Lebanon to defy Israel anger over gas exploration drive

Lebanon to defy Israel anger over gas exploration drive
Lebanon has approved a bid for gas and oil exploration in waters off its coast, which is also claimed by neighbour and arch-rival Israel.
2 min read
01 February, 2018
Lebanon Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil is defiant despite Israel's anger [Anadolu]

Lebanon pledged Thursday to do "everything in its power" to pursue oil and gas drilling off its coast, following Israeli accusations that Beirut's exploration drive was "provocative".

Beirut approved a first bid to search for oil and gas in two blocks off the country's Mediterranean coast this week.

One of these zones is contested by Israel, which also claims the waters.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday awarding such bids amounted to "provocative behaviour" by Lebanon's government.

"They issue a tender on a gas field - including a block which by all accounts is ours - to international groups that are respectable companies, which to my mind are making a serious mistake since it's against all rules and protocol in cases like this," Lieberman said.

Lebanon hit back with Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil on Thursday saying Lebanon would defend its right to drill there.

"Israel will do what it can to block us from taking advantage of our oil wealth, and we will do everything in our power to defend it," Abi Khalil told a local radio station. 

Lebanon will sign agreements with the explorers - France's Total, Italy's ENI and Russia's Novatek - next week and would be ready to begin drilling by 2019, he said. 

Hizballah said on Wednesday it would "respond firmly to any attack on our oil and gas rights, defend Lebanon's products, and protect its resources". 

President Michel Aoun also pledged Lebanon would "defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by all available means". 

Lebanon is looking to tap potential oil and gas reserves after major offshore discoveries by neighbouring Israel and Cyprus. 

On 14 December, it approved a bid on blocks four and nine - just two of the five that were offered.

Ownership over block nine is disputed by Israel.