Lebanon To Begin Offshore Energy Search In Block Disputed By Israel
But, speaking to Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM, Steinitz added: "We made two things clear, in a very forthright manner, over the last year. One, don't provoke us, and don't explore in or even get close to the disputed line-of-contact."
Israel last went to war in Lebanon in 2006, against the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah movement. Israel says Hezbollah has increased in strength since helping sway the Syrian civil war in President Bashar al-Assad's favour.
Abi Khalil told Reuters the heightened tension between the two countries in recent weeks has "not had an effect" on the consortium's plans to explore.
Lebanon is on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of big sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009.
Eni reported the Mediterranean's largest discovery in 2015: the Zohr field off Egypt which holds an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.
And on Thursday Eni said it and Total had discovered a promising natural gas field off Cyprus.
Fuad Krekshi, Eni's executive vice president of the Middle East, said Eni's entry into Lebanon's market is a "natural consequence" of its existing role in the Mediterranean region.
Total, with 40 percent, heads the consortium drilling Lebanon's first offshore well. Eni also holds 40 percent and Novatek 20 percent.
Vyacheslav Mishin, head of Novatek's new Lebanon office, said the projected global growth in natural gas and LNG consumption was key to his company's future growth.
"The Middle East market for LNG consumption is forecast to grow by more than 100 percent by 2030," he said.
Potential reserves could be used domestically or exported.
Both are attractive for Lebanon which has been short of electricity since its 1975-90 civil war and has an anaemic economy battered by war in neighbouring Syria and political tensions.
It is also hoped the developing oil and gas industry will create jobs and economic growth. To this end, the EPA contracts say 80 percent of people employed by the consortium should be Lebanese, with priority given to local suppliers and contractors.
But the commercial viability of potential reserves depends on energy market prices, the ability to secure customers and the cost and politics of building export infrastructure.
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