BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon's Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group on Tuesday warned Israel against trying to steal Lebanon's maritime resources and said it would retaliate against any Israeli attack on the country's oil and gas installations.
A dispute is building between the two rival nations over their maritime border and huge natural gas and oil reserves beneath the Mediterranean Sea. The countries are longtime enemies and do not have diplomatic relations.
Lebanon has submitted its own sea boundary proposal to the United Nations, and the Israeli government earlier this month approved a conflicting proposal that it also sent to the world body. Lebanon called the Israeli proposal a violation of international law and Lebanese sovereignty.
Nasrallah, in his speech Tuesday marking the fifth anniversary of the 2006 war, urged the Lebanese government to ratify a law which has already been discussed in parliament to pave the way for companies to start exploring off its coast.
He said Lebanon can protect those companies and oil and gas installations because Israel has installations too. "Those who harm our installations will have their own installations harmed," he warned.
"We warn Israel not to touch this area or try to steal Lebanon's resources," he added.
Last week, senior U.N. envoy Michael Williams urged Lebanon and Israel to promote oil and gas exploration off their coasts despite their dispute. He said maritime disputes are common and exploration companies will avoid the contested area.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanese politics and battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006, has threatened to use force to protect Lebanon's natural wealth. Israel's National Infrastructure Minister, Uzi Landau, has said Israel would use force to defend its gas fields.
Over the past two years, Israel has discovered two fields thought to contain about 24 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. The discoveries, notable in a country lacking in natural resources, are believed to be enough to make Israel energy self-sufficient for decades.
Nasrallah said the reserves were a "golden opportunity" for Lebanon to service its huge debt and rebuild its economy.
The gas discoveries have created a new source of friction between the two countries, which have clashed repeatedly.
In most cases, countries negotiate their maritime border, as Israel did several months ago with Cyprus. Because Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations, the proposals are to go to the United Nations.
It is unclear what role the U.N. would play in determining the border. After Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000, following an 18-year occupation, the U.N. drew the land border between the two countries, though the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia disputes part of it.
Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram
- Lebanon s Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group
- oil reserves