Hariri Says Robustly Seeking to Launch Maritime Border Negotiations
Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday announced that he is “exerting strenuous efforts to launch negotiations” on the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.
“We will eventually have to take decisions over this issue in Cabinet and boosting the capabilities of the Lebanese naval forces will play a central role in protecting our national oil and gas resources,” Hariri said, during a visit to UNIFIL’s maritime headquarters at Beirut’s port, where he was welcomed aboard Brazilian frigate UNIAO by UNIFIL chief Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col.
He added: “This cannot be done without support from the international community. It is time to fully implement all relevant provisions of UNSC resolution 1701. We must all work together to ensure that UNIFIL is able to carry its job at its utmost capacity while working to strengthen our LAF and navy so that it can slowly assume these responsibilities.”
“My presence here today on this Maritime Task Force Ship is to reaffirm my commitment and my government’s commitment to UNSCR 1701 and 2433. This resolution (2433) calls on Lebanon to develop a plan to increase the Lebanese naval capabilities. I am fully dedicated to further developing the capacities of the Lebanese Navy,” Hariri said.
“In fact, I am proud and happy to tell you that last week I was briefed on the final stages of this plan. I will do my utmost best to have it endorsed by the Council of Ministers before the 31st of August, the date of the renewal of the UNIFIL mandate,” he promised.
Hariri explained that this plan falls within his priority to strengthen state security institutions and to “maintain state authority over the Lebanese territorial waters, in order to counter terrorist activities, illegal immigration, human trafficking and the smuggling of goods and illicit material.”
U.S. efforts to bring Lebanon and Israel to the negotiations table over the maritime border have reportedly suffered a setback in recent weeks.
Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including for a block disputed by Israel.
A consortium composed of energy giants Total, Eni and Novatek was awarded two of Lebanon's 10 exploration blocks last year.
It is set to start drilling in block 4 in December, and later in the disputed block 9.
Last year, Total said it was aware of the border dispute in less than eight percent of block 9 and said it would drill away from that area.
In April, Lebanon invited international consortia to bid for five more blocks, which include two also adjacent to Israel's waters.
Israel also produces natural gas from reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean.
Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, although the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of occupation.