US mediation on Israel-Lebanon offshore oil dispute reportedly failed
David Satterfield, Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, has been shuttling between Israel and Lebanon trying to mediate the dispute, which took another turn for the worse last week after the Hezbollah movement urged Lebanon to remain firm in its dispute with Israel and warned that it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary.
Lebanon—which shares the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean with Israel, Cyprus, and Syria—has been far behind Israel and Cyprus in exploring and developing its share of resources due to political impasse over the past few years, and a dispute with Israel over Lebanon’s southern maritime border.
The Lebanese-Israeli dispute is a long-standing one, but tensions rose last month after Lebanon called an oil and gas exploration tender in disputed territory. Lebanon and Israel have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area around 860 square kilometers (332 square miles) that extends along the southern edge of three of Lebanon’s 10 blocks.
Earlier this month, an international consortium led by France’s Total and also comprising Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek, signed two exploration and production agreements covering Blocks 4 and 9 offshore Lebanon, providing for the drilling of at least one well per block in the first three years. The consortium’s priority will be to drill a first exploration well on Block 4 next year, Total said.
“As for Block 9, Total and its partners are fully aware of the Israeli-Lebanese border dispute in the southern part of the block that covers only a very limited area (less than 8% of the block’s surface). Given that, the main prospects are located more than 25km from the disputed area, the consortium confirms that the exploration well on Block 9 will have no interference at all with any fields or prospects located south of the border area,” the French company said.
According to today’s Lebanese media reports, the US mediation has failed “in advance” because it first requires the consent of both parties, while Lebanon refuses to negotiate with Israel fearing that it could be dragged into subsequent peace talks.
“The Israeli side also adamantly adheres to its position on sharing Block 9 oil field with Lebanon, considering part of it is located in the Israeli territorial waters, which is strongly rejected by Lebanese authorities,” according to well-informed sources who had spoken to al-Joumhouria daily.