Friday, 6 December 2013

US proposal for Lebanon Israel maritime boundary

It was reported this week that the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy, Amos Hochstein, was in Beirut recently to propose a new solution to Lebanon's maritime boundary dispute with Israel. He suggested a blue line be drawn around the contested area, so that no hydrocarbons exploration activity would take place until a comprehensive and binding resolution between both parties had been reached. A similar blue line was drawn in June 2000 by the UN to demarcate the contested land border between the two Levantine states.
The tangled maritime border has contributed to rising tensions over potential natural gas riches in the eastern Mediterranean. The US Geological Survey estimated in 2010 that the Levant Basin may contain two billion barrels of oil and well over one hundred trillion cubic feet of gas. Neither Israel nor Lebanon has been willing to compromise on its territorial claims for fear of missing out on these much-needed oil and gas reserves.
Earlier this year, Israel's Arab northern neighbour announced a pre-qualification round for offshore exploration, with scores of IOCs showing real interest in potential drilling contracts in Block 9, adjacent to the contested area. Israel responded by announcing its intention to exploit the Karish-1 offshore field near Block 9. Both sides are wary of the other siphoning off these reserves through various horizontal and diagonal drilling techniques. This proposal by the US may go some way to easing tensions in the short-term, however, the underlying issue remains that Israel and Lebanon have not formally demarcated their maritime borders.
In 2007, a bilateral agreement was signed between Lebanon and Cyprus on the delimitation of the former's Exclusive Economic Zone but, in protest at the 2010 bilateral agreement between Cyprus and Israel, it has never been ratified by the Lebanese government. This dispute, as well as Turkish political pressure on Lebanon, has also held up the ratification of the 2007 Lebanese-Cypriot agreement, despite the existence of clauses in these agreements to accommodate for amendments.
The disputed area totals 874km2. Israel plots its maritime border with Cyprus as beginning at Point 1, which coincided with the final point demarcated between Lebanon and Cyprus. Beirut argues, however, that this final coordinate was deliberately chosen because it was in uncontested Lebanese waters and that the de jure border should actually lie 17km further at Point 23.
For further information on maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean, please visit our Border Focus page.

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