in several issues,” according to a statement released by the president’s office.
Sleiman affirmed “Lebanon’s determination and its readiness to defend its territory, its land and sea borders and protect its rights and its [natural] wealth by all available and legitimate means,” the statement said.
Sleiman added that the issue of the maritime borders should be a main topic of discussion at the Cabinet’s first meeting Thursday after winning a vote of confidence in Parliament last week.
“This issue should be discussed and examined by the Cabinet for the executive authority to take the official position that will maintain Lebanon’s sovereignty on its territory and resources,” he said, according to the statement.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told The Daily Star Sunday that Lebanon would file a complaint with the United Nations against Israel, after the Jewish state approved Sunday a map of its proposed maritime borders, which Lebanon viewed as an “aggression” on its gas and oil rights. Israel will submit the map to the U.N. for an opinion.
The Israeli map lays out maritime borders that conflict significantly with those proposed by Lebanon in its own submission to the U.N. last summer.
Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish said if Israel tried to exploit Lebanon’s natural resources in the demarcation of the maritime border, the army, the people and the resistance would confront “this aggression.”
“The state must do its duty by confirming its rights and border demarcation at the United Nations by providing all needed legal documents. But if the Israeli enemy staged an attack on Lebanon’s natural rights, it’s then theduty of the state, the army, the people and the resistance to confront this aggression and defend our rights,” Fneish told The Daily Star Monday.Responding to March 14 parties’ scathing attacks on his party’s weapons, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah indicated in a speech last year that the resistance was ready to help the Lebanese state attain its offshore oil and gas rights in the face of Israeli threats.Mansour said that Israel’s demarcation of its maritime borders with Cyprus had infringed on Lebanon’s right to its economic zone.
“When the border line between Israel and Cyprus was demarcated, this harmed the Lebanese side. We will not accept this at all and we reserve our right and use all means authorized legally and internationally to prove our right and demand these rights,” Mansour told reporters at the Foreign Ministry Monday.
Asked what steps the government planned to take to face the Israeli infringement, Mansour said: “The specialized ministries must act to draw up a practical study on the extent of the Israeli violation of the [economic] zone and determine Lebanon’s losses as a result of this violation and define the zone in a very accurate way. In the light of this, the Lebanese government will take the appropriate measure. Lebanese diplomacy will undertake moves with the United Nations and international organizations to ask Israel to comply with international law and the Maritime Law.”
He said Israeli threats will not affect Lebanon’s position to gain its rights.
Israel has been moving to develop several large offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, some shared with Cyprus, that it hopes could help it to become an energy exporter. But its development plans have stirred controversy with Lebanon, which argues the gas fields lie inside its territorial waters.
Lebanon’s proposal to the U.N. last year outlined the boundary of its exclusive economic zone in which oil and gas is contained. The zone is said to contain billions of cubic meters of fossil fuel.
Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said Lebanon has always abided by international laws and the Maritime Law.
“We will demarcate the remaining [part] of our [maritime] border and send it to the United Nations … Israel does not care about laws and world orders. It does not comply with international resolutions or the United Nations,” Qortbawi told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He said Lebanon’s letter to the U.N. contained maps and evidence that support its maritime borders with Israel.
The Kataeb (Phalange) Party called on the Lebanese state to take quick measures through the United Nations “to assert Lebanon’s rights and prevent any attack on its basin resources be it a sea or land attack.”
Apparently referring to Hezbollah’s rejection of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a statement issued after a meeting of the party’s political bureau chaired by party leader Amin Gemayel said: “International law is the guarantee for Lebanon’s rights. The government must not follow a selective policy in its dealing with U.N. resolutions.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said he backed the government in its bid to assert Lebanon’s maritime border and economic rights, but warned against dragging the country into a regional conflict over this issue. “This government must do what is necessary, especially at the United Nations and international organizations, in this respect and not to back off,” he said.
“Demanding maritime rights is one thing and dragging the issue of borders into a bigger regional conflict is a totally different thing,” Geagea told reporters at his residence in Maarab.
Energy Minister Jibran Bassil said Lebanon will not give up its maritime rights and accused Israel of “violations of [Lebanese] waters, territory and airspace, and today our oil rights.” He assured the Lebanese that the country’s natural resources were “not in danger.”
The two biggest known offshore fields, Tamar and Leviathan, lie off the coast of Israel’s northern city of Haifa. International energy experts have said that Leviathan field might be straddling Lebanon’s maritime border with Israel. Tamar is believed to hold at least 238 billion cubic meters, while Leviathan is believed to have reserves of 450 billion cubic meters.
In recent weeks, an Israeli company has also announced the discovery of two new natural gas fields, Sarah and Mira, which lie around 70 kilometers off the city of Hadera further south.