President Michel Aoun this week said he was confident in Lebanon’s claim to territory along a disputed border with Israel, and invited the Jewish state to resort to arbitration on the issue.
“Lebanon has maps that date back to the 1920s that prove its rights to its land. The whole world has [access to] them and that can’t be manipulated,” Aoun said in an interview Wednesday with the Iraqi Alsumaria TV.
“Let Israel resort to arbitration. If not, the result could be tragic. And Israel realises what that means,” Aoun told the channel during an official visit to Iraq, according to a statement from the presidency’s office released Friday.
Speaker Nabih Berri also reportedly said earlier this week that “There are Israeli maps that prove Lebanon’s right to its maritime oil reservoirs and particularly in blocks 9 and 8.”
Israel has recently upped its rhetoric against Lebanon over maritime border demarcation and oil and gas exploration that is expected to begin next year. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Lebanon’s recently granted licenses for a consortium of international energy companies to explore oil and gas resources close to the border was “very provocative.”
Aoun also said in the interview with the Iraqi TV channel that a third party overseen by the United Nations could be resorted to in the maritime dispute, “to demarcate the border and resolve this issue.”
A local daily meanwhile reported Friday that Aoun unequivocally said that work would forge ahead on oil and gas exploration regardless of Israeli claims.
Speaking to Annahar newspaper as the president concluded a state visit to Armenia, Aoun added that no new proposals had been made over the dispute during the latest visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield.
“It is unlikely that the Israeli threats will affect the start of oil exploration,” the president said.
Satterfield has been acting as a mediator between Lebanon and Israel over the dispute and had met Lebanese officials on several occasions. He returned to Lebanon this week from Israel and met with senior officials Wednesday and Thursday before leaving the country early Friday.
“As far as I know, Satterfield didn’t bring something any different from what he carried with him previously,” Aoun said. The president was in Iraq and Armenia during Satterfield’s most recent visit.
It is believed that the Americans have been pushing for a proposal put forward by U.S. diplomat Frederick Hof in 2011. The proposal said that Lebanon acquires 550 square kilometres of the disputed 860 square kilometres that Lebanon insists is part of its maritime territory, and abandon the remaining part to Israel.
The Lebanese government at the time refused Hof’s proposal.
In addition to the maritime border dispute, Israel has begun building a wall along the Blue Line. Lebanon has warned against the wall passing through certain points that it has reservations on in the disputed territory.