Nasrallah threatens war over Israel-Lebanon maritime border dispute

Hezbollah leader says war ‘much more honorable than the situation Lebanon is heading to now,’ claims drone attack on Karish gas field was meant to make workers feel unsafe

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Hezbollah fighters raise their hands as their leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link during a rally in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, April 29, 2022. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
Hezbollah fighters raise their hands as their leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link during a rally in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, April 29, 2022. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

The leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah terror organization, Hassan Nasrallah, issued a stark warning to Israel on Wednesday, saying that drones sent recently to the Karish gas field were “only the beginning.”

On July 2, the Israeli military said it had successfully intercepted three Hezbollah drones that were heading for the Karish gas field off Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

In a televised speech marking 16 years since the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah said the unarmed drones were launched “in order to make the people working in the area know that they are not safe.”

The Hezbollah leader claimed the attack was the first to include three unmanned aerial vehicles being launched toward Israel simultaneously. “So far, UAVs have been launched from the [Gaza] Strip and Syria, but one at a time. Never three at once,” he said.

“Write down this equation — we will reach Karish and everything beyond Karish and everything beyond that… If you want to prevent Lebanon from exercising its right to save itself by extracting oil and gas, no one will be able to extract oil and gas,” he added.

Nasrallah continued to claim that force was the only way to protect Lebanon’s interests, despite Lebanese leaders criticizing the terror group for the incident, saying it was an unnecessarily risky action.

A sea-based Iron Dome air defense system is seen on a Navy ship, guarding the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Oil and gas are Lebanon’s only way of getting out of the crisis it’s going through. The situation is dire and money provided by the World Bank won’t solve the crisis,” Nasrallah said.

“The past two months have raised a valuable opportunity to save Lebanon and we must take advantage of it now,” he continued, “Lebanon’s leverage and only source of power in the maritime border negotiations [with Israel] is its resistance and strength. We must utilize this. This isn’t psychological warfare, we are serious about this,” he said.

“We possess options in air, land and sea. They are all on the table. We will respond with appropriate force at the appropriate time and place. War is much more honorable than the situation Lebanon is heading to now — collapse and starvation.”

The Hezbollah leader also sent a direct threat to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who said after the drone incident that Israel would “defend its infrastructure in the face of any threat” and accused Hezbollah of “undermining the Lebanese state’s ability to reach an agreement” with Israel over the maritime border.

In April, Gantz threatened to “use the necessary force against the right targets” in Lebanon, following rockets launched toward northern Israel.

“All Israelis are aware that Gantz’s threats regarding Lebanon are empty and void,” Nasrallah said Wednesday.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the 2006 Lebanon War, July 12, 2022. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

Addressing the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Lebanon about the maritime border between the countries, Nasrallah said: “Don’t believe the Americans.

“If you don’t implement our rights until September, the outcome will be severe,” he added, calling on Lebanese authorities to “use Hezbollah as leverage against Israel during the negotiations.”

Last month, US energy envoy Amos Hochstein discussed with Israel’s negotiating team a Lebanese proposal to resolve the maritime dispute.

According to Hochstein, Lebanon had agreed to drop demands for control of part of the Karish field claimed by Israel, asking in exchange for full control of the Qana gas field that also straddles the countries’ offshore economic zones.

Tensions surrounding the dispute have risen in recent weeks, after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the Karish offshore field, drawing condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of it.

Israel says the field is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone and has been seeking to develop Karish as it tries to position itself as a natural gas supplier to Europe.

Earlier in June, Israel, Egypt and the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding in Cairo that will see Israel export its natural gas to the bloc for the first time.

Nasrallah’s speech on Wednesday coincided with US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the region as president.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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