Israel has given London-listed drilling company Energean the green light to start testing gas pumping in the Karish gas field disputed with Lebanon, despite threats made by Hezbollah.
London-listed firm Energean has begun testing pipes between Israel and the Karish offshore gas field, a key step towards production from the eastern Mediterranean site, a source of friction between neighbours Israel and Lebanon.
Israeli Channel 12 reported that Israel’s security establishment gave the drilling company the green light to start its tests on Sunday.
In a statement, Energean said that "following approval received from the Israeli Ministry of Energy to start certain testing procedures, the flow of gas from onshore to the FPSO has commenced", referring to the Karish floating production storage offloading facility.
Public broadcaster KAN said full pumping operations from the site may be ready within weeks after the completion of the tests.
Israel has maintained that Karish falls entirely within its territory and is not a subject of negotiation at ongoing, US-mediated maritime border talks with Lebanon. The two countries remain technically at war.
Beirut has reportedly made claims to parts of Karish, and Hezbollah, which holds huge influence in Lebanon, has previously threatened attacks if Israel began production from the field.
Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel will go ahead with the gas extraction from the field despite the threats.
The US-mediated draft agreement
Lebanon and Israel have been locked in a dispute over a maritime area of 860 square kilometers, according to maps sent by both countries to the UN in 2011.
The area is rich in natural gas and oil. Starting in 2020, five sessions of indirect negotiations have been held on the issue under UN sponsorship and US mediation, with the latest round held in May 2021.
A draft agreement floated by US envoy Amos Hochstein aims to settle competing claims over offshore gas fields and was delivered to Lebanese and Israeli officials in recent days.
Israel had welcomed the terms set out by Hochstein and said they would be subjected to legal review, but gave no indication if it sought substantive changes.
Lebanon presented its response to Washington's proposal on Tuesday. Israel said two days later that it planned to reject a proposed Lebanese amendment, even if that jeopardises a possible agreement.
Under the terms of the US draft agreement leaked to the press, all of Karish would fall under Israeli control, while Qana, another potential gas field, would be divided but its exploitation would be under Lebanon's control.
French company Total would be licensed to search for gas in the Qana field, and Israel would receive a share of future revenue.