Lebanese PM Hariri: Lebanon to increase naval capabilities

Hariri says he will urge government to endorse plan by August 31.

July 17, 2019 11:51
3 minute read.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visits the flagship of UNIFIL Maritime Task Force at Beirut Port

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visits the flagship of UNIFIL Maritime Task Force at Beirut Port. (photo credit: UNIFIL)

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri is finalizing a plan to increase the country’s naval capabilities while he continues to work to re-start negotiations on the country's maritime borders with Israel.

“Lebanon’s strong naval capabilities will play a pivotal role in protecting our national oil and gas resources,” Hariri was quoted as saying by Lebanon’s Daily Star.

 “This plan falls within my priority to strengthen state security institutions and to maintain state authority over Lebanese territorial waters, in order to counter terrorist activities, illegal immigration, human trafficking and the smuggling of goods and illicit material,” he said.

Hariri, who spoke as he toured the maritime task force ship of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon’s (UNIFIL) at the Port of Beirut, added that the plan is in its final stages and that he will urge the country’s government to endorse a plan ahead of the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate on August 31.

During last year's renewal, the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 2433, which called on Beirut to develop a plan to increase its naval capabilities, “with the goal of decreasing the [UNIFIL’s] Maritime Task Force [MTF] and transitioning activities to the country’s armed forces.”

Established in October 2006 at the request of the Lebanese government, the MTF has about 750 personnel and six ships from Bangladesh, Brazil, Germany, Greece, Indonesia and Turkey. It assists the Lebanese Navy to prevent the smuggling of illegal arms and other goods into Lebanon as well as help the Lebanese protect their territorial waters.

“UNIFIL’s support to the LAF-Navy is of paramount importance in monitoring territorial waters, securing Lebanese coastline and preventing the unauthorized entry of arms or related materials by sea into Lebanon as well as ensuring stability in the country,” UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col was quoted as saying in a statement released by the agency.

Hariri reiterated Beirut’s commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 33-day war in 2006. The resolution called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, for the deployment of the Lebanese army and for an enlarged UN force in the South.

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

The two countries  also 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 out for tender two years ago.

“This comes at a time when I am relentlessly working on starting negotiations on our maritime boundaries,” Hariri said.

The United States, through senior US diplomat David Satterfield, has for months been mediating border demarcation talks between Israel and Lebanon. But earlier this week, Lebanese media reported that Hezbollah decided to stop the negotiations, despite Hariri pushing for talks to begin between the two countries.

Lebanon’s Naharnet news site quoted sources involved in the negotiations as saying that “the Lebanese side, specifically Hezbollah, has decided to stop the negotiations due to an Iranian-Syrian intervention linked to the new tension between America, Israel and Iran.”

Beirut claims that Blocks 8 and 9 in the disputed maritime waters are in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone; 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 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.

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