Israel is ready to defend with force the recently discovered natural gas fields off its Mediterranean coast, said Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) in an interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday.

“We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law,” Landau was quoted as saying.

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Landau made his comments in reaction to the declaration of Lebanon's Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, that the part of the gas field lies within Lebanon's territorial waters.

He continued, “Whatever we find, they will have something to say. That’s because they’re not challenging our findings and so-called occupation of the sea. Our very existence here is a matter of occupation for them. These areas are within the economic waters of Israel.”

A consortium led by billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva announced June 3 that it had struck natural gas in a field called 'Leviathan' off the coast of Israel.

The field is estimated to contain 15 trillion cubic feet of gas and is the second large scale gas find in a month.  In May, a field called 'Tamar' was also discovered that is thought to contain enough gas to supply Israel for the next twenty years.

Landau held a celebratory toast with leaders of the natural- gas industry in Tel Aviv following the announcement of the discovery of the Leviathan field. He declared at the event that the find had important political ramifications as part of Israel's drive to reduce dependence on energy imports.

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