US Mediation May Help Resolve Bloc 9 Issue and a Significant Tweet by Lebanese President Michel Aoun
Lebanon and Israel have been feuding over an 860-sq km disputed area that extends along the edge of three of the 10 blocks that form Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with both parties staking their claim to the oil-rich surface.
A partial deal over the delicate Lebanese-Israeli maritime dispute could be set up this year after new ideas were proposed by a U.S led back-channel mediation mission, Israel's Energy Minister told Reuters.
The area in question, which falls partially within Block 9, has been approved for oil and gas exploration after Lebanon signed in February its first exploration and production agreements.
The agreement includes exploration of Block 4 as well located further north along Lebanon's coast.
The government had approved two bids by an international consortium of energy companies, comprising France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek.
In an interview with Reuters, Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that "some new ideas are on the table, more than that I cannot discuss." The Minister oversees energy exploration in Israel and is the pointman in indirect negotiations with Lebanon, according to Reuters.
David Satterfield, the acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, has also held separate meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials over the past few months to try and resolve the dispute.
Steinitz added that "there is room for optimism" over the geopolitical standoff while expressing "hope that in the coming months, or by the end of the year, we will manage to reach a solution or at least a partial solution to the dispute.”
Note that Lebanese President General Michel Aoun said last week that Israel was refusing to agree a final maritime border between the two countries, a month after Lebanon began exploring for its first offshore oil and gas reserves. “Israel still refuses the demarcation of the maritime borders near the Exclusive Economic Zone where exploration for oil and gas has begun,” Aoun said on Twitter.
Earlier this month, Lebanon’s Energy Minister Cezar Abi Khalil said that the first phase of oil and gas exploration off the coast will begin after an exploration plan submitted by the consortium to search in two of the country’s 10 offshore blocks was approved.
Khalil added that drilling would begin in 2019.
Earlier this year, Lebanon signed its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreement for two of Lebanon’s 10 offshore blocks with a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek, with drilling expected to start in 2019.
Last month, Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil asked the Lebanese Petroleum Administration to start preparing for the launch of a second round of offshore licensing for oil and gas companies. Abi Khalil made the announcement during the opening ceremony of Lebanon’s fourth annual Oil and Gas Summit, held in Beirut, according to an official statement released by organizers.
Abi Khalil was quoted in a tweet by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association as saying that Lebanon has already started exploring in Block 9 of the potential offshore oil and gas reserves, and would continue to do, despite Israel disputing its claim to some of the area. Finally, U.S. officials have been mediating between Lebanon and Israel about the maritime border dispute and the future of the Bloc 9 will be in focus during the incoming weeks.
- Lebanon: Oil And Gasoline Drilling To Start In 2019
- Lebanon Approves Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration Bid