Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has accused Israel of a blatant attempt to put international companies off bidding for oil and gas rights in the country.
Lebanon sits on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of large sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009, including the Leviathan and Tamar fields located in Israeli waters near the nations’ disputed marine border.
On Wednesday, the issue of an offshore oil and gas exploration tender in Beirut prompted angry comments from Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who described the move as “very provocative”. Lebanon has put out a tender for a gasfield that “is by all account ours”, Mr Lieberman said, urging international firms not to bid.
He was referring to an area called Block 9, which borders Israeli waters.
The remarks led Mr Hariri late on Wednesday to slam the Israeli minister’s statement as a “blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects”.
Israel’s claim is “invalid in form and substance and comes within Israel’s expansionist policies to undermine the rights of others and threaten regional security”.
The Lebanese government will follow up the tender “with the competent international parties to assert its legitimate right to act in its territorial waters”, Mr Hariri added.
Lebanese president Michel Aoun also described Israel’s comments as “a threat”.
“Lieberman’s words about Block 9 are a threat to Lebanon and its right to sovereignty over its territorial waters,” the president said on Twitter.
Lebanon in December approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two of the five blocks put up for tender in the country’s much-delayed first oil and gas offshore licensing round.