The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved a proposed maritime boundary line with Lebanon _ setting up a new conflict over huge natural gas and oil reserves.
The two enemy countries are staking claims for a demarcation line in the Mediterranean Sea, where significant energy reserves have been found in recent years. Israel recently discovered two gas fields off its coast, and energy companies believe other reserves could be found there. The fields could help Israel meet its energy needs for many years.
Israeli officials said the government felt compelled to set a proposed boundary after Lebanon submitted its own proposal to the U.N. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that Lebanon's proposal would place the border "significantly south" of Israel's line.
"What is more significant in my eyes, it conflicts with the line that Lebanon itself agreed upon with Cyprus in 2007," he added.
In most cases, countries negotiate their maritime border, as Israel did several months ago with Cyprus. Because Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations, the proposals are to go to the United Nations.
It is unclear what role the U.N. would play in determining the border. After Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000, following an 18-year occupation, the U.N. drew the land border between the two countries, though the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia disputes part of it.
Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanese politics and battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006, has threatened to use force to protect Lebanon's natural wealth. Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau has said Israel would use force to defend its gas fields.
Over the past two years, Israel has discovered two fields thought to contain about 24 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. The discoveries, notable in a country lacking in natural resources, are believed to be enough to make Israel energy self-sufficient for decades.
The Lebanese line does not encompass these vast fields, Israel energy expert Amit Mor said, but it does incorporate waters that Israel also claims and where it has approved prospective drilling.
The gas discoveries have created a new source of friction between the two countries, which have clashed repeatedly. Disputes over potential new reserves could threaten to ignite hostilities again.