Israeli-Lebanese tensions have surfaced again over the status of disputed oil fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Coming amidst a push by both countries to increase their energy security, the dispute has the potential to exacerbate already strained relations.
The Lebanese move towards beginning production in its exclusive economic zone comes almost a year after Lebanon concluded auctions for private companies to explore in five offshore blocks, including industry heavyweights Total of France and Eni of Italy. In question are the Leviathan and Tamar fields, with Lebanese production scheduled to begin this year despite multiple blocks skirting Israel’s maritime territory. Israel’s ultra-nationalist Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman considers any claim to the fields by Lebanon or by private companies a major violation of Israeli sovereignty. Israel has aspirations to become a major natural gas supporter, with development of the two fields seen as a way to develop energy diplomacy with neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Jordan.
In the absence of any international ruling regarding sovereignty over the contested oil blocks, the standoff is likely to continue. Despite the private European consortiums’ commitment to begin exploration in the Lebanese blocks, expect volatile tensions between the two countries in the short-term.
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Kai looks at security and political turbulence in the emerging market economies and also serves as a publisher with The Daily Brief.