A new battlefield is growing between Israel and Lebanon over mammoth gas fields discovered off the coast of Haifa.

The Houston-based Noble Energy firm, drilling for Israel’s Delek fuel group, has discovered billions of cubit meters of natural gas in the coastal waters of the Jewish State, catching the attention – and envy – of neighboring Lebanon.

One find has totaled nearly 87 billion cubic meters of gas in three deposits in the Tamar drill sites. This summer, an assessment of the field released by the firm indicated enough natural gas exists in that field alone to allow Israel to be self-sufficient for at least two decades or more. The field is located about 90 kilometers west of Haifa, between Israel and Cyprus. The rights to the Cypriot drilling sites, however, are also owned by Delek owner Yitzchak Teshuva.

Another, more recent discovery, the giant Leviathan energy field, promised a potential of some four billion barrels of “black gold,” and is also being explored by Teshuva’s group. If the discovery at Leviathan 1 is found to equal or exceed its initial assessment, Teshuva has said the gas reserves will transform Israel into an energy exporter.

However, Hizbullah terrorists and the Lebanese government claim that the Leviathan reserves lie in Lebanese territorial waters – and have threatened war over the energy field.

Cash-strapped Lebanon is desperate for resources, although recently bolstered by an infusion of Iranian funds to rebuild its infrastructure following Hizbullah’s 2006 Second Lebanon War with Israel.

“This is something big and potentially landscape-changing economically, financially and politically,” Nassib Ghobril, head of the economic research and analysis at Beirut’s Byblos Bank noted this week in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor.

Hizbullah, already under pressure as it faces the likelihood of its members facing indictment for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has warned it will defend what it believes are Lebanon’s oil and gas resources. Israel has vowed to retaliate for attacks on its oil and gas facilities.

Further complicating the matter is the prospect of Iran’s participation in Lebanon’s defense: Lebanese and Iranian energy ministers agreed in talks last month to coordinate efforts on the maritime search for oil and natural gas near Israel's border.

The two nations have said they will launch a joint project to search for underwater Mediterranean energy reserves, a move that further deepens Lebanon’s dependence on Iran.

International maritime borders require mutual recognition in order to be valid under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Israel is not even a signatory to the convention; hence the international body is unlikely to play a role in mediating the dispute.