Energy Minister Warns Israel that Army, Resistance Can Protect Lebanon Oil Reserves

Caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil issued a warning on Friday that the army and the resistance have the ability to protect Lebanon's oil reserves from Israel after he accused it of digging a well 4 kilometers from Lebanese offshore reserves.

During a press conference he held at the ministry, Bassil said: “Israel now has the ability to reach Lebanon's oil reserves.”

But “the army and the resistance have the capability to protect them,” he said. “We won't allow it to encroach on our natural resources.”

Bassil urged President Michel Suleiman and Caretaker Premier Najib Miqati to hold an extraordinary cabinet session to approve two decrees needed to move the oil exploration process forward, saying “Lebanon's reputation was at stake.”

Holding such a session is “politically and constitutionally possible,” he said, adding he would coordinate with Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Miqati in that regards.

If adopted by the government, the decrees require the approval of the parliament.

Lebanon has been slow to exploit its maritime resources compared with other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all much more advanced in drilling for oil and gas.

Lebanon and Israel are bickering over a zone that consists of about 854 square kilometers and suspected energy reserves there could generate billions of dollars.

Beirut argues that a maritime map it submitted to the U.N. is in line with an armistice accord drawn up in 1949, an agreement which is not contested by Israel.

In March 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a mean of 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 34.5 trillion cubic meters of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes the territorial waters of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Cyprus.

The formation of the Petroleum Authority in November was the first major step in future oil exploration since parliament passed a law in 2011 setting the country's maritime boundary and Exclusive Economic Zone.

The country will witness the first oil exploration process in 2015 and it will take a year to enter the production stage.

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