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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

So what's the deal with the Lebanon/Israel maritime dispute?

Now Lebanon had a good article on the basics of what looks to become a major issue between Israel and Lebanon:
At issue now between Lebanon and Israel is where their maritime borders should be fixed. Along the coast, the countries more or less agree where the line should start, but out in the Mediterranean, there is serious bickering. Lebanon wants to use Point 23 (see graphic) as the border’s southern limit, whereas Israel wants to use Point 1, several kilometers north of Point 23.

Lebanon, however, finds itself in a bit of a quandary. In 2007, Lebanon inked a deal with Cyprus on their mutual maritime boundaries. In that agreement, which was never ratified by Lebanon’s parliament and is therefore not in force, the two countries decided that the southern limit of the maritime border should be Point 1.

Mohammad Kabbani, head of parliament’s Public Works and Energy Committee, told NOW Lebanon that using Point 1 was a mistake. The agreement with Cyprus, he said, was supposed to be written in a way that left Lebanon’s southern boundary open for negotiation. Lebanon’s parliament never ratified the agreement for fear of angering Turkey, which occupies part of Cyprus and does not think the Cypriot government has the right to be negotiating such deals.

With the Cyprus agreement shelved, in both July and October 2010, Lebanon sent maps and coordinates to the UN (in line with UNCLOS) stating that the southern limit of its EEZ is Point 23.

Kabbani dismissed the idea that Lebanon sought to use the “facts on the ground” created by Israeli licensing to set the border. He maintains that Point 23 is the proper point to use, and added that a group of experts are still working with Lebanese authorities to finalize the boundary. Kabbani said there is some talk of the border possibly being still further south of Point 23.

Israel, for its part, signed an agreement with Cyprus in December 2010 defining their undersea borders, using Point 1 as the northernmost limit of Israel’s EEZ. The countries ratified the agreement, and it went into force in February 2011. Lebanon soon cried foul, and in June 2011, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour sent a letter to the UN calling the Israel-Cyprus agreement into question.

Today Israel is holding fast to Point 1 as the basis of a border, pointing to Lebanon’s agreement with Cyprus.
Over at Qifa Nakbi's blog, he summarizes this and the comments are fascinating.

He drew this map showing the disputed area:

And a commenter found this similar map that was printed at Makor Rishon:

The disputed area is roughly 1000 square kilometers.

 This map shows that the current areas of Israeli exploration, drilling and most of their known reserves are well within an undisputed Israeli zone.

Globes notes this the issue is being greatly exaggerated:

However, the entire story has been taken out of all proportion. Even if the UN were to adopt the Lebanese version of the maritime border, there would be no serious harm to Israel's exploration licenses in the region.

A professional Israeli source that examined the border route under contention said that it involved the northern extremes of the Alon and Ruth licenses, in the northern part of Israel's licenses region. As far as is known, in these areas there are several structures that might contain gas or oil, but these structures are relatively small, and are not top of the agenda of Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) and Delek Group Ltd. (TASE: DLEKG) who own the licenses.

The only fallout from moving the Israel Lebanon maritime border south would thus be in the Ruth and Alon gas and oil fields, if there are discoveries in these licenses, and if they spill over the border into Lebanon. If that is the case then development of these fields, which are far from the top of the agenda, would be delayed.
So is it a big deal? Lebanon sure is posturing as if it is. The Shi'ite speaker of Lebanon's parliament was quite aggressive:
Speaker Nabih Berri said in an interview with As-Safir newspaper published on Tuesday that those who oppose Hezbollah’s weapons should stand by it at this time, especially because of the oil exploration file that “is a priority to all Lebanese.”

“The value of oil reserves, which fluctuates between $200 billion and $300 billion, is enough to pay off the public debt and move Lebanon into a stage of economic and financial affluence,” he added.
One of the commenters at Nabki's blog wrote an article about this issue a year ago, and quotes himself:

As the above map shows, the Tamar1 find is within Israel’s territorial exclusive economic zone. That is not an issue. The real problem arises if the Lebanese can show that a natural gas/oil field spans the territorial boundaries of the two states. In that case what is the accepted international procedure for determining who gets what?

Interestingly enough and maybe even surprising to some, there is no single standard principle. There are two principles:

(1) The Right Of Capture principle says that each side is permitted to lift as much as it can on its side of the border. This principle is in effect all throughout the state of Texas but more importantly it is what governs the relationship between the US and Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico.

(2) Both sides of the dispute would resort to international arbitration.

Keeping in mind that Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and given that the Israeli side has already started the exploration and the construction of the required infrastructure which of the above two principles is going to apply if Lebanon can demonstrate that there are natural resources that span the internationally recognized boundary? You have guessed it, The Right of Capture is most likely to be applied.
In other words, if Lebanon was smart, they would be trying to work with Israel to demarcate the borders, as they are way behind in exploration and construction.

If it wasn't for the fact that Lebanon is now politically and militarily controlled by a terrorist group, this could have been a way to actually forge a peace agreement between the two states. Imagine a Mediterranean natural gas equivalent to OPEC!

Alas.