Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved a new agreement with Cyprus on maritime economic borders that may spark a dispute with Lebanon over a bonanza of offshore gas reserves estimated to be worth billions of U.S. dollars, Xinhua reported.
Israel discovered natural gas and oil reserves six months ago in the Leviathan and Tamar fields off the coast of Haifa. The gas reserves were estimated to amount to 450 billion cubic meters, making it the world's biggest natural gas discovery in the last decade and the most important in Israel's history.
Lebanon, however, disputes the exact demarcation of the offshore territories, claiming that the Israel-Cyprus agreement is a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty and economic rights. Though Lebanon doesn't claim the Leviathan and Tamar gas prospects, part of the adjacent disputed maritime area falls into potentially valuable reserves.
"Israel's demarcation line will be accepted by the United Nations," an Israeli Foreign Ministry official told Xinhua Sunday, "because there are some traditions that help demarcate our borders. The problem is that Lebanon never did it before, but we have proof that the part they are claiming is rightfully Israeli."
Cyprus signed a memorandum of cooperation with Israel for surveying and mapping in joint research energy projects in December 2010.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman termed Lebanon's complaint as "pressure from Hezbollah, who is looking for friction, " the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper reported.
"We will not give up any part of what is rightfully ours," Lieberman said about Lebanon's claim that Israel is impinging on its naval territory.
The new coordinates will be passed on to the United Nations in response to Lebanon's submission of their version of maritime borders to the same body last August.
"The border Lebanon achieved in the UN is set significantly southward of the one offered by Israel," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, "It conflicts with the borders set by Israel and Cyprus, and, surprisingly, the borders Lebanon itself has set with Cyprus."
Netanyahu also stressed the need to keep borders in line with the international law.