Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Israeli energy minister Yuval Steinitz.

TEL AVIV - Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met Sunday with a senior United States official seeking to defuse an escalating oil and gas dispute with Lebanon, his office said.
A statement from his spokesman said Steinitz held talks with Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield about conflicting claims to energy reserves off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel.
The leader of Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah said on Friday that Lebanon was strong enough to withstand US and Israeli pressure and to put Israeli gas rigs out of action.
Last week Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in a pair of offshore zones, including one that its southern neighbour Israel says belongs to it.
Lebanese officials have said the whole zone belongs to Beirut while Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted it is solidly in Israeli territory.
Sunday's Israeli statement quoted Steinitz as telling Satterfield that "a diplomatic solution is preferable for both sides",
It added that the two agreed to meet again during the coming week.
Satterfield also held talks on the issue with top officials in Lebanon.
In 2006, Israel fought a 34-day war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah in which more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 120 Israelis, the majority soldiers, died.
Israeli authorities said that in the course of the fighting Hezbollah fired 3,970 rockets into Israel
Meanwhile work began on February 7 in Germany on four advanced corvettes for the Israeli navy "that will protect gas rigs and economic enterprises in Israeli waters", the Israeli military said.
It said that the "Saar 6" warships, to enter service between 2020 and 2022, would be equipped with helipads and advanced missiles.
"Protecting strategic economic assets in Israeli waters is a priority for the state of Israel," the Israeli navy's website announced last week.
In November, Israel installed a battery of its Iron Dome anti-missile system on a warship for the first time, calling it a valuable asset in protecting its offshore natural gas fields.
Israel has major gas fields off its northern coast and is building valuable infrastructure to get the fuel out of the ground and onto land, all within range of Hezbollah rockets.
Tamar, which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic metres (8.4 trillion cubic feet).
Leviathan, discovered in 2010 and set to begin production in 2019, is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic metres) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.