Lebanon and Israel close to maritime gas deal
Lebanon and Israel appear to be on the verge of a maritime deal that would allow offshore natural gas exploration and potentially defuse a historic conflict between the Jewish state and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia, the Lebanese eminence. The Qana natural gas field in the eastern Mediterranean has long been contested by Israel and Lebanon, which have been technically at war for decades.
The two countries are locked in a maritime border dispute, in part over coastal drilling rights in the potentially oil-rich waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Both have claimed about 860 square kilometers there as part of their exclusive economic zones.
Elias Bou Saab – deputy speaker of the Lebanese parliament and senior envoy to the United States, brokered indirect negotiations. He said the US-proposed deal was produced thinking – as he put it – “outside the box”. Israel’s top security cabinet is expected to discuss the terms on Thursday.
Under the deal, Lebanon would have sovereignty over the area north of Line 23 on the sea map, including the Qana gas field, while Israel would retain control of the Karish gas field. Observers believe that a foreign company operating under a Lebanese license would produce natural gas in Qana, with Israel receiving a partial share of the revenue.
Although unconfirmed, Lebanese officials have hinted that French company TotalEnergies SE may be involved.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid initially welcomed the draft agreement. Even Hezbollah’s sworn enemy, the powerful Lebanese armed militia and Iran-backed political party, expressed cautious optimism that a deal could be struck.
But the negotiations of the last few hours have been delicate and doubts about the economic and political fallout persist.
Lebanese analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib, a researcher affiliated with Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, told VOA she sees the demarcation as having more value as a way to pressure Lebanon’s political elite to ‘she resolves her disputes only as an economic advantage for the time being.
“Once you’ve made the demarcation, you would need a chord time to make sure it’s like a deconfliction,” she said. “So there would be no conflict, no confrontation. I don’t think right now it has much economic value. First they have to see if there are proven reserves. After that , they start extracting, so you won’t have the gas for a few years, once there is gas, and the political class wants things to happen, there will be more pressure from outside to find a solution, like electing a president, electing a government, making reforms.
Marc Ayoub, an associate researcher at the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, told French news agency AFP that “if commercially viable reservoirs are indeed found”, the extraction of the gas could take five to six years.
Although Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly threatened to strike Israeli drilling operations, alleging it violates Lebanon’s maritime rights, Khatib and other analysts say Hezbollah does not want war with Israel because he could ill afford to fight back.
Nizar Abdel Kader, a retired Lebanese army brigadier general, told online publication Breaking Defense that if Israel launched a full-scale war against Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon, there would be destruction. mass, which would probably cause enormous anger within the Shia community. against Hezbollah and Iran.