After the Syrian civil war is technically over, on behalf of Iran, the belligerents are searching for a reason of war with Israel. Israel has located major gas fields in its exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean, but just as her neighbors deny her the plain right to exist as a Jewish state, they also want to deny her the right to exploit these natural resources. Since Israel is a recognized state, they are looking for twists to dispute Israel’s rights. And here we are. A long lasting dispute is tested if it is a potential reason for war.
In the aftermath of the first world war (WWI), two major empires have been broken up by the victorious allied powers lead by Great Britain and France, who already had agreed about their future spheres of interest in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement. At this point in history, Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) weren’t known in world politics and international law. It was a major goal to shrink Austria and the Otoman empire to something that was uncritical and hence no longer a threat. So these EEZs naturally weren’t addressed, neither in 1916 by Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot, nor in 1920 at the San Remo Conference, nor in 1922-23 at the League of Nations conference in Lausanne. Turkey, Austria and Germany lost all their colonies and particularly the grave mistakes, the allied powers made in determining the post war order in the Middle East, is the reason for today’s conflicts in the middle east.
Turkey’s maritime borders have been constricted, while countries like Greece (because of the many islands) and Cyprus have a very long shoreline and hence a large EEZ.
In 2007, Lebanon and Cyprus signed a delimitation agreement and agreed on maritime boundaries, which the parties also registered at the United Nations. From there the continuous yellow line from the southern Lebanese border to the border of Cyprus’ EEZ results. This is a simple straight line. Consequently Israel claimed what was left.
Israel’s position is that after the border between Lebanon and Cyprus has been agreed, she safely could claim the rest as her EEZ. Lebanon of course doesn’t accept that. After North-East of the two major gas fields Leviathan and Tamar more gas-resources are expected, Lebanon claims that regarding Israel, Lebanon’s EEZ would stretch more to the south than it would after the agreement with Cyprus.
Lebanon’s problem is that they already registered their agreement with Cyprus at the United nations.
Since Leviathan and Tamar are discovered and exploration companies struck gas. Hezbollah is continuously threatening that the exploitation of these gas reserves could spell war, since Hezbollah claims these gas fields for Lebanon and they are not so specific whether they only mean their claim for widening Lebanon’s EEZ in contradiction to the agreement with Cyprus or whether they also mean Leviathan and Tamar. It is very likely that Hezbollah means anything that could serve as a reason for war.
So, a few days ago, we saw Hezbollah threatening Israel because Israel was building a barrier at her northern border with Lebanon on Israeli soil. Lebanese leaders now vow to push back on Israel’s border wall. Basically they do this because Hezbollah and Iran ordered them to do so. In response PM Netanyahu visited the northern border. This gesture makes it absolutely clear that the Israeli government will not let herself be intimidated by Lebanon.
At the same time, Hezbollah threatens to attack Israel over gas reserves. And only one day ago, the times of Israel reported: With hith-tech warships, Navy readies to guard gas fields from Hezbollah, Hamas.
In a report from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) The UN organizations outlines the history and the nature of the conflict.
First, as already mentioned above in January 2007 Lebanon and Cyprus signed an agreement about their EEZ-borders and registered it at the United Nations.
At this time, nobody talked about natural gas and oil reserves in the basin of the eastern Mediterranean. The resulting border and the and the coordinates agreed between Lebanon and Cyprus are roughly marked with the green + sign.
Four years later, on December 17th 2010, Cyprus and Israel signed a treaty about their EEZ-borders and the coordinates in the North-West-corner of Israel’s EEZ naturally falls on the same coordinates, thus leaving no empty space. (I can’t call it no-man’s-land, since it is all water) It’s again marked by that green + sign. Thus Lebanon actually determined its Sea border with Israel when it signed its Agreement about its EEZ with Cyprus.
But now it was already a little clearer that there may be natural resources in this area and Lebanon instantly after protested the agreement Israel and Cyprus signed at the United Nations, claiming that with regards to Israel its EEZ should be marked by the red + sign. Thus Lebanon actually disputes the agreement it signed with Cyprus in 2007 and registered at the UN.
We know how biased the United Nations are and so the UNDP finds it surprising that the coordinates in the agreement between Cyprus and Israel match the coordinates agreed in between Lebanon and Cyprus as if it was so natural to leave such a triangle free, after it had not been claimed by the neighboring country.
Some 18 months after Israel and Cyprus signed and registered their agreement, Lebanon protested against it with a letter of the Minister for foreign affairs and emigration.
At the bottom line Lebanon takes a schizophrenic position. On the one side it negotiated its EEZ-borders with Cyprus and the outcome is clear, but when its southern neighbor also negotiates her EEZ-borders with Cyprus, implicitly accepting the agreement reached between Cyprus and Lebanon, then Lebanon disputes this. In its letters to the UN and other writings, Lebanon never speaks about Israel but always refers to “Occupied Palestine” or “Zionist Entity”.
Well, we have this situation now since May 15th 1948, when Lebanon together with six more Arab nations (Syria, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen) started a war against Israel and since then the two countries are at the state of war. The same is true for Israel and Syria. The two countries are at war since May 15th 1948.
In the recent months, the situation is heating up and the current conduct of players like Lebanon/Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria/Iran and last but not least Fatah suggests that they are searching for a reason for war and that Iran is pushing them.