Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday issued a fresh threat over the offshore Karish gas field partly claimed by Lebanon, warning Israel against beginning extraction amid maritime border talks between Jerusalem and Beirut.
In a televised speech for the Shiite commemoration of Arbaeen, Nasrallah noted upcoming tests at Karish, with the platform slated to be connected to Israel’s national gas grid in the coming days. According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah “sent a very strong message” concerning the tests but Israel clarified they would not involve extracting gas from Karish.
“The red line to us is that there should not be extraction from Karish,” he said, according to the Naharnet news site.
He said Hezbollah was “giving a real chance” to the US-brokered negotiations, which are aimed at demarcating a maritime border between the countries to allow for offshore drilling in disputed areas.
Lebanon claims part of Karish, which Israel says lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to ongoing negotiations. The two countries remain technically at war.
“We are following up on the negotiations and all our eyes are on Karish and our missiles are locked on Karish,” Nasrallah said. “As long as extraction has not started, there is a chance for solutions.”
“We will not allow that oil and gas be extracted from the disputed Karish field before Lebanon obtains its rightful demands,” he added.
Energean, a London-listed company that has the license to develop Karish, said September 8 that it was “on track to deliver [the] first gas from the Karish development project within weeks.”
On Friday, the Energy Ministry said it “was preparing to connect the Karish reservoir to the Israeli system…. As part of the next stage of the project, planned for the upcoming days, the rig and natural transmission system from the rig to the national network will be tested.”
Officials said the test would be conducted by transferring gas from Israel to the rig.
Hezbollah has repeatedly threatened further attacks if the gas extraction goes ahead, after launching four unarmed drones toward Karish in July.
Top security Israeli officials have responded to Hezbollah’s threats, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz warning Thursday that Lebanon will suffer dire consequences if the Iran-backed terror organization torpedoes the maritime talks.
In his remarks, Nasrallah also railed at a recent amendment in the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along the border with Israel.
The UN Security Council on August 31 extended the mandate of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force for a period of a year but with a slight modification in the wording.
Nasrallah took issue with a part of the resolution that states the peacekeeping force “is allowed to conduct its operations independently.”
The UNIFIL force, which was first deployed more than four decades ago, has routinely coordinated its patrols and movements in its area of operations in the south with the Lebanese army.
“This is a trap that the Israelis have set for Lebanon over many years,” Nasrallah said, calling the resolution “a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.”
Nasrallah lambasted the Lebanese government for allowing the resolution through and warned that it could give rise “to great dangers in the area south of the Litani” river.
On September 13, UNIFIL reacted to Hezbollah concerns by assuring it was still working closely with the Lebanese army, a statement Nasrallah welcomed in his Saturday speech.
UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian terror attack.
It was beefed up in 2006 after Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war, and the 10,500-strong force is tasked with monitoring a ceasefire between the two sides.
In August, UNIFIL complained that it has recently observed at least four illicit shooting ranges in its area of operations and has informed the UN Security Council.
Lebanon’s Armed Forces confirmed to UNIFIL that it did not operate the shooting ranges.