Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"

In continuing confirmation of our previous reporting about the Israeli government’s new appreciation for international law, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now making an effort to explain the significance of the agreement it reached last Friday afternoon with Cyprus on how to delimit their overlapping maritime rights.

The Israeli FM explained in an email to diplomats that “An Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ can be claimed for up to 200 nautical miles off the coast of the State”.

But, the eastern corner of the Mediterranean is a relatively crowded place.

Therefore, the Israeli FM explains, “Of course, if there is less than 400 nautical miles between opposite states, as is the case between Israel and Cyprus, international law calls upon such states to come to an agreement to divide their overlapping EEZs, which is exactly what Israel did with its agreement with Cyprus”.

The Israeli FM noted that “There are roughly 230 nautical miles between Israel + Cyprus”, and said that the “median line method” was used to divide overlap.

CORRECTION: That means that Israel and Cyprus each have, in the area where their claims intersect, 115 nautical miles of EEZ + 85 nautical miles for possible joint development. What it seems they have done, according to the announcements made, is to divide that 85-mile overlap in half…, giving each of them 136.25 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone.  [It could be that more research is needed here…]

The Israeli FM did not once mention the Law of the Sea Treaty, or Convention, under which the concept of Exclusive Economic Zones was developed (through years of tough and intense multilateral diplomatic negotiations, mostly at the United Nations).

But, it did say that “Until now, Israel claimed natural resources in the Mediterranean pursuant to the principles of customary international law relating to the ‘continental shelf’ (the floor of the sea). Under such principles, the coastal state has an automatic right (even without any formal declaration) to all natural resources, including natural gas, that stem from its continental shelf”.

The advantage to what Israel has just agreed to do, the note explains, is that delimitating Israel’s EEZ “provides increased certainty + precision about the exact location of Israel’s maritime borders” for neighbors and investors.

“This explains why signing the EEZ agreement with Cyprus is so significant: it further secures Israel’s vital economic interests at sea”, it notes.

The Israeli FM note adds that Turkey is being kept “updated”.

Northern Cyprus is across from Lebanon, not Israel, so Israel has no EEZ overlap that would touch the northern part of the island of Cyprus.

As to Lebanese claims, the Israeli FM note says “Lebanon published such positions in a unilateral manner, in opposition to the principles of customary international maritime law, which call for countries to try to settle maritime border disputes in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation vis-à-vis neighboring states)”.

While a Cypriot diplomat said frankly that there was a lot of fighting during the negotiations with Israel, the Israeli FM note states only that “This agreement was signed after a long period of professional work and mutual consultations”.

The note added that “The delimitation of Israel’s maritime borders with Cyprus was done in a spirit of cooperation, in consultation with cartographic and legal experts on both sides, and in accordance with customary international maritime law and accepted cartographic practice. It should be stressed that Israel did not establish its borders on a unilateral basis. The borders set forth in the Israel-Cypriot agreement were mutually agreed upon by experts on both sides, using accepted legal and cartographic methodology … In the framework of the new EEZ agreement, Israel and Cyprus committed to work together to establish the proper modalities for dividing cross-border resources and to cooperate on the technical level in this area”.

Another part of the message was more specific: “In the framework of the agreement both sides committed to work together and find ways to develop and exploit any cross-boundary hydrocarbon reservoirs”.

The Israeli FM’s note explains: “an Exclusive Economic Zone (or EEZ) is an area in which the coastal country enjoys exclusive economic and research rights — but not sovereignty. The coastal State enjoys full sovereignty only in its territorial waters, which is an area of up to 12 nautical miles off the coast. Israel has had a 12 nautical mile territorial water area for years, as established under Israeli domestic law. With the exception of artificial installations built in the EEZ, over which a coastal state does enjoy full sovereignty, the coastal state does not exercise sovereignty in the EEZ”.

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