Briefing the security cabinet Wednesday, senior officials warned that if an agreement is not reached in the maritime border dispute with Lebanon, Israel may be dragged into a military conflict with Hezbollah, the Walla news site reported.
Citing a source familiar with the matter, the report said top brass warned lawmakers that clashes with the Shiite terror group could last several days.
Military officials who attended the meeting included Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Military Intelligence Chief Aharon Haliva and Head of Intelligence Research Amit Saar, Walla reported. Other security officials in attendance included Mossad Director David Barnea, Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar and National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata.
A key issue discussed during the meeting, according to Walla, was Hezbollah’s recent provocations against the Karish gas field, including sending several drones to the site that were downed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Tensions surrounding the dispute have risen in recent weeks, after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the offshore field, drawing condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of it. Israel claims 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.
According to Walla, Kohavi warned the cabinet that for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the issue is presenting a perceived victory to his followers. He said that if an agreement is not reached and Israel is able to produce gas while Lebanon can’t, the situation would become highly volatile.
Nasrallah has recently escalated his rhetoric on the issue, warning in a televised speech last month that his group’s provocations were “only the beginning.”
Nasrallah’s statements such as “We will reach Karish and everything beyond Karish and everything beyond that,” as well as “War is much more honorable than the situation Lebanon is heading to now — collapse and starvation,” have prompted Israel to ramp up defenses for the floating rig.
Last week, Nasrallah warned that all Israeli land and sea “targets” are within the range of his terror group’s missiles.
Israel, meanwhile, has passed a message via the US and France warning the terror group that any action taken against the offshore Karish gas field would provoke a strong IDF response.
Ministers on Wednesday also received an update on US-led mediation efforts to resolve the maritime border dispute between the two countries.
US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein has been helping broker talks on the dispute — which centers on offshore areas claimed by both countries believed to hold natural gas — for more than a year.
“I remain optimistic that we can make continuous progress as we have over the last several weeks and I look forward to coming back to the region and being able to make the final arrangements,” Hochstein said Monday.
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.
Hochstein, who is expected to hold another round of talks between the negotiating teams in two weeks, has indicated his intention of resolving the issue and reaching an agreement by September. Israeli officials, however, have suggested that will not be possible.
Israel is expected to begin effectively extracting gas from the Karish rig in September.