The government on Sunday approved the demarcation of its northern maritime border with Lebanon, in an effort to protect economic rights in offshore territories that Lebanon is claiming as its own.

In response, Lebanon said on Sunday that it would protect its borders and natural resources on Sunday.

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“Lebanon has warned that it insists on protecting its borders and resources,” Ali Hamdan, spokesman for Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, told Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Beirut.

The maritime border line, according to the statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, demarcates economic rights in offshore territories that – with the discovery of vast natural gas reserves – have become extremely lucrative.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the maritime border marks the area of the state’s exclusive economic rights, including the right to exploit natural resources in the sea.

“The area we are discussing borders with Lebanon and Cyprus in the north. The [maritime] line that Lebanon submitted to the UN is significantly south of the Israeli line,” he said. “It contradicts the line Israel has agreed upon with Cyprus, and what is more significant to me is that it contradicts the line that Lebanon itself concluded with Cyprus in 2007. Our goal is to establish the position of Israel regarding its maritime boundary, according to international maritime law.”

Israel is now expected to submit this map to the UN.

Lebanon submitted its map last year.

According to government officials, Israel is moving on the issue now because under international maritime law, if one country makes a claim and another country does not counter it, the silence of the second country is seen as acquiescence.

Cyprus and Israel reached an agreement in December demarcating maritime borders to enable the search for more natural gas reserves in the area, with Israel interested in clarifying precisely where its maritime border reached.

Cyprus came to a similar agreement with Lebanon in 2007, but it has not yet been ratified by the Lebanese parliament.

The map Lebanon submitted to the UN runs south of the line it agreed to with Cyprus in 2007.

According to Israeli officials, what the government did Sunday in drawing up the boundary was simply draw a straight line from Israel’s border with Lebanon at Rosh Hanikra to the southern point of the Cyprus-Lebanese agreement in the Mediterranean.

National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau said the Israeli demarcation was drawn up “in cooperation with international legal experts.”

He said the agreement drawn up with Cyprus also demarcated the maritime border with Lebanon. The Lebanese claim to offshore territories inside areas that Israel claims as its own stemmed from an effort to “undermine everything we do,” he said.

Landau said that if the Lebanese had complaints about the line, they should do what all civilized countries do and seek “clarification and negotiation with Israel.”

Israeli diplomatic officials said there were two reasons why Lebanon was changing the line that it agreed upon with Cyprus in 2007.

The first had to do with economic reasons, and an interest in enlarging its zone because of recent natural gas findings in the area.

And the second, according to the officials, had to do with Hezbollah’s increasing influence in Lebanon, and its interest in having an “underwater Shaba Farms” issue over which they could justify continued conflict and dispute with Israel.

The Shaba Farms, or Mount Dov, is an area Israel holds on the northern border that Lebanon claims as its own, but which Israel says is actually part of the Golan Heights.

Hezbollah needs and wants to find areas of conflict and disputes with Israel to justify its existence in Lebanon, one official said.

Both Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman denied reports the US was backing Lebanon’s claims, with Lieberman saying in an Israel Radio interview Sunday that this claim was “nonsense.”

Lieberman said the Lebanese claim was a transparent attempt by Hezbollah to confront and show defiance toward Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, meanwhile, told Army Radio that he was confident the UN would accept Israel’s position on its marine border with Lebanon.

He said, “The dispute over the border with Lebanon was created by the Lebanese. It is incorrect that the Americans sided with Lebanon in this dispute.”

Ayalon said he did not think Israel would have any problem proving its ownership of the maritime areas that are “ostensibly in dispute.”

Ayalon added, “We’ve been in contact with Lebanon for a very long time. We have an interest in demarcating and setting all the borders, but they refuse. Even the current land border, which is recognized by the UN, is without Lebanese involvement or recognition. After the huge gas reserves were discovered, they suddenly woke up.

“Our position was that if the maritime borders are demarcated, the land border should be jointly demarcated as well. Now that they’ve suddenly sent maps, we have no choice but to set the borders ourselves.”

Jerusalem Post staff and Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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