July 26, 2011
By Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Tensions are rising in the eastern Mediterranean between Israel and Lebanon, this time over roughly 430 square miles of contested waters that contain considerable underwater gas reserves. Iran, Hezbollah and Syria are all interested in a war with Israel, each for their own reasons. Tehran and Damascus want to save the embattled regime of Bashar Assad, while Hezbollah seeks to protect its top officials from charges that they were involved in the assassination of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A new war in the Middle East would aid all these goals—and be a disaster for the U.S., already embroiled in withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq and a military operation in Libya.
Both Israel and Lebanon have trillions of cubic feet of underwater natural gas and can benefit tremendously from these resources. All they need is the goodwill to negotiate a sea-border demarcation agreement. This usually occurs through bilateral negotiations or mutually agreed arbitration—not through U.N. border-dispute mechanisms, as Lebanon is now demanding.
In 2000, the U.N. meticulously traced the Israel-Lebanon land border when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon. At the time, the U.N. did not establish a maritime border between the two countries and no one seemed to mind. Lebanon has made no hydrocarbon discoveries since, but it does seem eager to discover another border conflict: It's only now that Israel has identified substantial natural gas in the Tamar and Leviathan fields that Hezbollah, the Iranian and Syrian regimes' long arm in Lebanon, has decided to make an issue of the maritime borders.
Lebanon's Hezbollah-dominated government has called Israel's proposed border an "aggression" and is now threatening to attack any Israeli gas projects—even those in undisputed waters. It wants the U.N. to arbitrate the border dispute under the Law of the Sea Treaty, to which Israel is not even a party. More troubling still, the U.S. State Department has reportedly endorsed Hezbollah's preferred solution of throwing the matter to the U.N.—despite the fact that the U.S. never ratified the treaty either.
The stakes are high for the U.S. and Israel. Hezbollah is armed with Chinese-designed, Iranian-made C-802 anti-ship missiles that could be devastating against future Israeli off-shore gas platforms and tankers. Hezbollah also has sea-born commando units.
The State Department's fear of a flare-up in the Mediterranean and its newfound preoccupation with the Law of the Sea Treaty should not result in coddling a terrorist organization and the state it is running. Washington would do better to stand by its democratic ally and reject Hezbollah's Tehran- and Damascus-inspired position, which can only further escalate tensions in the Levant. Washington should clarify that the two countries need to settle the border dispute between themselves—and both enjoy the benefits from their underwater natural resources.
Mr. Cohen is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Wall Street Journal
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973