Israel and Lebanon reached a “historic” agreement mediated by the United States to resolve an old dispute over their maritime borders that could unblock the exploitation of gas resources and open a new stage for two countries that are technically still at war.
The deal has suffered several setbacks since it was launched in 2020, but has made progress in recent weeks as both sides hope to earn revenue from deposits in the Mediterranean Sea.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced the deal, without elaborating on the content. “Israel and Lebanon have reached a historic agreement that resolves the maritime dispute,” said a statement from Lapid’s office, calling it “a historic milestone that will strengthen Israel’s security.”
The head of the Israeli negotiating delegation, Eyal Hulata, had anticipated that all Israeli demands had been “satisfied.” The agreement must be presented on Wednesday before the Israeli Security Council and then to the entire government and Parliament, which pronounce.
This is what we know about this agreement and its importance for stability in the Middle East.
What is the agreement between Israel and Lebanon about?
On October 14, 2020, and for the first time in decades, Lebanon and Israel began to negotiate on a civil issue to try to delimit their maritime borders, although not directly but rather under the mediation of the UN and the United States.
In the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the subject of the dispute between the two countries, Israel has discovered large pockets of gas in the last decade, the exploitation of which has allowed it to be practically self-sufficient in the energy field and even become an exporting country, reaching agreements to supply fuel to Arab countries such as Egypt or Jordan.
The United States had been mediating for two years between these neighbors without diplomatic relations to resolve the border dispute in an area of the Mediterranean rich in gas resources. His envoy submitted a proposal earlier this month.
Although the pact appeared to break down after Israel rejected Beirut’s amendments, negotiations continued until a final agreement was reached.
The agreement reached today seeks to put an end to a dispute over some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea, which covers the Karish and Qana gas fields, so that the exploitation of the first would correspond to Israel and that of the second to Lebanon.
Israel already authorized the British company Energean on Saturday, October 8, to begin probing the Karish gas pipeline after stressing that its exploitation is beyond dispute and would occur regardless of whether the agreement is reached, despite threats from the Lebanese Shiite militia. Hezbollah to attack Israel if that happened.
However, Hezbollah has assured this Tuesday that it supports the agreement reached by the Lebanese government and has assured that it will not interfere in the negotiations.
Last July, Shiite guerrillas tried to attack an Israeli gas platform in Kanish with drones, but the Israeli Army shot down the devices before they reached their target.
On Sunday, Energean began tests to connect this offshore field with Israel, a key stage to start the activity.
Political fallout in Lebanon and Israel
The Lebanese presidency considered for its part that the final proposal sent by US representative Amos Hochstein was “satisfactory” and that it hoped to announce the agreed maritime limits “as soon as possible”.
The announcement comes 20 days before the end of Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s presidential term.
That date coincides with the Israeli legislative elections on November 1, which could mean the return to power of Benjamin Netanyahu with his ultra-Orthodox and far-right allies.
“This is not a historic agreement but a historic capitulation,” Netanyahu said in a live statement on Facebook.
The leader accused Lapid of having given in to the Lebanese armed movement Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.
“A historic breakthrough,” says Biden
The US president, Joe Biden, defined the agreement reached with the mediation of his country as “a historic advance”.
“The governments of Israel and Lebanon have agreed to formally end their dispute over the maritime border,” Biden said in a statement. “Now it is essential that all parties keep their commitments and work for their implementation,” he added.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz welcomed Lebanon’s decision to support a “positive for both parties” deal, despite Hezbollah’s threats to torpedo it.
“We did not do it and we are not going to give up even one millimeter that is considered critical for our security,” he declared.
However, a part of this deposit will exceed the border line between the two countries, with which Israel would take part of the benefits of the exploitation, these sources indicated.
In a context of gas shortages in Europe due to the invasion of Ukraine, Israel wants to begin exploitation in Karish as soon as possible to export to the Old Continent.
With information from AFP and EFE