BEIRUT: The Israel Navy is finalizing plans which would see it defend its country’s disputed oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, a popular Israeli tabloid reported Sunday.

The reserves, to which both Lebanon and Israel lay claim, would see Israeli warships protect an area of sea 1.5 the country’s size, in order to prevent Lebanon exploring an estimated 700 billion cubic meters of natural gas, Yediot Aharanot newspaper said.

Quoting a senior military official, the paper said that the $40-70 million plan would be presented to the Israeli government at the end of February.

Lebanon has repeatedly asked the U.N. to intervene in the dispute over fossil fuel exploitation. Caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Shami wrote to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon in a renewed attempt to garner international recognition for Lebanon’s claim to the oil and natural gas under the sea off its coastline.

He asked that the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon be tasked with demarcating a maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, in the same way that the organization has led the visual marking of the Blue Line, separating the two warring states. “Lebanon is trying to remind the U.N. of its principal role considering U.N. resolutions and UNIFIL and to convince the Security Council of its role in drawing sea borders, especially after Lebanon drew borders unilaterally,” Shami wrote.

UNIFIL has already said it is not mandated to deal with maritime borders. The issue has attracted animosity from both Lebanese and Israeli lawmakers, each aware of the difficulties in drawing a border to protect respective economic zones and the fossil fuels they contain.

“The Lebanese international borders do not only include land borders, but stretches to include Lebanese regional waters and its economic zone,” Shami wrote. “The sea boundary between Lebanon and occupied Palestine is considered a conflict zone, in light of Lebanon’s rejection of Israel’s line of buoys.” Shami added his hope that U.N. cooperation in delineating a maritime border would “prevent Israel from taking advantage of mutual oil resources.”

The caretaker minister last wrote to Ban in January, in correspondence including maps and coordinates for Lebanon’s economic zone.

The Noble Energy Company announced last month that the Leviathan gas field, which is located offshore near the city of Haifa in north Israel, holds an estimated 450 billion cubic meters of natural gas, positioning the country as a natural gas exporter.

Minister of State Adnan Qasr said that Lebanon’s share of gas and oil would eclipse the amount potentially to be claimed by Israel. In spite of the establishment of a committee to discuss Lebanon’s oil and natural gas reserves, as well as a number of international fossil fuel companies invited to survey the east Mediterranean seabed, no concrete steps have been taken to safeguard or exploit Lebanon’s hydrocarbon assets.

Shami wrote that Article 10 of Security Council Resolution 1701, which provides that the organization devise sovereign borders for Lebanon, “gives the U.N. authority to draw such borders … including sea borders.” – Additional reporting by Dana Khraiche