DThe Israeli army says it has intercepted three Hezbollah militia drones heading for a disputed gas field in the Mediterranean. The “enemy drones” took off from Lebanon on Saturday and flew towards the Karish offshore gas field, the army said. Before they got close, the drones were intercepted. Hezbollah confirmed the use of the drones.
According to information from Israeli military circles, the drones were not armed and did not pose a threat. One drone was intercepted by a fighter jet and the other two by a warship.
“The mission has been accomplished,” declared the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah. “On Saturday afternoon, three unarmed drones were sent to the controversial Karisch gas field for reconnaissance,” the militia said. She did not mention the shooting down by Israel.
Lebanon had protested last month that a ship chartered by Israel was navigating the area of the disputed gas field. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a television speech at the time that the first goal must be “to prevent the enemy” from producing oil and gas in the Karish gas field.
Gas, oil and border disputes
Hezbollah will “not stand by and do nothing” when Israel “plunders Lebanon’s natural wealth”. This is “the only hope of saving the Lebanese people,” said Nasrallah in view of the severe economic crisis in Lebanon.
The discovery of large gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years has aroused the desires of all the neighboring countries and fueled border disputes. From Israel’s perspective, the gas field lies within its territorial waters and not within a disputed area at stake in negotiations with Lebanon over the maritime border between the two countries.
Further formally in the state of war
Lebanon and Israel negotiated their disputed sea border for the first time in October 2020, mediated by the United States. Negotiations were suspended in May 2021. The border dispute was initially about an 860 square kilometer stretch off the coast of both countries, and finally Lebanon demanded an additional 1,430 square kilometers, which also includes the Karisch field.
Formally, the neighboring countries are still at war and do not maintain diplomatic relations. The UN peacekeeping force Unifil, stationed in Lebanon since 1978, has patrolled the border since the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict.
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