Israel's "Tamar" oil rig
Israel's "Tamar" oil rigReuters

Lebanon is homing in on Israel's territorial waters, according to a report in Globes.

Official Israeli sources told the newspaper that Lebanon is about to award offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in areas that encroach on Israel's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Lebanon published tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in early September, in five blocks in its EEZ.

It is a highly provocative act which has the potential to greatly inflame hostilities between the two nations.

“Israeli sources who examined the coordinates found that the area of the southernmost license, Block 9, encroaches on the border that Israel claims for its EEZ,” wrote Globes. “This license is considered attractive with high chances of a major natural gas discovery.”

Israel's Petroleum Commissioner Alexander Varshavsky presented the findings of this review at an international energy conference in Cyprus two weeks ago. He emphasized that Israel has refrained from taking similar steps, and did not award oil and gas exploration licenses in disputed areas.

Adv. David Kornbluth, an expert in national borders, told Globes that Israel could lose its claim to the disputed area unless it takes active steps in response to the Lebanese move.

"Legal practice says that a country that does not respond to such an act is considered as waiving its claim," he said.

In the past, Lebanon has attempted to claim at least part of Israel's Tamar and Leviathan fields as its own, claiming that parts of the fields are over the international maritime border, in Lebanese waters. Lebanon has also made similar claims on gas off the shores of Cyprus.

In 2011, The Israeli Cabinet approved a “marine economic zone proposal” after Lebanon presented maps to the United Nations, marking maritime borders that would include part of the giant Leviathan and Tamar fields. The United Nations previously has refused to take responsibility for marking the maritime borders.

Lebanese Minister of Energy and Water Joubran Bassil said at the time that Israel “is playing with fire “by violating Lebanon’s maritime border and oil rights.”

A few months earlier, the United Nations rejected an attempt by Lebanon to stop Israel from drilling for oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean.

U.N. Spokesman Martin Nesirky said at the time that the mandate of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) “does not include delineating maritime lines. We are talking about two different things: coastal waters and a disputed boundary.”