Nasrallah on Lebanon-Israel maritime border: 'War is preferable to starvation'

Hezbollah chief encourages Lebanon's leaders to take firmer stance on indirect border talks with Israel

An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea off Naqoura, southern Lebanon. AP
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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Wednesday threatened Israel with war, warning that if Lebanon isn't allowed to extract oil and gas from their disputed maritime border, “no one will".

“If we get to place where we cannot even save ourselves by extracting our own gas and oil resources, then no one will have the right,” Mr Nasrallah said in a televised address.

Lebanon had nothing to lose if it were to go to war over the disputed demarcation, he indicated.

Mr Nasrallah’s strategic speech coinciding with the anniversary of the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, in which the militant group claimed victory.

The anniversary also coincides with US President Joe Biden’s first trip to the Middle East since he was elected.

Mr Biden arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for what will be a two-day visit with Israeli officials before he meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank.

From Israel, Mr Biden will fly to Saudi Arabia for talks with Gulf allies, where he is widely expected to discuss the global fuel shortage.

Take advantage

Mr Nasrallah suggested taking advantage of the global fuel shortage caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“If there wasn’t a war in Ukraine, Europe and the West wouldn't have such an immediate need for petrol,” he said.

Tensions sparked last month between Lebanon and neighbouring Israel when an Israeli production ship approached Karish, a gasfield near the border.

The presence of the ship threatened to fully derail indirect negotiations, stalled since last year, between the two countries.

The move also prompted Hezbollah to send three reconnaissance drones over the gasfield last week that were shot down by Israel.

The act was intended to create insecurity for the ship’s operators, Mr Nasrallah said, acknowledging the operation.

In another speech last month, he had warned the ship’s operators to leave the area or “face consequences.”

The EU has been compelled to seek alternative sources of natural gas as the Ukraine war has spelt the end of Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas, experts have said.

Still, Israel seeks to use its gasfields for economic gain, as does Lebanon.

Since 2019, Lebanon has suffered one of the most severe economic crises to hit the world since the mid-19th century.

The UN says about 80 per cent of the previously upper-middle-income nation’s population of the Mediterranean nation has slipped into poverty.

Chronic shortages

Lebanon is suffering from chronic shortages of fuel, power, water, wheat and medicine.

The value of the local currency has plunged by more than 90 per cent, while prices for goods and services have soared.

In short, the country is collapsing, with few opportunities for imminent rescue.

Mr Nasrallah referred to potential gas finds in Lebanon's waters as a “golden opportunity” to rescue the country — a view articulated by many politicians in the past few months.

“We’ll flip the table on the entire world,” he said. “Going to war would be honorable if the only other choice is for the Lebanese to starve.”

Updated: July 14, 2022, 8:42 AM