Israel turns to UN over Lebanese tender for drilling in its maritime waters

Israel's ambassador to the UN wrote a letter of protest on Sunday decrying Lebanon's issuance of an offshore drilling tender in disputed maritime waters.

AN ISRAELI military observation tower overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and part of the maritime border with Lebanon, is seen near Rosh Hanikra. (Ammar Awad/Reuters) (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN ISRAELI military observation tower overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and part of the maritime border with Lebanon, is seen near Rosh Hanikra. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel has turned to the United Nations to protest Lebanon's issuance of a tender for offshore drilling in disputed maritime waters, over which both governments have claimed sovereignty.

"I would like to raise my government’s serious concerns regarding the recent tender issued by the Government of Lebanon to grant offshore licenses in maritime areas where Israel asserts sovereign rights or jurisdiction in accordance with International law,” Israel Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan wrote Sunday in a letter he penned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

At issue is a long-standing border dispute over an 860 square kilometer area in the eastern Mediterranean near Israel’s natural gas fields. 

Although Israeli and Lebanon do not have diplomatic ties, the former Trump administration brokered talks last year between the two countries in an effort to resolve that longstanding dispute. 

The Biden administration has continued that effort with Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein tasked resolving the matter.

Ambassador Gilad Erdan is seen holding a graphic about Hamas while speaking to the UN General Assembly, on May 20, 2021. (credit: Courtesy)Ambassador Gilad Erdan is seen holding a graphic about Hamas while speaking to the UN General Assembly, on May 20, 2021. (credit: Courtesy)

The process stalled when Lebanon sharply increased its demands, increasing the disputed area from 869 sq. km. to 2,300 sq. km. This would include the Karish North natural gas field, in Israeli economic waters, where drilling is already taking place. There is no new date for the resumption of talks. 

"Israel is of the view that efforts should be focused on advancing the negotiation between Israel and Lebanon for the delimitation of their maritime boundary, with the aim of reaching an agreed resolution, in a manner that would provide stability and economic benefit for both sides," Erdan wrote to Guterres.

"Israel calls upon the Government of Lebanon to withdraw this tender and refrain from any activity that would advance any non-consensual activities in Israeli maritime areas," Erdan wrote.

"Israel objects to any unauthorized economic activity by Lebanon in this area, including, inter alia, the granting of rights by Lebanon to any third party; exploratory activities; drilling; or exploration of natural resources in maritime areas in which Israel asserts sovereign rights or jurisdiction," he stated.

"Israel reiterates its call on all relevant third parties to respect Israel's position and to refrain from participating in, promoting or facilitating, any action that could compromise Israel's rights, and also to refrain from any other involvement in non-consensual economic activities in Israeli maritime areas. Such activity threatens to expose third parties to significant liability," he added. 

“Israel remains committed to reaching an amicable negotiated resolution… and expects Lebanon to demonstrate the same level of commitment,” Erdan wrote.

Reuters and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.