JERUSALEM: Israel on Monday warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah any attack on its gas assets could spark war, after the militant group threatened to “sever” Israel’s hands if it taps a disputed offshore field.
The warning from Defence Minister Benny Gantz comes amid lengthy negotiations between the eastern Mediterranean neighbours to settle a dispute over their maritime border.
Tensions spiked in June when a production vessel chartered by Israel arrived near the Karish offshore gas field, which Lebanon claims is within contested waters.
Israel said on July 2 that it had downed three drones launched by Hezbollah towards Karish.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on August 9 that “the hand that reaches for any of this wealth will be severed”.
Asked if any attack by Hezbollah against an Israeli gas field could lead to war, Gantz said: “Yes, that could trigger a reaction”.
“Leading to several days of fighting and to a military campaign. We are strong and prepared for this scenario, but we don’t want it,” the minister told Israel’s 103 FM radio station.
Gantz said extraction from the gas field would begin “when it is ready to produce”, reaffirming Israel’s claim to Karish.
“The State of Israel is both ready to protect its assets and ready to reach a deal with the Lebanese government, via American mediation, on the Sidon deposit,” he said in reference to another gas field known in Lebanon as Qana.
“I believe that in the future, there will be two gas platforms. One on our side, one on theirs. And I hope that we do not have to go through another round of confrontations before then.”
Israel and Lebanon last fought a devastating conflict in 2006 and remain officially at war, with United Nations peacekeepers patrolling the land border.
Negotiations on the maritime border resumed in 2020, with the talks stalling before being revived in June.
The initial discussions focused on a disputed area of 860 square kilometres (332 square miles), in accordance with Lebanon’s claims registered at the UN in 2011.
Beirut subsequently requested the area be expanded by a further 1,430 square kilometres, which includes part of the Karish field that Israel states is within its exclusive economic zone recognised by the UN.