The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah urged fellow politicians Friday not to let the U.S. administration divide their ranks while it mediates a dispute with Israel over offshore gas drilling rights, saying the U.S. is not an honest broker.
Hassan Nasrallah, in a televised address to supporters, instead, called the Americans “the devils,” adding that U.S. officials have defended Israel’s rights and issued threats to Lebanese politicians.
Details of the U.S. mediation were not immediately available, but U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson was in Lebanon Thursday on a brief stopover, and the issue topped the agenda. Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield has also been holding talks with Lebanese officials on the subject.
The dispute dates back years but recently resurfaced when Lebanon invited companies to bid for exploratory offshore drilling next year along the countries’ maritime border. Israel claims Lebanon will be drilling partly in areas owned by Israel. Lebanon and Israel are technically at war, and quarrel over their land borders. Lebanon is protesting a wall Israel is building along the cessation of hostilities line, following Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. It says the border wall may jut into Lebanese territories.
“America is not an honest broker… and one should assume that it works as an advocate for Israel,” Nasrallah said.
Details of the American mediation have not been made public, but appear to be based on efforts years earlier to divide the offshore fields between the two countries. Nasrallah said the U.S. wants the Lebanese to trade the more “difficult” maritime borders in exchange for settling the “easy” dispute over land.
In a defiant tone, Nasrallah said that the potential oil and gas yields would be a lifeline for Lebanon’s struggling economy. “The only hope is the oil resources in our land,” he said.
He warned that his group is ready to reciprocate Israel’s threats, and act upon them, threating to target Israeli oil plants.
“If you (Israelis) prevent us (from exploration of gas and oil), if you bomb us we will bomb you, and if you hit us we will hit you,” he said.
Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described as “very provocative” Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas exploration tender and suggested that Lebanon had put out a tender to international groups for a gas field “which is by all accounts ours (Israeli).”
Lebanon last year approved the licenses for an international consortium led by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of five blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one known as Block 9 that is disputed in part with Israel.
Lebanese officials say the country will start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019.