By I. Doherty
Lebanon and Israel, which are currently at war, are holding indirect talks in an attempt to resolve a border issue that might cost billions of dollars. The gas-rich Karish field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea is at the border’s heart, and Israel intends to begin exploiting it soon. In 2010 the US geological survey projected that the Levantine basin could store up to 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas.
By comparison, the basin’s reserves are equivalent to around 7% of Russia’s, and the world’s largest reserve. The key obstacle blocking an agreement between the two parties, according to Orna Mizrahi, a senior researcher at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, is a change in the Lebanese perspective, on where the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon resides. The main point of contention is the two nation’s marine economic boundaries, as well as how to compute the border line that runs between Lebanon and Israel’s land border. For years, the disputed are spanned approximately 860 square km, with Lebanon claiming its maritime border to the south of Israel’s claim.
The Karish field, an area where Israel is conducting explorations, was well within Israel’s claimed territory under those border lines. According to Mizrahi, Lebanon recently updated its original maritime border claim, shifting it further south and adding nearly 1,400 square km to the original claim. When Energean, a London based oil and gas company arrived on June 5th to begin developing Karish on Israel’s behalf, Lebanon claimed that the field should not be explored until the maritime boundary had been defined.
Lebanon which is suffering from a debilitating economy and a fractured government is desperate for fresh sources of income from oil and gas exploration, while Israel wants to position itself as a new natural gas provider to Europe as an alternative to Russia. Designating the border would allow both parties to benefit from the Mediterranean’s resources without facing legal obstacles or the fear of armed conflict. A deal would also give security for Israel, allowing it to explore and drill without the continuous fear of potential escalation with Lebanon.
The US has offered a proposal that would create an S-shaped maritime economic border between the two countries. According to the idea, all of Karish would be given to Israel while the majority of Qana, another field with financially successful gas, would be given to Lebanon. In an interview with Al-Hura TV in the United States, US mediator Amos Hochstein claimed that a proposal offered to him by the Lebanese officials will allow negotiations to go forward, allowing both countries to prosper and ending all conflict.