BEIRUT: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon clarified Friday its position regarding its role in assisting the country’s offshore oil and gas exploration efforts following remarks attributed to UNIFIL commander Gen. Paolo Serra in the local press.
“UNIFIL has nine vessels and will offer all the logistic capabilities to aid Lebanon in the drilling process,” Al-Akhbar daily quoted Serra as saying.
“But until now we did not receive an official request from the Lebanese government so everything remains pending until a political solution [among Lebanon’s rival groups is reached],” Serra’s comments continued. The commander is also said to have added that once the political solution was reached, UNIFIL would use its nine naval units to help ensure the security of Lebanese waters.
Speaking to The Daily Star Friday afternoon, UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti, however, explained that while the force has “every good intention to assist” Lebanon’s efforts, its activities are strictly governed by its U.N. mandate.
“We are obliged to operate within the scope of the 1701 mandate,” Tenenti said, adding that there was “no room for speculation in the mandate.”
Resolution 1701 was signed in August 2006 after the war with Israel.
Under the mandate, the Lebanese Navy requested UNIFIL’s assistance at sea in preventing the unauthorized entry of arms into Lebanon, Tenenti said. He also pointed out that the mandate allows UNIFIL to assist the Navy with training and capacity building. Beyond this, there is no scope for UNIFIL involvement in offshore exploration.
In south Lebanon, UNIFIL is mandated to patrol the land border between Lebanon and Israel, but Tenenti pointed out that there is no “agreed maritime border” between the two states.
But Tenenti said that if a “maritime security line” was agreed between Lebanon and Israel, then the force could work to prevent violations of that line if requested to do so.
No such security line exists at present, and while Tenenti says UNIFIL has raised the matter with both sides, no decision has been reached.
Tenenti did, however, point out that maritime border discussions do “indirectly relate” to offshore exploration.