Cyprus offers to mediate between Israel and Lebanon over offshore gas dispute

Disagreements are stalling the 2007 Lebanese-Cypriot agreement, which defines rights and borders of Mediterranean Sea gas fields

A Mediterranean offshore drilling facility (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A Mediterranean offshore drilling facility (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Cyprus offered Monday to mediate between Lebanon and Israel over a maritime border dispute that is delaying some undersea oil and gas exploration.

Solon Kassinis, director of the Department of Energy in Cyprus, said his country is trying to help “as much as it can.”

Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, also said an economic need is driving Lebanon’s desire for the energy exploration.

Kassinis said many people are talking about future generations, but they should address that when they have surplus funds available. “Neither Cyprus nor Lebanon has this money today,” he said.

Both Lebanon and Israel claim a small maritime area of 530 square miles (850 square kilometers). The dispute has held up ratification of the 2007 Lebanese-Cypriot agreement, defining exclusive economic zones among the three countries.

Lebanon passed a law in 2010 delineating its maritime boundaries and its EEZ, but it conflicts with Israel’s version. Beirut, for example, claims the Leviathan natural gas field, located about 80 miles (130 kilometers) off Israel’s coastline, overlaps with its EEZ, creating a disputed zone of 328 square miles (527 square kilometers).

It has also led to bitter exchanges and threats between Israel and Lebanon, countries technically in a state of war; neither immediately commented on what they intend to do with the mediation offer from Cyprus.

“Cyprus has offered Lebanon a suggestion for cooperation between the two countries for a common benefit from gas in the median line between the two countries,” Cypriot parliamentary head Yiannakis Omirou said Monday in Lebanon after his meeting with Berri.

Berri said Lebanon and Cyprus had exhibited goodwill in solving their own offshore territories. “The problem is with Israeli greed,” he said, according to the news site Now Lebanon.

“We should cooperate in order to benefit from the natural resources shared between the two countries, such as water and gas,” Omirou told reporters.

The offshore gas area is part of the Levant Basin — which includes Syria, Israel, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Cyprus — and which, according to the US Geological Survey in 2010, contains 123 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.

The sea has also become the new frontier of energy exploration with foreign investment lured in to prospect via deep-water drilling. Leviathan contains 17 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Its discovery in 2010 was one of the world’s biggest offshore discoveries in a decade.

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