Israel said preparing to defend new Karish gas rig from Hezbollah attack

The Israeli military is preparing for the possibility that the Hezbollah terror group will attempt to attack the new Karish gas rig off the country’s Mediterranean coast, Kan news reported Sunday.

The report said navy vessels would help secure the rig, including submarines. A naval version of the Iron Dome missile defense system will also arrive in the area to help protect the platform.

The new drilling platform arrived at the Karish site on Sunday and is expected to become operational in the next few months.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Sunday warned Israel against drilling at Karish, claiming it was a disputed site.

The Walla news site quote an unnamed senior Israeli Sunday night who slammed the Lebanese allegations as “lies,” adding that Beirut’s recent claims to the site “contradict the positions that Lebanon itself presented in the past.”

“Any action or activity in the disputed area represents a provocation and a hostile act,” the Aoun’s office said.

It said the president had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and asked army leadership to keep him updated on the rig, which is operated by Greek energy firm Energean. It also noted ongoing US-mediated talks aimed at settling the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel.

The Sa’ar 5 Class Corvette ‘INS Hanit’ and a small Israeli Navy boat are seen during an international naval exercise in the Mediterranean, March 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to Reuters, Mikati accused Israel of “encroaching on Lebanon’s maritime wealth, and imposing a fait accompli in a disputed area.” He called the Israeli move “extremely dangerous.”

“The decision about a response [to the ship’s entry] is in the hands of the state and Hezbollah,” Bassam Yasin, the head of the Lebanese delegation to the negotiations, was quoted saying by Kan.

Longtime foes Israel and Lebanon have held talks over the past year aimed at demarcating offshore exclusive economic zones. The disputed area, hundreds of square miles wide, is thought to contain large deposits of natural gas, a potential game-changer for Lebanon, which is mired in a devastating economic crisis.

The Hezbollah terror group has warned Israel against unilaterally searching for natural gas in the disputed maritime region before any agreement is reached.

The negotiations are meant to focus on an 860-square-kilometer (330-square-mile) disputed sea area according to a map registered with the United Nations in 2011.

But in 2020, Lebanon demanded an additional area of 1,430 square kilometers further south, Lebanese energy expert Laury Haytayan said, characterizing the new phase of talks as a “war of the maps.”

The additional area extends into part of the Karish gas field which Israel has assigned Energean, which was expected to begin pumping gas to the Israeli domestic market last year. Karish, Hebrew for shark, contains 1.4 trillion cubic feet of proved and probable gas.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

Lebanon’s foreign minister responded positively in February to proposals from US negotiator Amos Hochstein on settling the maritime border dispute with Israel, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reportedly gave a green light to continue negotiations.

However, Nasrallah expressed fierce opposition to the US-mediated talks last month, appearing to contradict the earlier reports.

The area around Karish also includes a prospect known as Block 72,  which is thought to also contain large hydrocarbon deposits. In June 2019, the Israeli government gave US-based Noble Energy the go-ahead to carry out exploratory drilling there, though development of the field has reportedly been hampered by worries over its fate in the dispute with Lebanon.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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