(Photo credit: REUTERS/Ari Rabinovitch)
Israel Energy Minister Karine Elharrar announced that the Israeli negotiating team is working to “reach a consensus” on the maritime border dispute with Lebanon, according to Hebrew media reports on 29 June.
“We are ready for negotiations and we come to them in good faith,” the minister said in a statement to I24News.
“The Israeli negotiating team held a meeting with the other side in the past few days, and we also made a presentation to the mediator, and if there were any new developments, we would, of course, announce them,” she added.
These are the first comments by Tel Aviv on continuing the talks after a meeting by officials with US mediator Amos Hochstein on 24 June to discuss Beirut’s proposal via video conference call.
Indirect negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their shared maritime borders restarted earlier this month after Tel Aviv deployed a European gas extraction vessel inside Lebanon’s territorial waters, seeking to construct an extraction rig over the Karish natural gas field.
Weeks later, the UK-owned Stena Icemax drilling ship also crossed the disputed maritime line 29 to operate three kilometers from the Lebanese mainland.
The Karish gas field is located inside Lebanese territorial waters, under line 29, the southernmost line which Lebanon claims as its maritime border.
The UN, however, claims that line 23 – which falls slightly north – is the maritime border, placing Karish fully into the hands of Israel.
This gives Lebanon access to another field located in Block 9 of its territorial waters.
Israel, however, claims a line even further north: line 1, which would deprive Lebanon of energy resources in both the Karish gas field and in Block 9.
During her conversation with I24News, the Israeli energy minister repeated these claims, saying that the Karish gas field is “not up for negotiation,” adding that the Israeli army is “ready for any scenario.”
Last week, Israel’s outgoing Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, threatened Lebanon with a military invasion that will be “powerful and accurate.”
We are ready for battle, and if necessary, we will march again to Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, and wherever required,” Gantz said, adding that Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah in particular will pay a “heavy price.”
During a speech earlier this month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that the resistance is “militarily and financially capable of preventing Israel from extracting gas from the Karish field,” and that “no measures can protect Israel’s floating platform.”