Beirut: Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has submitted a letter to the United Nations to protest a pending bill in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) that calls for the annexation of a disputed maritime border area with Lebanon.

According to a detailed report in the daily Al Jumhuriyyah, the Israeli government’s move mobilised Lebanese officials suspicious of Israeli designs on the area abundant with hydrocarbon gas.

The 860 square kilometres area could contain energy reserves that could generate up to $600 billion over the course of a few decades.

Lebanon, which suffers from crippling debt and economic stagnation, is in dire need of such oil and gas resources.

Although Washington managed to reach a draft accord in 2016 guaranteeing allocated zones, Israel has refused to commit, and has stuck to the false claim that the Leviathan field was mostly inside ‘Israeli’ territorial waters.

Lebanese politicians, meanwhile, have also not taken advantage of US mediation efforts to resolve the maritime dispute — which only hurts Lebanon’s long term strategic and economic interests.

In January 2017, the slow-moving Lebanese government finally approved several decrees to pave the way for oil and gas extraction off its coast.

But two years of internal bickering among politicians keen on securing their ‘fair’ share of the bounty have delayed the exploration process — meanwhile, Israeli companies made huge technological strides.

Lebanon has yet to issue tenders for maritime drilling and exploration.

In fact, the demarcation of both land and sea frontiers between the two countries is still subject to the 1948 Armistice, an agreement that ensured a ceasefire when the state of Israel was created.

But it wasn’t until the 1978 Israeli invasion that a nominal “blue line” was drawn.

The zone was again redrawn in 2001 after Israel ended its 20-year occupation of Lebanon, withdrew its forces and created a security ‘buffer’ zone, which Lebanon maintains is a landgrab.

During Israel’s occupation, the Lebanese army was not allowed to deploy along the Israeli border and Lebanon’s numerous complaints to the United Nations Security Council fell on deaf ears.

The two countries are still technically ‘at war’ as Lebanon has yte to sign a peace accord with Israel.