Middle East: Sea border conflict: Israel announces agreement with Lebanon

According to Israeli information, the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Israel have settled their protracted dispute over gas production in the Mediterranean.

Middle East: Sea border conflict: Israel announces agreement with Lebanon

According to Israeli information, the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Israel have settled their protracted dispute over gas production in the Mediterranean. With US mediation, they agreed on a common maritime border, as announced by Israeli Prime Minister Jair Lapid. "This is a historic achievement," he declared. Both sides claim gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. Israel could thus become more important for the EU as a gas supplier.

Positive signals also came from the Lebanese side. President Michael Aoun's office said on Twitter that the final version of the agreement satisfies Lebanon, meets its demands and upholds its rights to its resources. A final confirmation from Beirut was still pending. "I'm optimistic," said Lebanon's chief negotiator Elias Bu Saab. "We believe this is a fair deal."

The White House also has firm assurances from the Lebanese government that it intends to honor the deal, a senior US official in Washington said. He called the agreement historic and stressed that the US was open to further mediation if there were problems with its implementation.

A decade-long dispute

The background to the decades-long dispute is a disputed 860 square kilometer area off the coast, which both sides claim as their exclusive economic zone. The border conflict had intensified after the discovery of large amounts of natural gas. The neighbors hope for economic advantages.

Lapid tweeted, "This unprecedented deal will strengthen Israel's security, boost our economy, and bring clean and affordable energy to countries around the world." He thanked US mediator Amos Hochstein for "his hard work in bringing about this historic agreement". It is to be presented to the Israeli security cabinet and at a special government session on Wednesday.

The gas from Israel could also help ease Europe's energy crisis. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU has intensified its search for other sources of energy. Some time ago, Lapid announced that it wanted to increase gas exports to Europe.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin announced on Tuesday that the political agreement on an agreement was a historic success. "This breakthrough shows what diplomacy can do even in seemingly deadlocked conflicts." Defining the sea borders is an important step towards greater regional stability and security, the spokeswoman said. It offers economic opportunities for both Israel and Lebanon.

No details on the deal yet

According to Israeli media reports, the agreement should enable Lebanon to develop the offshore gas field Kana. Accordingly, Israel retains sovereignty over the area around the Karish gas platform, northeast of the Israeli port city of Haifa. However, details of the agreement have not yet been officially announced.

As of Sunday, Karisch had already been connected to Israel's conveyor system. The company Energean announced that it was not about the start of gas production, but about testing the systems.

Observers had warned that a failure of the negotiations could lead to renewed violence between the two countries. The Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is influential in Lebanon, is at enmity with Israel. Without their consent, an agreement in the conflict is impossible.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah refrained from making a clear assessment, but did not indicate any resistance either. "We are first waiting for the (Lebanese) President to announce the official position," he said in a televised speech on Tuesday evening. The matter will only be settled once the agreement has been signed. "Until then, we must be vigilant," said Nasrallah.

No normalization of relations

However, further diplomatic rapprochement between the warring states of Lebanon and Israel is not to be expected in the near future. Before the agreement, both sides had emphasized that the talks would not normalize relations. It's all about the common sea border.

Officially, Israel and Lebanon are still at war. Negotiations on the controversial border were started in an unusual step in October 2020. It was the first non-security contact in decades.

Lebanon is currently in the middle of the worst economic crisis in its history, which has hit the energy supply badly, among other things. Many Lebanese only have electricity for an hour or two a day. Due to rising oil prices, only a few people can afford privately operated generators. Many Lebanese are hoping for an upswing from future gas production. However, it is still unclear whether and how much gas the country can produce at all.

The race for natural gas in the Mediterranean has intensified in recent years. According to the US research agency Geological Survey, the so-called Levant Basin, which runs from eastern Egypt to northern Syria and Turkey, contains around 3.5 trillion cubic meters of recoverable natural gas. In addition to Israel and Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey are also competing for natural gas resources in the region.

The international border of Israel and Lebanon runs along the so-called blue line. To the north of it, in southern Lebanon, an international security force with a UN mandate and soldiers from the Lebanese army have been stationed to ensure peace.