Lebanon and Israel Negotiate U.S.-Brokered Maritime Deal
Both Lebanon and Israel were on track to accept the terms of a U.S.-brokered maritime deal, until a new development on Thursday, October 6 when Israel rejected some amendments proposed by Lebanon. Al Jazeera reports that Lebanon made specific amendments to the terms of the deal to avoid any “misunderstandings.” After evaluating the amendments’ potential effects, Israel rejected these changes, leaving the negotiations at another impasse. With Israel’s promise to extract gas despite the agreement being unofficial, the Mediterranean may potentially be seeing another conflict between Hezbollah and Israel if talks completely fall through.
Beirut and Tel Aviv were closing in on a maritime border deal pitched by the United States that could help increase economic prosperity and strengthen security for both nations. The deal was presented to both Prime Minister Yair Lapid of Israel and President Michel Aoun of Lebanon, by Amos Hochstein, a U.S. State Department envoy and senior advisor for energy security on Sunday, October 2, reports Reuters. The agreement would create new borderlines and change ownership of gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea, including the Qana and Karish Fields.
The deal has promising economic implications, including the ability for Israel to export energy to other countries through expanded exploration in the Karish fields. The Israelis will be able to sell gas to the European Union, to which they have aspired for a decade. The deal also gives Lebanon access to potential gas exportation through the Qana field, previously held by Israel, and the chance to pull their economy from the depths of recession. According to The New York Times, Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil and gas company, and several smaller businesses are already producing gas from two larger fields off of Israel’s coast.
The deal itself is critical to de-escalating hostility between both Lebanon and Israel who have been at war multiple times and lack official diplomatic relations. Not only is the historic deal critical for unlocking Israel’s economic potential, but it also enhances its security. According to The Wall Street Journal, the deal would secure international recognition over the disputed borders and could potentially deter another war.
Both parties initially showed positive reactions to the U.S.-brokered plan. According to The Wall Street Journal, the prime minister of Israel proclaimed, “This deal strengthens Israel’s security and Israel’s economy.” It has even gained the support of the Iranian-backed, Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah. When talking to the Associated Press, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah commented on the border agreement saying “God willing, if it reaches the desired and best result, it would be the result of national unity, cooperation, and solidarity.” The surprising positive reactions from both sides including positive statements from both Lapid and Nasrallah present hope for better future relations between the countries, and at the very least, the avoidance of direct conflict.
While promising, the maritime border deal comes with security and economic complications. For Israel, this comes in the form of threats from Hezbollah. Hezbollah, a group that has fought several wars with Israel, is said to have tens of thousands of rockets currently aimed at Israel and threatened the state several times as the deal was being finalized. According to ABC News, Israel set up a gas rig at its designated location at the Karish field. Israel says the field is part of its U.N.-recognized exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon insists Karish is in a disputed area. Additional minor conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah include a recent disarmament of Hezbollah drones that flew over Israeli territory.
Threats to the official finalization of the deal come not only from militant groups, but also from the domestic parties within Israel. The maritime deal comes at a time when Israel is proceeding with another election this November, their fifth in the last four years. Opposition leader and ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t obligated to honor the new deal if his coalition wins this fall. Netanyahu believes that the American-mediated deal puts Israel at a disadvantage because it gives away the land rights of the Qana region in the Mediterranean to Lebanon. In a statement, Netanyahu voices both his confidence in his coalition to win the election and his disapproval of the deal. The ex-prime minister retorted “We will win the elections and cancel this shameful agreement,” reports the Wall Street Journal.