Israel-Lebanon Offshore Oil & Gas Dispute – Rules of International Maritime Law


Tensions between Lebanon and Israel have been running high during the last months due to a legal dispute over rights to newly discovered natural oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea. Formally at war for years, and without diplomatic relations, Israel and Lebanon have never agreed on a delimitation of their maritime boundaries.

Rising Conflict Between Israel and Lebanon

“There is no doubt these resources are a strategic objective that Israel’s enemies will try to undermine, and I have decided that Israel will defend its resources,” vowed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2011. “We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law,” stressed Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructures, Uzi Landau, earlier. The rhetoric culminated in Israel’s July 2011 unilateral proposal of its northern maritime boundaries with Lebanon and Cyprus. To protect the offshore gas fields, the Israeli Navy is maintaining a twenty-four hour presence over the site using drones.

Lebanon’s verbal statements have been equally strong. “We emphasize that we strongly uphold our full sovereignty and economic rights over our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone as well as freedom of the exploitation of our natural resources, be they on land or in the deep sea, independently from any designs or threats,” said Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman in his speech at the 66th meeting of the General Assembly in New York. “We warn Israel not to touch this area or try to steal Lebanon’s resources,” declared Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah. “We are determined to defend them, especially since we are fully committed to the law of the sea. If Israel violates this law, it will pay the price,” affirmed Lebanon’s Energy and Water Resources Minister Jibran Bassil.

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