BEIRUT — Lebanon’s oil minister has vowed Beirut will go ahead in its oil and gas exploration tender near its maritime border with Israel, despite Israeli claims to the field.
In December, the Lebanese cabinet approved licenses for three international companies to carry out exploratory drilling off the Lebanese coast.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the tenders were “very provocative,” and were taking place in a gas field “which is by all accounts ours.”
Cesar Abi Khalil told The Associated Press on Thursday that Liberman’s comments were a new aggression against Lebanon.
He said Lebanon had demarcated its maritime border and informed the United Nations about it.
The Lebanese licenses will allow Italy’s Eni, France’s Total, and Russia’s Novatek, who bid for two of Lebanon’s 10 offshore blocks, to determine whether oil and gas exist.
A major find in Lebanon’s southernmost waters could raise the possibility of a dispute with Israel, which is developing a number of offshore gas deposits, with one large field, Tamar, already producing gas, and the larger Leviathan field set to go online next year.
There are over 300 square miles (776 square kilometers) of waters claimed by both countries, which are technically in a state of conflict. Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group fought a month-long war in 2006.
Hezbollah, in a statement Wednesday, said Liberman’s remarks offered new proof of Israel’s ambitions to steal Lebanon’s resources and said it would confront any aggression against the country’s rights.
The spat over the natural gas field comes amid an escalating war of words between Lebanon and Israel, which has repeatedly warned of Iran’s increasing efforts to turn the country into “one giant missile site.”
Hinting at the possibility of war, Israel’s chief military spokesman this week said it was “prepared for all the scenarios.”
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah wields enormous political and military influence in Lebanon. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said the Shiite militant group does not seek to provoke a war with Israel but would respond with crushing force should Israel attack Lebanon.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.