After foiled Hezbollah drone mission, Israeli energy minister visits Karish gas rig

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar paid a visit on Tuesday to the Karish gas field, days after the IDF intercepted several Hezbollah drones heading for the disputed offshore site.

“The start of the natural gas production from Karish, which is expected in September, is essential for the Israeli and global energy economy,” Elharrar said in a statement following her visit, noting the recent landmark deal Israel signed last month in Cairo agreeing to export natural gas to the EU via Egypt.

“The Karish field is an economic-strategic asset of the State of Israel,” Elharrar added. “Any attempt to damage the rig, which is in Israel’s economic waters, will be answered with the variety of tools at our disposal.”

Elharrar’s visit came the same day that Prime Minister Yair Lapid met in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, with Lebanon and the Karish gas field high on the agenda. Lapid told the French leader that Israel would not let the recent Hezbollah activity go unanswered.

“A few days ago, Iranian-made UAVs tried to attack an Israeli gas rig near the Lebanese coast,” Lapid said in Paris on Tuesday. “These UAVs were sent by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that threatens Lebanon’s stability, violates its sovereignty, pushes it towards a dangerous escalation with Israel, and harms the national interests of Lebanon — a country I know is dear to your heart.”

“Israel will not sit back and do nothing, given these repeated attacks,” Lapid told the leader of France, which has close ties to Lebanon, its former colonial subject.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron hold a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 5, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Macron told the press conference that both sides should “avoid any action” that could worsen relations between Israel and Lebanon.

On Saturday, the IDF said it successfully intercepted three Hezbollah drones heading for the Karish gas field. Hezbollah had threatened the field in recent weeks, which sits in an area that both Lebanon and Israel claim as their own.

The maritime border dispute between the two nations has been ongoing for several years. Despite US attempts to broker a deal, talks have repeatedly stalled over the issue, although US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein said last week that some progress had been made in recent negotiations.

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel after a new drilling platform arrived at the gas field a month ago, saying that his organization is capable of preventing such action, including by force.

“We pledge to the Lebanese people: the resistance is materially and militarily capable of preventing the enemy from extracting gas from the disputed Karish field,” Nasrallah said last month. “No steps taken by the enemy can protect this craft or this extraction operation.”

After Saturday’s incident, Hezbollah confirmed that it launched the three unarmed drones, saying they were intended to carry out a “reconnaissance mission” in the area.

Hezbollah added that the mission was accomplished successfully and “a message was conveyed.”

AFP, Emanuel Fabian, Aaron Boxerman and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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