Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea today slammed Hezbollah for trying to use purported threats to energy resources near the country’s coast as a pretext for generating tensions with Israel.
Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, a politician from the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement, has begun a process by which energy companies will bid to explore and eventually exploit contested maritime ‘blocks’ near the Israeli-Lebanese border. The move is a de facto claim of sovereignty over the contested territory, and – per the Israeli daily financial newspaper Globes – Israel will be forced to respond:
Lebanon is trying to redraw its border with Israel. Official Israeli sources say that Lebanon is about to award offshore oil and gas exploration licenses in areas that encroach on Israel’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It is unclear what Israel plans to do about this matter, which could ignite the border dispute with Lebanon. However, international law experts say that Israeli is liable to lose territory if it does not object to the Lebanese acts in court, or even militarily.
Geagea and other observers see Hezbollah’s push to generate tensions as part and parcel of a broader effort by the group to restore its brand as a “resistance” organization battling the Jewish state. That image of Hezbollah – which was echoed for decades by Tehran and in certain corners of the Western foreign policy community – has been shattered by the group’s fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Geagea was blunt:
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said that the Shiite group Hezbollah was seeking to use Lebanon’s oil resources as a pretext for further enmity with Israel. “We are thinking about benefiting the Lebanese and further generations from the oil resources, but others want to turn it into another front with Israel,” Geagea said in remarks published by As-Safir newspaper on Thursday. “The oil portfolio is being used to give a legal justification to the existence of illegal weapons,” the LF added in reference to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah seems to be setting up a narrative, in the context of off-shore drilling, that would allow it to claim it is defending Lebanese territory against the Jewish state’s intrusions. Today it warned that Lebanon’s oil and gas sector was “becoming vulnerable to Israeli piracy” by the “deliberate obstruction of issuing licenses.”