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Hezbollah says 'ready' to take action if Lebanon govt. confirms Israel violating country’s maritime rights

Lebanon's Hezbollah deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, attends an interview with Reuters in Beirut, on June 6, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

A senior official of Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance movement says the movement is “ready” to take action if the government confirms that Israel is violating the maritime rights of the country, after a gas drilling ship arrived in disputed Mediterranean waters to conduct hydrocarbon exploration for Israel.

Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem told Reuters on Monday that Hezbollah is ready to take action, “including by force,” against Israeli gas operations in the disputed waters once Beirut adopts a clearer policy.

“When the Lebanese state says that the Israelis are attacking our waters and our oil, then we are ready to do our part in terms of pressure, deterrence and the use of appropriate means – including force,” Qassem said.

His remarks came a day after a natural gas storage and production ship operated by the UK-based Energean arrived at the Karish field, some 80 kilometers west of the port city of Haifa.

The Tel Aviv regime and the international hydrocarbon exploration and production company equally claimed the field in question falls within Israel’s so-called exclusive economic zone. Beirut rejects the claim.

“The issue requires a decisive decision by the Lebanese state,” the Hezbollah deputy secretary-general said, adding that the resistance movement has “urged the government to hurry, to set a deadline.”

Qassem also noted that Hezbollah would act on this issue “regardless of the responses,” that it may elicit from Israel, even if it led to a wider conflict.

On Sunday, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati warned that Israel is provoking crisis in disputed waters in the Mediterranean Sea by encroaching on Lebanese resources and maritime wealth.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun also condemned the move by Israel on the same day, warning that any activity in the disputed waters would amount to an act of aggression and a provocation.

This was not the first time that Aoun warned Israel against encroachment on Lebanon's territorial waters under the excuse of gas exploration operations.

In April 2021, Aoun demanded the Israeli regime to stop all exploration in an offshore gas field on its southern border with occupied Palestinian territories.

In June 2020, the Lebanese president warned Israel over its “extremely dangerous” bid to explore oil and gas within Lebanon’s maritime territories, stressing that the Arab country would not allow any violation of its territorial waters. His warning came a day after Tel Aviv approved a license for oil and gas exploration in “Block 72,” located close to the Block 9 gas fields, where Beirut was set to begin exploration for natural gas and oil.

Separately on Monday, Lebanese caretaker Defense Minister Brigadier General Maurice Sleem called on the international community and the United Nations to “move quickly and put an end to the renewed Israeli provocations.”

A day earlier, Hashim Safi al-Din, the head of the Executive Council of Hezbollah, warned that the United States is barring the Arab country from offshore crude oil and natural gas exploration and production.

“The US is the main opponent of Lebanon’s extracting of its crude oil reserves and enjoying its own national wealth,” he said at the time.

The maritime row between Lebanon and Israel is over an area in the Mediterranean Sea spanning about 860 square kilometers. Block No. 9 is rich in oil and gas. Israel relies heavily on gas and has long been developing a number of occupied offshore gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea.

Lebanese politicians hope that commercially viable hydrocarbon resources off Lebanon’s coast could help lift the debt-ridden country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.

Beirut on Monday announced that it would invite a US mediator to the Arab country to resume indirect talks with Israel over the disputed maritime borders.

Lebanon and Israel took part in indirect talks to discuss demarcation in 2020. But the talks stalled after Lebanon demanded a larger area, including part of the Karish gas field, where Israel has given exploration rights to a Greek firm.

The talks were supposed to discuss a Lebanese demand for 860 sq km (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area, according to a map sent to the United Nations in 2011. However, Lebanon then said the map was based on erroneous calculations and demanded 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles) more further south, including part of Karish.

Lebanon fought off two Israeli wars in 2000 and 2006. On both occasions, battleground contribution by Hezbollah proved an indispensable asset, forcing the Israeli military into a retreat.

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