BEIRUT -- Monday's invitation by the Lebanese government to a U.S. diplomat to mediate between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border dispute to return to Beirut as soon possible in order to reach an agreement amid increasing tensions at the border.
Amos Hochstein is a senior advisor for energy security at U.S. State Department. It was one day after Israel installed a gas rig at Karish's designated location. Israel claims that Karish is part of its U.N. recognized exclusive economic zone. Lebanon insists that it is not in a disputed region.
Due to disagreements within Lebanon about the size of the disputed territory, U.S.-mediated indirect negotiations between Israel and Lebanon have been held up for several months.
Hezbollah, a militant group with a large number of weapons and who is supported by Iran, is found in Lebanon. It has fought many wars against Israel. Hezbollah also warned that it would use its weapons in order to defend Lebanon's economic rights.
Sunday's warning to Israel by Lebanon was a clear indication that Israel should not drill in the Karish fields. President Michel Aoun stated that maritime border negotiations are still ongoing and that Israel's move will be considered a "provocation and hostile act".
According to Aoun's office, Lebanon had in February notified the United Nations that Karish was part of the disputed region. The U.N. Security Council should prohibit Israel from drilling in the area in order to "avoid steps that could pose a threat for international peace and security."
After a five-week voyage from Singapore, the Israeli energy ministry confirmed that Sunday's oil rig arrived. According to the ministry, Karish will supply half of Israel's natural gas demand and will allow for greater exports to Jordan and Egypt.
In an interview with Army Radio on Monday, Karine Elharrar, Israel's Energy Minister, stated that the field is "entirely within undisputed territory". She also called for indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.
"It's not even (above), the southern line that Lebanon submitted the United Nations. She said that even though it is in Lebanon, the United Nations does not recognize it. Elharrar said that the Israeli defense ministry was taking all necessary steps to protect it, but did not elaborate further.
Sunday's satellite images from Planet Labs PBC were analyzed by The Associated Press and showed the Marshall Islands-flagged Energean Power floating storage and offloading vessel. It was located in the Karish field of the Mediterranean Sea. The Bahamas-flagged platform Arendal Spirit was also located nearby. The AP also confirmed their presence by analyzing ship tracking data from both vessels.
Monday's office of the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Najib Mikati, stated that Aoun has agreed to invite Hochstein back to Beirut to discuss the border dispute. They also said that Hochstein would be returning to Beirut to "work on their conclusion as soon as possible to avoid any escalation which will not serve the stability the region is experiencing."
Officially at war since 1948 when Israel was founded, Lebanon and Israel claim 860 km (330 miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. As it struggles with its economic crisis, Lebanon hopes to increase offshore oil and gas production.
The Lebanese delegation, a mixture of professionals and army generals, presented a new map last year that allows for an additional 1,430 km (550 miles)
A representative from Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennet stated that "Karish" is a natural gas storage within Israel's U.N. recognized exclusive economic zone. He also said that it was Israeli waters, which the Lebanese had previously recognized.
Experts in Lebanon have stated that if Israel explores Karish, there will be increased conflict among neighboring countries. They also pointed out that Hezbollah's precision guided missiles could easily strike the oil rig.
Paul Morcos, the founder and owner of Justicia Consulting Law in Beirut said that their missiles have a long range and are more precise at hitting targets that aren't mobile like fighter jets and ships.
The Israeli ministry of defense and military declined to comment on whether any specific measures were being taken to protect Karish.
Reporting by Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press journalist in Jerusalem, United Arab Emirates.