A military conflict between Israel and one of its neighbors over control of marine areas is becoming increasing likely as the dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the maritime border heats up. The recent escalation was probably a deliberate step by Hezbollah, which wants to make the maritime border dispute into a Shebaa Farms - the Lebanese name for the territory on Har Dov that Hezbollah says belongs to Lebanon. Will this be the first natural gas war in this stricken corner of the Middle East?
The maritime border is formally different from a land border, because it does not border Israeli territory; it borders an area in which Israel claims exclusive economic rights. Actually Israeli naval ships are patrolling along the maritime border, to be joined by the surface warships ordered from the German shipyards in the affair now being investigated, which involves the prime minister's lawyer.
Israel charted the maritime border on its own authority after IDF forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. As part of that withdrawal, the land border between Israel and Lebanon (the Blue Line) was redrawn, but the line was not extended into the sea. Ministry of Foreign Affairs lawyers charted the marine line in accordance with the principles of international law. It later turned out that Lebanon draws the line at a different angle, which creates an 850 sq.km. disputed marine triangle with its vertex at Rosh Hanikra and its base on the southeastern maritime border of Cypriot economic waters.
This difference became a problem after Israel and Cyprus signed a Delimitation maritime border agreement in 2010. The UN mediation efforts were discontinued three years ago, after Israel and Lebanon showed their unwillingness to compromise. US mediation efforts were also of no avail.
The two countries then remained inactive in the area. Israel suspended its northernmost oil and gas exploration license (Alon D). Lebanon suspended its distribution of licenses following a coalition crisis on the country. The establishment of a new government in Lebanon, however, has completely changed the situation. Through the Lebanese political parties associated with it, Hezbollah has made sure that the distribution of rights in the southern marine area, which are close to the border with Israel, are under its control. Geological assessments are that discovery of a natural gas reservoir on the scale of the Tamar reservoir in the Block 9 licensing area, the southern part of which is in the disputed area, is very likely. Such a gas reservoir is likely to provide Hezbollah with economic power for many years, except that Israel will not allow this to happen.
No Western company will conduct gas explorations in the area when Israeli warships are patrolling nearby, but a Russian company might do it, and an Iranian company certainly will. Inflammable natural gas could set the entire region alight.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 21, 2017
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