02/02/2018, 11.28
LEBANON-ISRAEL
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'Block 9': new front in Israeli-Lebanese confrontation

by Pierre Balanian

The threats of Avigdor Liebermann and the affirmations of Michel Aoun. Protected maritime drilling for the exploitation of gas and oil in the eastern Mediterranean. According to the UN maps, 860 sq km belong to Lebanon, but Israel does not agree. Smoke bombs on Lebanese beaches; Israeli lookouts encroach on the territorial waters of Lebanon. Hezbollah used as a deterrent. For Israeli strategists, a war against Beirut is too risky.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The "Block 9" sectors of natural gas and oil wells in Lebanese territorial waters could become a new "casus belli" between Israel and Lebanon. We may not have arrived yet at open conflict, but to yesterday’s declarations by the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, to a group of visitors "Lebanon has moved to counter Israeli claims through the diplomatic channels affirming its right to defend its sovereignty and the security of its territories by all opportune means ".

Michel Aoun’s words come as a first response to the statements made yesterday by the Israeli defence minister Avigdor Liebermann for whom Lebanon’s "request for tenders" for the extraction of gas and oil from "Block 9" is "a provocation" , with the threat that there cannot be "children playing on the beaches of Beirut while others are sleeping in shelters in Tel Aviv".

President Aoun considered Libermann's "Block 9" position in the "pure economic zone of Lebanon" to be "serious" and added that "we should be careful of the plots of our Israeli enemy especially taking into account that those who work to create an atmosphere consistent with Israeli threats, with various alibis, to attack Lebanon and its right to invest its resources in gas and oil are found both inside as well as outside the country".

The presence of oil and gas wells in the waters of Lebanon dates to 2004. At the time, the  Lebanese didn’t fully understand why a French ship was scouring the Lebanese coast for months, in full agreement with the then premier Rafik Al Hariri [who was later assassinated], and the French president Jacques Chirac. Shortly thereafter, rumours began to emerge of the discovery of huge reserves of natural gas in the territorial waters of the Land of the Cedars. In 2009, an American company confirmed the discovery and announced that the waters of the eastern Mediterranean area are home to approximately 83,000 sq km of oil and gas wells, specifically in the waters between Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus and the entire Syrian coast, in short from Sinai to the border with Turkey. In this way, the eastern Mediterranean region becomes the area with the highest amount of gas reserves in the world, surpassing Qatar and Azerbaijan. The part belonging to Lebanon would amount to 22 thousand square kilometers.

 

Among the first to compete in the tender launched by Lebanon for Blocks 9 and 4, there are three countries: Russia, France and Italy. Their representatives are expected in Beirut on  February 9 for the signing of contracts and the launch of drilling works. Meanwhile, Israel is about to drill a well 3 km from "Block 9": hence Beirut's concern that Tel Aviv could suck up a substantial amount from the Lebanese natural wells.

"Block 9" is located between 1211 and 1909 meters below sea level. The "disputed" border areas between Israel and Lebanon are about 860 square kilometres that Lebanon believes belong to them on the basis of maps deposited at the UN and recognized as Lebanese by international law.

In 2017 an agreement was reached between Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Israel for the construction of a submarine gas pipeline at a cost of 6 billion euro, for the transportation of gas from the Middle East to Europe.

Yesterday morning, some Lebanese who were walking in Al Wazzani, on the border with Israel, were surprised by the launch of a smoke bomb. Meanwhile, two Israeli lookouts have violated the maritime borders of Lebanon, and the Lebanese government denounced the UN peacekeeping forces, Unifil.

The sale of natural gas is a boon that could help Lebanon to heal its foreign debt, among the highest in the world, which has reached the figure of 77 billion dollars.

Israeli press has long debated the possibility of a war against Lebanon stating that military strategists maintain that Israel and especially the infantry is not ready to guarantee a victory. They also state that any war with Lebanon will be very expensive with serious damage and loss, due to the huge amount of Hezbollah weapons - especially missiles capable of reaching anywhere in Israel. In addition, the combat experience gained by Hezbollah fighters in the battles in Syria and Iraq must be borne in mind.

For Lebanese analysts it is difficult for Israel to start a war against Lebanon for gas, offering Hezbollah a unique opportunity to appear as a defender of Lebanon on a matter that enjoys the unanimous and popular consensus of all Lebanese, as is the issue of oil and gas resources and national sovereignty.

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