US Envoy in Beirut: Lebanon-Israel dispute

As a part of US shuttle diplomacy, US envoy has met Lebanon’s foreign minister to mediate between the Israel and Lebanon and find a resolution to worsening situation arisen owing to the border dispute and drilling of energy in disputed waters. The dispute is primarily over the border wall constructed by Israel in addition to exploration of oil and gas at sea by Lebanon. Israel is also concerned over the increase in the arsenal of Hezbollah in Lebanon by the support of Iran.

Lebanon inked its pioneer offshore energy exploration and production agreement with the Consortium comprising France’s Total, Italian Eni and Russian Novatek. The irritant lies in the fact that Block 9 which is one of the two awarded to the consortium lies in waters which are claimed by Israel. Acting US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, has been making full use of its back and forth shuttle diplomacy and trying to bring the two allies on the common ground. Lebanon on its part has labelled the US proposals of a proposed maritime demarcation line in 2012 as completely unacceptable. Latter would have awarded Lebanon with about two-thirds of triangular sea area of 860km and Israel only one-third.

Hezbollah has on its part stated that the country can withstand pressure from Israel and US together to put gas rigs in Israel out of action. It has issued a fresh threat that it will target Israeli Mediterranean gas rigs in case of any conflict in future. Israel has significant gas fields in the region off its northern coast and is erecting better infrastructure for extracting more fuel out of the ground. All these are in the range of Hezbollah. The Tamar oil field has 238 billion cubic meters of reserves. Leviathan gas field is scheduled to begin production in 2019 holds approximately 18.9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Lebanon plans to start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019 as it reiterates its resource rights along the length of its maritime border. A major find in the southern waters of Lebanon can trigger a major dispute with Israel.

Israel is also building up its defence systems to boost the safety of its offshore gas rigs from Hezbollah. The “Saar 6” warships equipped with helipads and other advanced missiles will be commissioned between 2020 and 2022. Israel has also deployed a battery of its Iron Dome anti-missile defence on a warship to counter the rising threats. Israel has also accused that Iran backing of the Hezbollah is turning Lebanon into a forward base against the state of Israel.

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