Lebanon tenders encroach on Israeli waters

Lawyers say Israel could lose territory if it does not object to the Lebanese energy exploration tenders in court, or even militarily.

Lebanon is trying to redraw its border with Israel. Official Israeli sources say that Lebanon is about to award offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in areas that encroach on Israel's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It is unclear what Israel plans to do about this matter, which could ignite the border dispute with Lebanon. However, international law experts say that Israeli is liable to lose territory if it does not object to the Lebanese acts in court, or even militarily.

In early September, Lebanon published tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in five blocks in its EEZ. Israeli sources who examined the coordinates found that the area of the southernmost license, Block 9, encroaches on the border that Israel claims for its EEZ. This license is considered attractive with high chances of a major natural gas discovery.

Petroleum Commissioner Alexander Varshavsky presented the findings of the review at an international energy conference in Cyprus two weeks ago. He emphasized that Israel has refrained from taking a similar step, and did not award oil and gas exploration licenses in disputed areas.

The issue is considered especially explosive in the internal Lebanese political arena. Hezbollah and Shia Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri have in the past claimed that Israel's Tamar and Leviathan gas fields are in Lebanese territory, even though they are both located south of the border that Lebanon claims.

Israel and Lebanon are waging a public dispute over the border of their EEZs. In 2010, Lebanon submitted to the UN its claim, based on the land border set when the IDF withdrew from security zone in southern Lebanon in 2000. In the past, the US tried to no avail to mediate between the parties. The area in dispute covers 850 square kilometers in a triangle whose western apex is the Israeli-Lebanese land border and seaward base is Israel and Cyprus's EEZs. Israel secured an achievement when it signed an agreement on its maritime border with Cyprus in December 2010 on the basis of Israel's line.

Adv. David Kornbluth, an expert in national borders, believes that Israel is liable to lose its claim to the disputed area unless it takes active steps in response to the Lebanese move. "Legal practice says that a country that does not respond to such an act is considered as waiving its claim," he told "Globes". He was a partner in setting the EEZ border when he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs legal department.

"Globes": What measures can Israel take?

Kornbluth: "There is definitely room to demonstrate sovereignty along the Israeli line, for example, patrols by Navy ships along it. In addition, there are several formal actions that should be taken immediately, such as making an official statement, approaching a third country considered as an honest broker, and contacting the foreign companies participating in the tenders to warn them that the area is in dispute."

Scores of oil majors are participating in the Lebanese tenders. Most of the companies avoid doing business with Israel for fear of jeopardizing their interests in the Arab world.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 29, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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