There is cautious optimism following a meeting between US envoy Amos Hochstein and Lebanese leaders on the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon. Hochstein, US President Joe Biden's senior advisor for energy security has now visited Lebanon several times in efforts to mediate on the matter.
During his visit today, Hochstein met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, who is considered close to Hezbollah. This range of top Lebanese politicians reflects the consensus among the country's leadership and perhaps even indirect agreement by Hezbollah to the mediation efforts.
Last week "Globes" reported that Lebanon is seeking a way to back down from its previous tough stance and claim that the negotiations have succeeded due to its previous threats to Israel. Sources have told "Globes" that the Israeli proposal, including the renewal of talks between the countries in Nakura (at Rosh Hanikra on the Israel-Lebanon border) under the sponsorship of the UN and US, is expected to receive a positive response.
Israel's proposal: Allowing Lebanon to begin developing the Sidon gas field
The Israeli proposal was passed onto Hochman and Brett McGurk, US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa last Tuesday by former Israel Ministry of National infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources director general Udi Adir, who is responsible for talks on the issue and Israel National Security Council head Eyal Hulta.
According to US sources, Hochstein presented the Israeli solution to the dispute during his meetings in Lebanon today and received an overall positive response from the Lebanese. The Israeli proposal, which is being suggested to the Lebanese for the first time since the start of the dispute, is highly detailed and includes the option that Lebanon can begin developing the Sidon gas field (called Qana by the Lebanese), which extends into Israel and is in dispute.
The Israeli proposal only relates to the initial Lebanese demands about the maritime border and not its subsequent more defiant demand to include Israel's Karish gas field. Agreement on the maritime border and development of the Sidon field will allow Lebanon to develop gas and oil fields in its economic waters and help it solve its grave economic crisis. Israel stresses that if Hezbollah continues to threaten the Karish gas field, it will not be feasible for it to develop any Lebanese offshore fields.
Hezbollah is coming under fire from the Lebanese and the Arab world for its responsibility for the country's dire situation and is now trying to portray itself as working to promote development of the offshore gas fields by forcing Israel to make concessions on the maritime border dispute.
Only yesterday, Hezbollah posted another clip making threats against Israel's gas fields but at the same time is allowing continuation of the talks led by Hochstein, a former Israeli, who in the past has been harshly critical of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah has previously torpedoed negotiations on the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, threatened Israel's gas fields and provoked threats from both countries, although Israel did not retaliate to the launching of three surveillance drones to the Karish field. The drones were intercepted in the air off the coast of Lebanon and any threat was neutralized. Sources close to the matter have told "Globes" that Israel's restraint followed requests by the US and other countries.
Another source close to the issue has told "Globes" that France is eager for its energy company Total to be awarded the concession to develop the Sidon field and in the future other offshore Lebanese fields. Diplomatic sources say that the matter was discussed when Prime Minister Yair Lapid met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris last month.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on August 1 2022.
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