Demarcation during ‘war’: Israel and Lebanon reach first ever deal
The United States has already welcomed the unusual breakthrough between Lebanon and Israel, two countries technically at war who, after lengthy negotiations, agreed on the demarcation of their maritime border.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who once rejected a US-presented project this month despite progress, saw the deal as an opportunity to “inject billions” into the economy and ensure stability on the northern border.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun called the proposal “satisfactory.” Even the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, loyal to Iran, supports the project, according to a Reuters source close to the organization. Hizbullah has until recently threatened attacks on gas facilities and is also at war with the Jewish state, which it considers one of the main dangers in its immediate environment. The source claims that “Hezbollah” accepts the terms and for it, the negotiations are “closed”.
No date has been announced for the signing of the agreement. However, both sides are, at least in words, satisfied. Once finalized, this will officially be the first time in history that Israel and Lebanon have successfully agreed on anything.
Why is the breakthrough unusual and what does it bring?
The problem and the solution
Lebanon and Israel have a dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean, an area believed to be rich in gas deposits. Israel is already producing gas in neighboring areas.
The scope of the agreement is limited, but for both sides, it is a breath of fresh air. For Israel, the final right came in an election campaign in which both firmness and diplomatic success had to be achieved. For Lebanon – a source of new economic opportunities, which the Jewish state also needs, but which are especially badly needed by Beirut in the current period of overlapping economic crises.
The deal is yet to be announced, but it:
establishes a boundary between Israeli and Lebanese waters for the first time;
proposes a mechanism for both countries to benefit from Total’s exploration in a field on both sides of the new border (the effect was already manifested in today’s meeting of TotalEnerjies representatives with government representatives;
it does not affect the land border around which there is tension.
Aoun said the deal would not mean a “partnership” with Israel, a country Lebanon does not recognize and officially considers an enemy. “We are avoiding a certain war in the region,” Lebanon’s interim prime minister, Najib Mikati, said last week.
The idea of a “partnership” would be painful to voters in Lebanon (but probably to many in Israel as well). The two countries conflicted with the creation of Israel in 1948.
In 1978 Israel invaded Lebanon and created an occupation zone in the south, in 1982 it reached the capital Beirut and there faced the Syrian army in the course of a bloody war (which a year later became the occasion for the creation of Hezbollah with support and funding from Iran and with the help of a 1,500-strong contingent from the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic), arrived in the country.
Attacks between the two sides continue; Israel only withdrew in 2000, 20 years later, but came into conflict with Hezbollah after the group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory in 2006.
The two countries remain technically at war and do not recognize each other. Previous attempts at border demarcation failed, but towards the end of the last decade, there was renewed talk of reviving the form with US mediation. This task was undertaken in 2020 by the administration of US President Donald Trump shortly before the end of his term, but this dialogue was not crowned with success. So far.
Option for Lebanon
Lebanon has been in a deep financial and economic crisis since 2019. The country once hailed as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” and producing almost nothing, has been shaken ever deeper: residents are impoverished, banks stormed, and migrants seek economic opportunities along with Palestinians and Syrians who have been sheltered by their country as refugees for years.
The small Arab country does not produce enough electricity for its population. Gas production (which according to Prime Minister Najib Mikati will be possible after the signing; received assurances from representatives of “Total”) may change this.
US President Joe Biden said a few hours after signing the agreement that it opens a “new page” in the development of Lebanon.
Beirut insisted that the said Qana gas field was only in its waters and Israel – that it was in its economic zone. Furthermore, Lebanon wanted to work with TotalEnergie regardless of any projects with Israel. However, the last condition remained in the background: any revenue is needed to soften the effect of the financial collapse.
It seems (according to details of the deal leaked to the media) “Kana will be divided between the two countries, but under the control of Lebanon (and part of the revenue from future mining will go to Israel). “Karish” – another deposit claimed by Israel – will be entirely under Israeli horse.