Israel Shoots Down Drones Near Karish Gas Field
On Saturday, the Israeli Navy shot down three surveillance drones launched by the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah near the Karish Gas field. It is a sensitive moment for the project: the FPSO Energean Power has arrived at the site and is in the process of setting up to start production.
The Karish field is located in a boundary area, and the debate over its ownership is convoluted. Lebanon has never formally filed a maritime claim to the area surrounding Karish with the United Nations, and Israel does not recognize an ongoing boundary dispute at the site. Lebanon's government has vacillated over whether the area is part of its EEZ claim, but it currently asserts that Karish is within its waters. The two nations do not have formal diplomatic relations, but the U.S. is mediating talks between them.
Iran-backed Hezbollah - a recognized terrorist organization, top Lebanese political force, and longtime enemy of the Israeli state - is hostile toward the talks, and it has threatened to scuttle the project. In early June, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that the group is "not afraid of war" and "has the capacity to prevent the enemy [Israel] from beginning to extract from Karish," threatening that "all the enemy's actions will not be able to protect this ship [FPSO Energean Power]."
Israel's military told media that it had advance notice that Hezbollah planned to dispatch three surveillance drones to monitor the FPSO. One drone was shot down by a fighter, the other two by an air-defense system aboard an Israeli Navy corvette. All were downed in Lebanese airspace, military spokesman Ran Kochav told Israeli media on Sunday.
“Israel will continue to protect its assets, and considers itself obligated and entitled to act and respond in the face of any attempt to harm it,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a statement.
Both Israel and Lebanon condemned Hezbollah's actions and said that the drone flight was disruptive to the negotiation process.
"Lebanon considers that any action outside the framework of the state’s responsibility and the diplomatic context in which the negotiations are happening is unacceptable," said the office of Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati in a statement.