Breakthrough in Israeli-Lebanese talks seen possible

Karish gas platform  credit: courtesy of Energean plc
Karish gas platform credit: courtesy of Energean plc

Dr. Jacques Neriah of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: Lebanon's President Aoun wants to bring some balm for the Lebanese economy.

The launch of three drone aircraft by Hezbollah towards Energean's Karish gas platform at the weekend came shortly after another diplomatic move aimed at putting an end to the dispute over the gas fields on the Israel-Lebanon border. Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, reported that, before the attack, Israel had proposed, through US envoy Amos Hochstein, that Lebanon should buy Israel’s share of the Sidon gas field (the name of which the Lebanese changed to Cana, as a gesture of defiance to Israel).

The Sidon-Cana prospect, which is partly in Lebanese waters and partly in Israeli waters, is currently the focus of the negotiations between the two sides. The dispute is over where to draw the maritime border between the two countries, which will determine each country’s share of the prospect. According to the most up to date stances of both the Israelis and the Lebanese, it is mostly in Lebanon’s economic zone.

The Lebanese newspaper says that Israel does not accept the Lebanese claim that it is entitled to the whole of the field. Israel points out that even on the basis of the original border presented by Lebanon to the UN ("line 23"), Israel has a certain entitlement to the prospect, although Israel fully recognizes that the lion’s share of it is in Lebanese economic waters.

Lebanon now understands that the stance of the US and of the European powers is similar to that of Israel, which is that in order to resolve the dispute over the Sidon-Cana prospect, Lebanon should buy Israel’s title through an international company that will take upon itself the task of producing the gas and selling it. According to the report in Al-Akhbar, Israel supports continued negotiations though US envoy Hochstein, rather than the original mode of negotiations at the UN base in Naqura in Southern Lebanon.

The message sent by Hezbollah through its drones came at a politically sensitive time in Lebanon. At the end of last week, President Michel Aoun met Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati, who presented his planned government. Hezbollah, whose "Loyalty to the Resistance" bloc numbers 15 out of the 128 members of the Lebanese parliament, is very fearful of the precedent that would be set by a historic agreement between Israel and Lebanon on the border between the economic zones of the two countries.

The most significant political figure in the final decision on the process with Israel will be veteran Amal leader Nabih Berri (84), who was elected in May, for the seventh successive time, as speaker of the Lebanese parliament. He is a Shi’ite, but he is considered much more pragmatic than Hezbollah, and it is not impossible that he will express support for an agreement with Israel, if only through silence.

Dr. Jacques Neriah of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an expert on Lebanon who was foreign policy advisor to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and who took part in diplomatic negotiations in the region, is optimistic about the possibility of a maritime border agreement. "President Aoun wants to reach an agreement, and recognition of the Cana prospect in exchange for dropping line 29 (a Lebanese proposal that would enlarge Lebanon’s economic zone at the expense of Israel) is not a bad compromise," Dr. Neriah says. "Before he ends his term, Aoun wants to bring some balm and cure for the Lebanese economy that will be felt in another few years."

Dr. Neriah describes Lebanese withdrawal from the maximalist line 29 as recognition both of Israel’s economic waters, and also of the State of Israel as a neighbor. "The media in Lebanon do not understand why Hezbollah is attacking Karish if the Lebanese government has withdrawn from line 29, and accuse it of trying to make internal gains." Dr. Neriah sees the launch of the three drones by Hezbollah against the gas platform in the Karish field as connected to Israel’s latest attack in Syria. "Hezbollah’s motivation arises from the incident south of Tartus, and also from the various explosions in Iran, for which an accusing finger has been pointed at Israel," he says.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on July 4, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Karish gas platform  credit: courtesy of Energean plc
Karish gas platform credit: courtesy of Energean plc
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