by Benny Avni
Lebanon and Israel are trying to resolve their maritime- border dispute peacefully -- for now. But the Hezbollah terrorists who control Lebanon are itching to turn it into a crisis that'll justify war -- if and when their patrons in Iran and Syria want it.
At issue is an area of the eastern Mediterranean where Israeli companies and their US partners have spent a lot of time and money exploring for natural gas. A few years ago, Delek of Netanya and the Texas-based Noble Energy hit pay dirt -- finding a rich sea area across from Israel's northern beaches that reportedly contains vast amounts of natural gas.
That's where Lebanon, which has yet to do any of its own exploration, comes in: Beirut now says it owns the area in which Israel is exploring. And the Lebanese press report that even the Obama administration is backing that claim.
Not true, a State Department official told me. "We're not choosing sides," he said. Even though a US company is part of the Israeli project, the United States will remain neutral. Israel and Lebanon "must work it out," the official said.
But Lebanon is officially at war with Israel, so Beirut has vowed to turn to the United Nations to mediate the dispute. Rather, that's what it says it'll do. It has yet to hand the UN any documentation supporting its territorial claims.
Israel has stated its claim: It based its maritime charting on an agreement that Lebanon signed with neighboring Cyprus, which delineates the sea border between those two countries.
As one Jerusalem official explains it, "For Lebanon to now have a claim over the disputed gas fields, they'd have to somehow explain why the coordinates in their agreement with Cyprus were wrong."
The real conflict isn't about legal haggling. Hezbollah -- which was founded by Iran to reach military parity with Israel -- wants to demonstrate to the Lebanese people that only its bravado can defend the homeland and its natural resources against predatory Zionists (and therefore Hezbollah must illegally maintain its huge arsenal of missiles and mortars).
Not all Lebanese buy this ploy. This is a "double standard," Amin Gemayel (a pro-Western Christian politician) told Beirut's Daily Star recently. The government is asking for UN help in protecting its natural resources -- even as it refuses to cooperate with the UN trial over the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri(in which Hezbollah operatives are under indictment).
"What's left of Lebanon's credibility in the UN when it asks it one thing and acts differently on another issue?" Gemayel said.
But "credibility" matters little to Hezbollah. In 2000, UN cartographers determined that Israel had withdrawn from all of Lebanon's territory. A few years later, Hezbollah said Israel hadn't and threatened war over an Israeli-controlled area called "Shabaa farms." The United Nations demurred, saying, Oops, maybe we were wrong the first time.
Shabaa remains under Israel's control -- no thanks to the UN, while Hezbollah has another supposed greivance to nurse.
Israel's needs are a bit more mundane: Its main energy supplier, Egypt, recently moved to all but end gas sales, though remaining contracts will take a while to expire -- and terrorists have attacked facilities supplying gas to Israel four times this year, most recently last week.
So, while Jerusalem hopes against hope for a fair UN mediation, it's more likely to accelerate gas exploration than to end it.
Meanwhile, as the Syrian regime teeters, there are increasing reports of a new transfer of long-range missiles to Lebanon, significantly increasing its capacity to hit all of Israel's population centers.
The 13,000 UN troops in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon continue to see no evil. But the arms are there -- and the playwright Anton Chekhov's advice is to the point: If a pistol is seen on stage in the first act, someone will fire it in the third.
But State Department "realists" pretend that none of this is our business.
Why can't we "choose sides" between America's most trusted Mideast ally and terrorists allied with our worst foes? If we must pretend to be neutral, why leave the mediation of a potentially explosive dispute to the decisively one-sided United Nations?
Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/stealing_israel_fuel_Juma0d4iySrG3tZ8TY8SfK#ixzz1Sq76iWXh