Israel-Lebanon tensions rise over natural gas rights

Monday, July 11, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Israel and Lebanon have become embroiled in a legal and diplomatic battle over rights to undersea natural gas fields that could potentially turn violent.

Dispute over natural resources has long been a catalyst for war, and few would be surprised if Lebanon's dominant Hizballah terrorist militia used this latest quarrel as justification for a fresh attack on the Jewish state.

"Lebanon has warned that it insists on protecting its borders and resources," a spokesman for Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told Bloomberg.

Berri and the Lebanese government were responding to an Israeli cabinet vote that defined the nation's maritime borders. Israel was keen to take that step after Lebanon began laying claim to offshore territories that encompass huge natural gas reserves discovered by Israel in recent years.

Last year, Lebanon submitted maps demarcating new maritime borders to the UN. But the lines differ greatly from those decided upon by Israel, and even from those Lebanon itself agreed to years ago.

"The line that Lebanon submitted to the UN is significantly south of the Israeli line," said Netanyahu. "It contradicts the line Israel has agreed upon with Cyprus, and what is more significant to me is that it contradicts the line that Lebanon itself concluded with Cyprus in 2007."

Israel will submit its own maps to the UN later this week.

The natural gas reserves discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years are estimated to be the largest in the world, and could drastically alter Israel's economic and energy situation.

But the new maritime border insisted upon by Lebanon would mean a loss of billion of dollars worth of gas rights to Israel.

Israeli firms working the Tamar and Leviathan undersea gas fields announced last year that in addition to the enormous amount of natural gas, there may also be rich oil reserves in the area.

Hizballah, which effectively controls Lebanon's government, responded by accusing Israel of "stealing" Lebanon's natural resources, and threatening war.

Hizballah has attacked and started war with Israel for less in the past.

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