Lebanon Natural Gas Dispute: Israel Sees Breakthrough – With Hezbollah Backing for a Deal

U.S. says Hezbollah leader Nasrallah gave his approval to the Lebanese government to proceed with negotiations on a deal that may alleviate the energy crisis in Lebanon

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A United Nations ship is pictured in the southernmost area of Naqura, by the border with Israel, in 2020.
A United Nations ship is pictured in the southernmost area of Naqura, by the border with Israel, in 2020. Credit: Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Security officials believe the road is paved to an American-mediated agreement between Israel and Lebanon ending the conflict over the marine boundary between the two countries. This would settle the division of profits from the gas reserves in the disputed patch of sea.

The security establishment believes the breakthrough was a message passed on by Special U.S. Envoy on Energy Amos Hochstein, according to which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave his approval to the Lebanese government to proceed with negotiations, which are in advanced stages, while stipulating a few conditions acceptable to both parties.

Upon Hochstein’s entry into the position and the renewal of talks last May, Haaretz was told by a security source that the subject is a high priority for the U.S. due to its determination to reach a deal to help alleviate the energy crisis in Lebanon, which the U.S. sees as a possible stabilizing element in the region.

The contested territory between Israel and Lebanon

The main obstacle to an agreement was Hezbollah’s refusal to countenance the Lebanese government’s reaching any deal that may be presented as an attempt at normalization with Israel or recognition of its ownership of the area. In addition, Hezbollah refused to accept an agreement precluding them from acting against Israel in the future, even in the naval arena where the organization has been building offensive capabilities in recent years.

In the recent weeks international representatives met with Lebanese counterparts close to Hezbollah and sought to reach agreements the organization could “live with,” without the step being seen as a softening in its position toward Israel. Following an exchange of messages between the parties and an understanding that the U.S. and Israel are willing to move forward to a deal, Nasrallah gave his answer. In an interview with Iranian television a few days ago, he said that drawing Lebanon’s maritime boundary with Israel is the responsibility of the Lebanese government, to which Hezbollah is not a party, and that this is an economic arrangement which has nothing to do with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasralla, who is seen speaking through a video link during a ceremony to honer fallen Hezbollah leaders in south Lebanon, in 2017.Credit: AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

Nasrallah’s remarks were understood by Hochstein, Lebanon and Israel as Nasrallah’s backing of the Lebanese government in the drawing up of an agreement to settle the dispute over a 530 square meter area of sea to which both countries claim sovereignty. In the agreement taking shape, energy companies holding rights to search and extract natural gas in that area start work, after years of delays due to the dispute. The agreement is expected to appoint an international mediating actor acceptable to all sides, who will determine the royalties due to each side, and will be in charge of overseeing the transfer of funds and gas due to each country from the extracting companies.

Last week Haaretzquoted Hochstein as saying thatIsrael and Lebanon are “narrowing gaps” toward solving the maritime border dispute. Hochstein said this to Lebanese TV channel LBCI, following a series of meetings with senior Lebanese and Israeli figures, including Energy Minister Karine Elharrar. In the same interview, Hochstein argued that “this is the last minute,” and added that he advises the citizens of Lebanon to “focus on what – not what you’re missing, not what you may lose if you compromise. Think about what you gain.”

Despite Hezbollah’s attempt to avoid publicly endorsing the deal and to commit itself not to attack Israel’s marine energy sites, Israeli security sources say Hezbollah is interested in concluding the talks with an agreement. The security sources’ estimate rests on Lebanon’s unprecedented economic crisis, which Lebanon blames on Hezbollah, so Nasrallah views the influx of cheap gas and cash profits as a calming step that will lower the heat on him. Israel also believes that even without a commitment by Hezbollah to the agreement, the advantages to Lebanon from the immense profits will deter Nasrallah and force him to think hard before seeking to harm Israel’s energy reserves.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott