Lebanon responded angrily Monday to Israel's proposed maritime boundary, calling it an act of "aggression," as a dispute builds over huge natural gas and oil reserves beneath the sea.
Lebanon has submitted its own sea boundary proposal to the U.N., and Israel's Cabinet on Sunday approved a conflicting proposal that it is to send to the world body.
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.
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.
President Michel Suleiman warned Monday against unilateral decisions, saying Lebanon is ready and has the right to defend its borders and resources using every "available and legal" means.
He said the issue would be discussed at this week's Cabinet meeting.
Minister of Power and Hydraulic Resources Jibran Bassil called Israel's proposed sea border an "aggression."
"We are not attacking anyone but we should not accept that anyone attack us even if by one centimeter," he told Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV. He said Lebanon is studying a swift political and diplomatic campaign to face Israel's border claims.
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 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.
Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram