Agreement could resolve ongoing dispute between countries over oil and gas reserves
[Ramallah] The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament indicated this week that the country was prepared to set a maritime border with Israel under the supervision of the United Nations.
During an April 23 meeting in Beirut with Maj.-Gen. Stefano del Col, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Nabih Berri said his country was prepared establish a maritime border and special economic zone with Israel as long as it involved the same mechanism used in adopting the so-called Blue Line demarcation under the auspices of the UN.
The UN drew the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel in June 2000 following the Israeli military’s withdrawal from the southern part of the country. It has since become the unofficial border and is monitored by UNIFIL peacekeepers. The border includes a disputed area known as Mount Dov in Israel and Shebaa Farm in Lebanon.
Del Col responded favorably to the possibility of such a move, noting that formalizing borders would add to the security and stability of the area.
Offshore oil and gas reserves discovered since 2009 in the disputed 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of Mediterranean waters could generate billions of dollars in revenue in the coming decades. Tensions over the area have grown since last year when Lebanon announced its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreement with a European consortium, scheduled to begin in 2019.
Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese general and head of the Middle East Studies Center in Beirut, told The Media Line that Lebanon had always sought to define its borders with Israel through UN mediation.
“It’s not a new position or out of the ordinary,” he said.
Jaber stressed the lack of communication between the governments of Lebanon and Israel, saying the UN would be a natural fit for the required talks.
“Such matters require both sides to share their input,” he elaborated. “At the end of the day, Israel has an interest in drawing borders with Lebanon although it can’t infringe on Lebanese rights.”
Regarding land borders, Jaber said the Blue Line had been established for military and geographical reasons and “crosses much Lebanese land in favor of Israel,” meaning that Israel “inevitably will have to retreat.” Regarding maritime borders, though, he pointed out that it was a matter of oil and gas, and therefore both countries had a mutual interest in establishing a line.
Oded Eran, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told The Media Line that there was no formal agreement between Lebanon and Israel on anything.
“For now,” he said, “the Blue Line is the certified border, since both sides agreed on it back in the day.”
Eran stressed that if the Lebanese were not happy with the arrangement, it should reach out with the aim of reaching new understandings.
“The case now is that the Blue Line is the border with Lebanon, as the UN has certified,” he added.
Asked about maritime borders, Eran confirmed that they were a completely different story. These borders were not included in any UN maps or understandings, he said, noting that Israel and Lebanon “must [come to an agreement] with each other.”
Talk of the demarcation of a maritime border gathered steam with the visit to Beirut by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on March 22.