State of Israel Economic Waters


It is clear that Israeli laws are valid and binding all over the State of Israel and all its residents must obey these laws. This is an overall binding rule, adapted and certified by Israeli High Court. The territorial boundaries of Israel were determined in various agreements throughout the years, and also include water territories – part of the waters outstretching in parallel to the Israeli coastal line. These waters are also under Israel’s sovereignty; therefore, Israeli laws are applied and valid in these territories as well.

However, the question of the law residing over Israel’s economic waters was an open issue for a while. Advocate Avi Licht, second to the Israeli Government Legal Advisor, has recently (01.15.2013) issued a legal opinion on this subject. We will briefly explain the term “State of Israel’s Economic Waters” and look into its legal aspects.

State of Israel Economic Waters

The term “Economic Waters” refers to the territory in which a country can exploit and use the natural resources found in these waters. The Economic Waters area can be as far out as 300-400km when not surrounded by neighboring countries. These territories are regulated under the 1958 Continental Shelf Treaty, which Israel signed, and the 1982 UN Sea Treaty, which Israel did not sign, but accepts and acts in accordance with its rulings.

Countries regulated under UN Sea Treaty are allowed to proclaim the country’s Economic Waters boundaries and ask for UN recognition of it. Such proclamation helps avoid disputes between neighboring countries. The State of Israel, due to political and other considerations, has not yet announced its Economic Waters Territory. A dispute with Cyprus concerning that issue has been settled in an Accord signed in 2010. However, additional disputes can arise in the future with other neighboring countries, as such territories have essential significant impact on the economy of any country and on its profits from oceanic natural resources.

Laws applied on Economic Waters

As stated above, Israeli Law and the rulings of the State are applied over the State of Israel. The sole residing jurisdiction are the Israeli courts of law. However, Israeli Economic Waters are considered a grey area, because the country failed to explicitly issue laws or legislation concerning this matter.

This is a critical issue, especially because recently the State of Israel started looking for finding and exploiting oceanic natural resources. In his legal opinion published January 15, 2013, Advocate Avi Licht reviewed the ruling of Israeli laws and its extent in accordance with the Sub-Marine Territories Act and international law.

1953 Sub-Marine Territories Act

The act in part reads:

  1. (a) The territory of the State of Israel shall include the sea grounds and undergrounds of the sub-marine territories near the coastal line of Israel, outside the territorial waters, where water depth above these allows exploitation of natural resources in these areas.

(b) Nothing in the above said paragraph (a) shall have any effect on, nor change the nature of the water above these sub-marine areas, and those outside Israel’s territorial waters, from oceanic / sea water.

When reading the explanation for this proposed law, and in view of other countries’ tendency to regulate their rights and laws over their Economic Waters, it is understood that the intention was to apply Israeli laws over its Economic Waters areas, enabling proper usage of natural resources. The legislator intended to include Israeli laws in all such areas, including facilities on the water surface, such as permanent off-shore drilling rigs and floating drilling rigs. The legislator’s subjective interpretation clearly shows that the intention was to extend the ruling of Israeli law to its Economic Waters in order to regulate activities promoting the exploitation of natural resources.

Considering the effects of such activities on the State of Israel, subjective interpretation of the law clearly shows that these activities are under Israeli jurisdiction. It is evident that activities taking place in Israel’s Economic Waters relate to the country, and it is only logical to regulate and supervise these activities by the laws of the country.

Interpretation in accordance with International Law

The rule that Israeli law must be interpreted in accordance with the rulings of International Law must serve as a guiding rule and should be applied to the issue of Israel’s Economic Waters as well. International laws relating to Economic Waters are based on two separate treaties – one shared and signed by the State of Israel, and the other in which Israel is not a partner. However, we wish to emphasize the fact that the State of Israel has acted in accordance with the rulings of these two treaties.

The first treaty, 1958 Continental Shelf Treaty, states that a coastal country has sole rights for searching and exploiting natural resources in its Economic Waters, and that such activities are subject to the laws of that country. The second treaty, 1982 Sea Treaty, updated coastal countries’ rights. According to the 1982 treaty, Economic Waters stretch 200 nautical miles from the coast, or, alternatively, to the place where a drastic change in slope (angle) occurs. Furthermore, the 1982 Treaty determined that the Coastal country has exclusive and sole rights to use its natural resources, without the need to proclaim Economic Water (although such a proclamation can take place). The treaty also provides coastal countries with legislative rights over their Economic Waters, including facilities, artificial islands, and other buildings used for search and exploitation of natural resources. In view of all that, the interpretation that Israel has legislative and jurisdictional rights over its Economic Waters is consistent with the rulings of the International Law.

Summary and Conclusions

Looking into the Israeli Law and the International Law, and their interpretation, as presented above and supported by the legal opinion of Advocate Avi Licht, second to the Israeli Government Legal Advisor, it is clear that the law in the State of Israel’s Economic Waters is Israeli law – unless specified differently in that law. All activities conducted in the Economic Waters are under Israeli surveillance and responsibility, including issuing work permits for drilling rigs workers. Furthermore, all events taking place in these Economic Waters are also under full responsibility of Israel, which means that should damage occur as a result of terroristic activity, the State of Israel shall be held responsible for compensating the casualties and for damages caused.

On the other hand, Israel is the main beneficiary of exploiting and profiting from these natural resources, in case of future profitability. Since it enjoys the fruits of these resources, it is also responsible for these activities.

In our opinion, the legal interpretation provided by Advocate Avi Licht is accurate, and in view of the increasing activities of drilling rigs should have been published long ago.

All said and explained in this article does not constitute a legal opinion and does not replace legal advice. Responsibility for using the wordings and opinions conveyed in this article relies solely and entirely on the reader.

This article was written by Dotan Cohen Law Offices, working in the field of immigration law in the United States, Isreal, Canada, and Australia.