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The Lebanese-Israeli maritime dispute has been heating up since June when the Greek-owned Energean Power FPSO [Floating Production Storage Offloading] reached the Karish field to extract gas.
Lebanon maintains that at least a part of Karish is located within its exclusive economic zone. As a result, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel against extracting gas from the field. Warning was met with a series of threats from top Israeli defense officials.
The vocal exchange materialized on July 2 when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced that it had intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah near Karish.
The IDF said that one of the drones was shot down by an F-16 fighter jet of the Israeli Air Force, while the other two were shot down with Barak missiles launched from the Israeli Navy’s Sa’ar 5-class corvette Eilat.
Hezbollah said that the drones were not armed and were only conducting a reconnaissance mission. In a statement, the group described the mission as a “message” to Israel.
Despite the incident, US-backed talks on the demarcation of the naval borders between Lebanon and Israel saw some progress. In an interview on July 3, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib predicted that his country could reach an agreement on maritime border with Israel as soon as September.
Bou Habib’s remarks came following reports that Lebanon has reportedly agreed drop claims on Karish likely in exchange for Israeli concessions on other parts of the disputed naval zone.
On July 6, the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, revealed that the July 2 drone incident was not the group’s first drone missions to Karish. According to the newspaper, Hezbollah launched a drone towards the gas field on June 29.
Following the release of the report, the IDF claimed that it shot down an additional drone of Hezbollah over Lebanese waters before the July 2 incident. However, Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV reporter Ali Shoeib claimed that the said drone was not downed and returned without being hit.
All on all it appears that the Lebanese-Israeli maritime dispute is closer to a diplomatic solution than a military confrontation.
Israel’s acting Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, said following the recent drone incident that Hezbollah is an obstacle to any agreement on maritime border with Lebanon. However, Israel does not appear to be ready to go to a military confrontation with the group over the maritime dispute. The recent developments have without a doubt affirmed that Hezbollah’s deterrence is still in place. Israel will likely continue to deal with Lebanon with much cautious because of the group’s vast military capabilities.