Beirut: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Monday criticised the militant group Hezbollah for sending three unmanned aircraft over an Israeli gas installation last week, saying it was an unnecessarily risky action.
Najib Mikati’s comment came two days after Hezbollah launched three drones over the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Israeli military said on Saturday said that it has shot down the three drones, before Hezbollah issued a statement saying they were unarmed and were sent on a reconnaissance mission. “The mission was accomplished and the message was received,’’ Hezbollah said.
Lebanon claims the Karish gas field is disputed territory under ongoing maritime border negotiations, whereas Israel says it lies within its internationally recognized economic waters.
“Lebanon believes that any actions outside the state’s framework and diplomatic context while negotiations are taking place is unacceptable and exposes it to unnecessary risks,’’ Foreign Minister Abdullah Bu Habib said, citing Mikati’s statement.
Bu Habib on Monday called on “all parties to show a spirit of supreme national interest and commit to... supporting the state in the negotiation process,” in a veiled message to Hezbollah.
“The ongoing negotiations held with the assistance of the US mediator are in advanced stages,” Bu Habib said, adding that the Hezbollah operation was launched without official state consent.
The maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel returned to the fore last month after Israel moved a production vessel into Karish, parts of which are claimed by Lebanon.
The move forced the Lebanese government to call for the resumption of US-mediated negotiations that had hit a wall last year over demarcation disputes.
Hezbollah for its part threatened Israel and the company that owns the production vessel against proceeding with extraction, saying it was ready to stand in the way.
Lebanon is now waiting for a response from Israel after relaying its maritime border position to US mediator Amos Hochstein who visited Beirut last month at the request of authorities.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
The incident in the Karish gas field took place soon after US mediator Amos Hochstein recently visited Lebanese and Israeli officials, as talks were advancing.
Mikati on Saturday told reporters that Lebanon had received “encouraging information’’ regarding the border dispute, but refused to comment until after he receives a “written official response to the suggestions by the Lebanese side.’’
Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to determine their maritime borders commenced in October 2020, when the two sides held indirect US-mediated talks in southern Lebanon. Since taking over the mediation from late 2021, Hochstein has resorted to shuttle diplomacy with visits to both Beirut and Jerusalem.
The two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.