U.S. trying to mediate Israeli-Lebanese maritime dispute to avoid conflict

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield in Tel Aviv after a visit to Beirut

May 17, 2019 02:40
2 minute read.
U.S. trying to mediate Israeli-Lebanese maritime dispute to avoid conflict

An Israeli naval vessel sails in the Mediterranean sea near the border with Lebanon, as Mount Carmel and the Israeli city of Haifa are seen in the background December 16, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)


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A senior American official mediating the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon is in Tel Aviv in a push to resolve the dispute between the two enemy countries.

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield was in Beirut on Wednesday. He met with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, discussing bilateral relations and the latest local and regional developments, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.

The two also discussed a “working mechanism” to define maritime borders between Israel and Lebanon, NNA said.

“The demarcation of the southern territorial and maritime borders would reinforce stability along the frontier,” Aoun was quoting as telling Satterfield, calling on Washington to “contribute to reaching this goal, especially to respect Lebanon’s... right to drill for oil and gas.”

According to diplomatic sources quoted by NNA, Lebanon had received “positive signals of an American desire to play the role of mediator between Beirut and Tel Aviv.”

Satterfield’s visit to the region comes a week after Aoun presented Elizabeth Richard, the US ambassador to Lebanon, with a “unified stance” regarding the demarcation of the maritime border.

In late April, Lebanon’s house speaker Nabih Berri said Beirut was prepared to demarcate its maritime border with Israel under the supervision of the United Nations and with the same mechanism used for the Blue Line.

“We are ready to draw Lebanon’s maritime borders and those of the Exclusive Economic Zone using the same procedure that was used to draw the Blue Line under the supervision of the United Nations,” NNA quoted Berri as saying.

The UN-demarcated Blue Line currently separates Lebanon and Israel’s territory with more than 200 points. Thirteen of the points are disputed by the Lebanese government.

According to the report, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col told Berri that the mechanism used to draw the Blue Line could also be used to resolve the maritime border issue and enhance stability.

The two countries have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea measuring around 860 sq. km., which extends along several blocks for exploratory offshore drilling that Lebanon put for tender two years ago.

Beirut claims that Blocks 8 and 9 in the disputed waters are in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and parts of Block 9 run through waters that Israel claims as its own EEZ.

Recently discovered oil and gas reserves off the shores of Lebanon and Israel are predicted to generate up to $600 billion over the next few decades. In December 2017, Beirut signed contracts with three international companies to explore oil and gas in two of the blocks.

Lebanon and Russia also signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2013 to cooperate on oil and gas.

Lebanon is expected to begin drilling for oil and gas off the coast north of Beirut by the end of the year, and in the block near the area disputed with Israel next year.

Israel also views its offshore oil and gas reserves as highly valuable, both economically and strategically. Jerusalem has made agreements with Cairo to sell surplus gas, agreeing earlier this year to take part in an Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes seven members: Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority.

Last November, Israel reportedly signed an ambitious project to build a 2,000 km. underwater natural gas pipeline from Israel to Cyprus, Crete, mainland Greece and Italy. The construction of the pipeline is expected to take five years and cost some eight billion dollars.

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