Israeli defense officials warned on Wednesday that failure to resolve a long standing maritime border dispute with Lebanon could prompt Hezbollah to initiate a conflict with Jewish state, local media reported.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi was among top brass, including Mossad Director David Barnea and National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, to reportedly warn during a Security Cabinet briefing that a military exchange with the Iranian terrorist proxy would likely last several days.

According to reports, Kochavi noted that a major point of contention remains the Karish oil field, which Israel believes resides in its exclusive economic zone, but over parts of which Lebanon claims sovereignty.

The IDF chief reportedly said that if Israel begins extracting natural gas from the site without first resolving the dispute with Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah might feel obligated to start a conflict given his repeated public threats to do so.

Hezbollah on Sunday released a video depicting gas production vessels and their coordinates in the Karish field, which concludes with footage of a rocket with the Arabic and Hebrew words “within range.”

On July 25, Nasrallah threatened war over the border dispute, telling the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV channel that “if the extraction of oil and gas from Karish begins in September before Lebanon obtains its right, we would be heading to a ‘problem,’ and we’ll do anything to achieve our objective.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Senior Adviser for Energy Security Amos Hochstein arrived in Israel on Monday night for an unannounced visit following meetings in Lebanon.

The shuttle diplomacy comes just days after media cited Israeli officials as saying that the maritime border dispute was “on the verge of a solution” and that Hochstein would present a draft compromise proposal.

Previous U.S.-mediated talks failed to produce an agreement, especially after Lebanon pushed its claim in the disputed maritime zone from a boundary known as “Line 23” further south to “Line 29,” adding around 1,400 square kilometers (540 square miles) to its claim, including part of Karish.

In Beirut, Hochstein met with caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayyad and General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, according to the Lebanese news agency Naharnet.

Lebanese television channel MTV reported that the American envoy told Fayyad that recent Hezbollah threats to launch military strikes on Israeli offshore gas rigs would “not aid the negotiations,” and instead cause Israel to become “more intransigent” due to the nation’s elections in November.

“I remain optimistic that we can make continuous progress as we have over the last several weeks and I look forward to coming back to the region and being able to make the final arrangements,” media quoted Hochstein as saying upon his arrival in the Jewish state.

According to the envoy, Lebanon has agreed to drop its demand for control of part of Karish in exchange for full rights to the contested Qana gas field.

JNS

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