Amir Ben David|Published: 26.03.17
Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, called Israel’s proposed legislation to annex a section of disputed maritime territory a “declaration of war.”

In an interview with Lebanese media, Berri said, “This will be the Shebaa Farms conflict at sea, which will open a situation with many dangerous possibilities.”

Last week, Yedioth Ahronoth learned that the Israeli government is planning to pass the Maritime Areas Bill, which will define Israel’s economic waters and include the disputed maritime territory between Lebanon and Israel.

The disputed territory is an 800 square-kilometer triangular section of the sea beginning near Rosh HaNikra (marked in the map above as sections 1-3). Both states claim ownership and the right to search for and harvest natural gas, oil or other natural resources.

The application of the law has been delayed for years while the United States and UN attempted to mediate the dispute.

While Israel has included the territory on maps delineating resource search zones, it has for years refrained from taking tenders on the disputed territory. However, for the first time, Lebanon has included the disputed territory in tenders for search licenses.

In response, Israel formally protested the Lebanese decision at the UN and decided to promote the aforementioned bill.

“This is a new attack by Israel on Lebanese sovereignty. What was exposed in the Israeli press is not a casual move, but rather the way Israel is trying to take control of gas and oil in our economic territory,” said Berri.

Israel’s Ministry of Energy issued a statement saying, “The Maritime Areas Bill is intended to clearly define the various maritime areas according to international law, and Israeli law will apply to them. Regarding the disputed area with Lebanon, Israel did not include it in the tender process and is open to all dialogue for solutions while safeguarding the Israeli interest.”

(Translated and edited by Fred Goldberg)

Report: Israeli Bill to Annex Gas-Filled Maritime Area ‘Blackmails’ Lebanon – NAHARNET
by Naharnet Newsdesk

After Israel’s announcement that it will submit a bill to the Israeli Knesset annexing a disputed maritime border area with Lebanon, Lebanese authorities have sent a letter to the United Nations and Security Council denouncing the move and warning of the repercussions, media reports said on Saturday.

The Israeli move has put Lebanon on alert at the political and diplomatic levels. Prominent political figures have questioned the objectives that Israel seeks to achieve at this particular time, said al-Joumhouria daily.

In the past few hours, a series of contacts from the Lebanese side towards the United Nations and the Security Council were made. Lebanon’s foreign ministry has sent a letter, described by a senior source “as extremely important”, to the Security Council drawing attention to Israel’s acts and warning against the repercussions, said the daily.

The letter reiterated that Israel seeks to pirate a Lebanese area within its economic borders. It referred to the documents Lebanon has sent to the United Nations proving that.

Similar contacts were held with Washington, said the daily, being the mediator who has contributed in the past years to find a compromise between Lebanon and Israel on that matter. Even-though Washington reached at one point a near-agreement, but it was unable to make Israel commit to it.

However, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, said the Israeli pretext for such a move is due to the failure of US mediation efforts between Lebanon and Israel.

But what drew attention, is a report in Israel’s newspaper Maariv that Tel Aviv has asked Washington to pressure Lebanon into withdrawing the tender for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, in exchange that Israel stops to push the bill to the Knesset, Lebanon’s daily said.

A prominent Lebanese source who spoke on condition of anonymity told al-Joumhouria: “Lebanon has not received any request from the United States, knowing that we have already confirmed our right in this maritime area to Washington and the United Nations.

“It is obvious that Israel is taking a blackmailing step towards Lebanon and trying to discourage foreign companies from participating in this matter. We better be cautious and not succumb. On the contrary this must make us more determined than ever to assert our right and defend it.”

Lebanon and Israel are bickering over a maritime zone that consists of about 860 square kilometers and suspected energy reserves that could generate billions of dollars.

Lebanese officials have continuously warned that Israel’s exploration of new offshore gas fields near Lebanese territorial waters means the Jewish state is siphoning some of Lebanon’s crude oil.

In January, the Lebanese government has approved key decrees that pave way for oil and gas extraction off Lebanon’s coast, after more than two years of political deadlock.

The decrees authorize regulators to divide the offshore areas into blocks for drilling and exploration and to issue tenders.

A portion of the reserves lies in territory disputed by the two countries.