Amid tensions with Lebanon, Israel has authorised the Energean gas company to begin exploratory tests in the Karish gas cap

Israel and Lebanon reach a historic agreement on their maritime border

photo_camera REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER - Lebanese army post is seen in Naqoura, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, southern Lebanon, 6 October 2022.

Everything seemed to be shaken by Tel Aviv's rejection of Beirut's proposals on the draft maritime borders. The head of the Hebrew government put the brakes on negotiations that have been going on for a decade. However, the latest proposal by US mediator Amos Hochstein has convinced the authorities of the two countries, who confirm that they are close to reaching an agreement on the demarcation of their maritime border. A historic agreement, as it was reached without diplomatic relations between the two countries due to the wars they have fought. 

"All the demands have been met and the requested changes have been made", said Eyal Hulata, head of Israel's National Security Council and leader of the Israeli negotiating team. "We have defended Israel's interests and are on the way to signing a historic agreement," Hulata was quoted as saying by the Israeli media Yedioth Ahronoth.

mikati-hochstein-negociaciones-israel-líbano

These words foreshadowed similar statements by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who said that the agreement is "a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel's security, generate billions of dollars for the country's economy and ensure stability on the northern border", as reported by The Jerusalem Post.  

However, the first word came from Beirut, which a few days ago proposed "substantial changes" to the draft. Now, with Hochstein's new proposal, the deputy speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Elias Abu Saab, has stated that "Lebanon has obtained its demands, because they were correct".

hulata-chipman-libano-israel

Although the full details of the proposal have not yet emerged, diplomats have said that the pact recognises the border set by Israel, allowing Lebanon to enjoy the exploitation of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana camp. For its part, Israel would retain control of the Karish gas field, where exploratory tests by the Energean company have already begun following authorisation from the Israeli authorities.

mapa-fronteras-maritimas-israel-libano

This action has already triggered the first statements from the other major player in the dispute: the Hezbollah group. The Iranian-backed Lebanese organisation has repeatedly warned of an escalation of tension if Israel does not guarantee Lebanon's maritime rights.

However, the Shi'ite group has endorsed Hochstein's latest draft. "We support the state in the demarcation issue and, of course, it is important for us that Lebanon obtains natural resources", the Hezbollah group's sources said. They added that the Lebanese group had not "interfered" in these negotiations. In any case, its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is expected to deliver a speech late on Tuesday.

empresa-energan-fronteras-maritimas-libano-israel

Although everything indicates that this historic agreement will finally be reached, which many in the media consider to be concluded, a few days are still needed to conclude it, especially given the political instability that both countries are experiencing. On the Israeli side, Yair Lapid has called a Cabinet meeting to approve the agreement, which will be sent to Parliament for review, although it is not yet clear whether it will be put to a vote. On the Lebanese side, the presidency said that President Michel Aoun "will hold the necessary consultations on this national issue in preparation for the official announcement of a unified national position".

An agreement, in any case, that Israel and Lebanon will seek to reach as soon as possible so that they can exploit the gas reserves found in the 860 square kilometres that make up their respective Exclusive Economic Zones. A gas discovery would be a great economic boon, especially for Lebanon, which has been mired in a financial crisis since 2019.