The last year has seen a storm brewing in the Eastern Mediterranean between Israel and Lebanon over natural gas and oil drilling rights. During the last month, both countries have declared that they will defend every square millimeter of their sovereign maritime territory.
The basic sequence of events:
1. In 2008-9, Israel discovered and began preparing to drill the Tamar and Dalit gas fields (production to begin in 2012). These fields are located 50 miles west of Haifa and contain an estimated 10-15 trillion feet of natural gas.
2. In June 2010, Israel discovered and began preparing to drill in the Leviathan gas field reserve (estimated at 25 trillion cubic feet). Beside the Leviathan gas field is an oil reserve estimated at 4.2 billion barrels. The Leviathan gas and oil reserve is located 81 miles west of Haifa. You may remember that when the discovery was initially announced by Israel, Lebanon brazenly declared to the international media that the Leviathan gas and oil reserve extends into Lebanese waters.
3. In the meantime, Lebanon signed an agreement with Cyprus delineating their respective maritime boundaries. This delineation included the long-understood maritime boundary line between Lebanon and Israel.
4. Then, in August 2010, Lebanon duplicitously submitted a proposal to the United Nations asserting a new maritime border with Israel to the south of the border that it had acknowledged in its agreement with Cyprus.
5. Shortly afterwards, on December 17, 2010, Israel and Cyprus signed an agreement delineating their maritime boundary. The map they created was based on the same previously established maritime boundaries which had served as the basis of the Cyprus-Lebanon agreement.
A. The new border that Lebanon has insisted on runs just north of the Leviathan field and includes a significant area that on the Israel-Cyprus map belongs to Israel. In recent months, the Lebanese have employed a Norwegian company to conduct preliminary geological surveys in this area.
B. Usually, maritime boundary disputes are overseen by arbitrators at the United Nations. However, unlike Lebanon, Israel has not signed or ratified the 1982 U.N. Law of the Sea because Israel knows it will never receive fair arbitration from biased U.N. arbitrators.
Yesterday, however, at the urging of the United States (which had at one time appeared to endorse the Lebanese proposed map) the Israeli government confirmed that the line it negotiated with Cyprus, which uses the same established Israel-Lebanon boundaries described in the Lebanon-Cyprus agreement, will be submitted to the United Nations.
Nevertheless, PM Netanyahu pointed out that it is Israel’s position that any disagreement between Israel and Lebanon must be worked out between Israel and Lebanon. With Hezbollah now in charge of the Lebanese government, the chances of that happening are somewhere between slim and none.
All of this may seem like an academic exercise–but billions of dollars and energy independence are at stake.