BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned Israel Tuesday against any attempt to plunder Lebanon’s offshore gas and oil reserves in its territorial waters as a dispute over the demarcation of maritime borders with the Jewish state worsens.
It was Nasrallah’s first public threat to fight Israel since a long-simmering dispute over offshore gas and oil deposits in the eastern Mediterranean burst out into the open earlier this month following the Israeli government’s approval of a map of its proposed maritime borders which Lebanon deemed an aggression and an infringement on its right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
In a televised speech marking the fifth anniversary of his group’s 33-day war with Israel in 2006, Nasrallah also promised victory in any future military conflict with the Jewish state, saying Hezbollah was better equipped and stronger than before.
Nasrallah devoted most of his one-hour speech to talking about Lebanon’s natural resources in its territorial waters, saying the cash-strapped and debt-ridden-country has “a real chance” to become a rich country. Lebanon’s public debt is estimated at more than $55 billion.
Nasrallah said when Israel demarcated its maritime borders with Cyprus, it infringed on 850 square kilometers in Lebanon’s territorial waters by adding them to its border. He said the area’s oil wealth is worth billions of dollars.
“With regard to the 850 square kilometer zone, as long as the state considers it Lebanese [territory], it is Lebanese in the resistance’s eye and there is no disputed area. There is an area that has been infringed on. Lebanon has a diplomatic opportunity to recover it through the border demarcation,” Nasrallah said.
However, he had a warning to Israel if it attempted to capture Lebanon’s sea resources.
“We warn Israel against extending its hands to this area and steal Lebanon’s resources from Lebanese waters,” Nasrallah said. “Until Lebanon decides to exploit this area, Israel must be warned against extending its hands to it.”
Nasrallah also threatened to target Israel’s oil installations if Lebanon’s oil facilities were attacked.
“Whoever harms our future oil facilities in Lebanese territorial waters, its own facilities will be targeted,” he said.
He called on the Hezbollah-dominated government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati to accelerate diplomatic and procedural measures to recover the Lebanese area.
“I call on the Lebanese people to support the government in this major national issue. If the state was able to extract money [from oil and gas resources], all the people would benefit from it,” he said.
Addressing thousands of Hezbollah’s supporters at Raya Stadium in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Nasrallah, speaking via a video link, said the Lebanese have “a real chance” to make their country rich.
“Lebanon has a huge wealth of oil and gas in its waters. This wealth is not the property of a certain sect or a party. It is a national wealth,” he said.
Nasrallah said that according to official figures, the oil and gas deposits in Lebanese waters are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
“If the Lebanese dealt with this issue with national responsibility, we are in front of a chance to repay our debts, improve our economy and raise the living standard. Lebanon will become a strong and capable state,” Nasrallah said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
President Michel Sleiman has warned Israel against taking any unilateral decisions to exploit Lebanon’s resources in the demarcation of disputed maritime borders, vowing that the country would defend its sea and land boundaries and rights by all legitimate means.
Sleiman’s warning came as Lebanon is gearing up to confront Israel at the United Nations in the dispute over offshore gas and oil reserves following the Israeli government’s approval earlier this month of a map of its proposed maritime borders.
Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told The Daily Star earlier this month that Lebanon would file a complaint with the United Nations against Israel, after the Jewish state approved a map of its proposed maritime borders, which Lebanon viewed as an “aggression” on its gas and oil rights.
Israel will submit the map to the U.N. for an opinion. The Israeli map lays out maritime borders that conflict significantly with those proposed by Lebanon in its own submission to the United Nations last summer.
Israel has been moving to develop several large offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, some shared with Cyprus, that it hopes could help it to become an energy exporter.
But its development plans have stirred controversy with Lebanon, which argues the gas fields lie inside its territorial waters.
Lebanon’s proposal to the U.N. last year outlined the boundary of its exclusive economic zone in which oil and gas is contained. The zone is said to contain billions of cubic meters of fossil fuel.
In his speech, Nasrallah warned Israel against attacking Lebanon, saying Hezbollah is stronger and better equipped than before. He said Hezbollah would emerge victorious in any future war with Israel.
“I tell friend and foe that our faith in God and the correctness of our choice cannot be shaken. [The resistance] is today stronger than at any time before as a result of the experience and victories,” Nasrallah said. “I tell you that the resistance’s strength in Lebanon today in terms of its morals, cohesion, manpower and material capabilities is stronger and better than at any other time before since it was launched [in 1982).”
“As I have always promised you victory [in the past], I promise you again that victory will be achieved,” he added.
Nasrallah said described the 2006 summer war against Israel as “legendry,” stressing that the Jewish state had lost confidence in itself as result of the defeat from which it has not recovered.
The 2006 war killed at least 1,200 people, mostly Lebanese citizens, and 169, mostly soldiers in Israel.