Lebanese President Michel Aoun condemned on Wednesday an Israeli minister’s call on firms against bidding on the country’s offshore energy tender.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas licensing process as “very provocative” and urged international firms not to bid.
This prompted a swift reply from Aoun, who tweeted: “Lieberman’s words about Block 9 are a threat to Lebanon and its right to sovereignty over its territorial waters.”
Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said the comments were one of several “threatening messages” from Israel in recent days.
Lieberman said: “When they issue a tender on a gas field, including Block 9, which by any standard is ours ... this is very, very challenging and provocative conduct here.”
“Respectable firms” bidding on the tender “are, to my mind, making a grave error - because this is contrary to all of the rules and all protocol in cases like this,” he told an international security conference hosted by Tel Aviv University’s INSS think-tank.
Hariri added that Lebanon would take up the comments with the “relevant international bodies to affirm its right to act in its territorial waters”. In a statement from his press office, the premier said Lieberman’s words were “blatant provocation”.
Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil said he had sent a letter to the United Nations two weeks ago affirming Lebanon’s right to defend itself and its economic interests.
Lebanon in December approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek for two of the five blocks put up for tender in the country’s much-delayed first oil and gas offshore licensing round.
One of the awarded blocks, block 9, borders Israeli waters. Lebanon considers Israel an enemy state and has an unresolved maritime border dispute with it over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles) that extends along the edge of three of the blocks.
The contracts are expected to be officially signed on February 9, the Lebanese Petroleum Administration (LPA) said, allowing exploration to begin.
The licensing round was re-launched in January last year after a three-year delay caused by political paralysis.
Lebanon is on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of big sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009, including the Leviathan and Tamar fields located in Israeli waters near the disputed marine border with Lebanon.