Acting US Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield in Tel Aviv after a visit to Beirut
By Anna Ahronheim
May 16, 2019 13:09
2 minute read.
An Israeli naval vessel sails in the Mediterranean sea near the border with Lebanon, as Mount Carmel and the Israeli city of Haifa are seen in the background December 16, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A senior American official mediating the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon is in Tel Aviv in a push to resolve a maritime border dispute between the two enemy countries.
Acting US Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield was in Beirut on Wednesday and met with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and discussed bilateral relations and the latest local and regional developments, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
The two also discussed a “working mechanism” to define maritime borders between Israel and Lebanon, NNA said.
“The demarcation of the southern territorial and maritime borders would reinforce stability along the frontier,” Aoun was quoting as telling Satterfield, and called on Washington to “contribute to reaching this goal, especially to respect Lebanon’s… right to drill for oil and gas.”
According to diplomatic sources quoted by Lebanon’s NNA, Lebanon had received “positive signals of an American desire to play the role of mediator between Beirut and Tel Aviv.”
Satterfield’s visit to the region comes a week after Aoun presented Elizabeth Richard, the US ambassador to Lebanon, with a “unified stance” regarding the demarcation of the maritime border.
In late April, Lebanon’s Speaker of the House Nabih Beeri said Beirut was prepared to demarcate its maritime border with Israel under the supervision of the United Nations and with the same mechanism used for the Blue Line.
“We are ready to draw Lebanon’s maritime borders and those of the Exclusive Economic Zone using the same procedure that was used to draw the Blue Line under the supervision of the United Nations,” NNA quoted Berri as saying.
The UN-demarcated Blue Line currently separates Lebanon and Israel’s territory with more than 200 points. Thirteen of the points are disputed by the Lebanese government.
According to the report, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col told Berri that the mechanism used to draw the Blue Line could also be used to resolve the maritime border issue and enhance stability.
The two countries have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq. km., which extends along several blocks for exploratory offshore drilling Lebanon put for tender two years ago.
Beirut claims that Blocks 8 and 9 in the disputed maritime waters are in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and parts of Block 9 run through waters that Israel claims as its own EEZ.
Recently discovered oil and gas reserves off the shores of Lebanon and Israel are predicted to generate up to $600 billion over the next few decades and in December 2017, Beirut signed contracts with three international companies to explore oil and gas in two of the blocks.
Lebanon and Russia also signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on oil and gas in October 2013.
Lebanon is expected to begin drilling for oil and gas off the coast north of Beirut by the end of the year and in the block near the area disputed with Israel next year.
Israel also views its offshore oil and gas reserves as highly valuable, both economically and strategically. Jerusalem has made agreements with Egypt to sell surplus gas and agreed earlier this year to partake in an Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes seven members: Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority.
In November of last year, Israel reportedly signed an ambitious project to build a 2,000 km.-underwater gas pipeline – from Israel to Cyprus to Crete to mainland Greece and Italy – to supply natural gas. The construction of the pipeline is expected to take five years and cost some eight billion dollars.