Hezbollah drones challenge possible Israel-Lebanon deal

Energean FPSO platform  credit: Energean
Energean FPSO platform credit: Energean

Israel shot down three drones launched by Hezbollah before they could reach Energean's Karish gas platform.

Israel aircraft and missile ships intercepted three drones yesterday launched by Hezbollah towards the Karish gas platform, which is located in an area that Lebanon, and Hezbollah in particular, claim is in Lebanese economic waters.

The three drone aircraft did not come near enough to the gas platform to endanger it, and were downed on Lebanese territory. The platform was put in place a month ago.

One of the drones was shot down by an Israel Air Force jet, while the other two were hit by Barak sea-to-air missiles fired from INS Eilat. The drones were detected by Israel’s air defense systems and monitored all along their flight. At no point did they present a real threat.

"The detection and warning systems worked as they were meant to do and realized the multi-layer air defense concept in the best possible way, through professional conduct by the personnel at sea and in the air, who completed the defense operation with great success," the IDF spokesperson said.

Energean plc, which operates the Karish gas reservoir, stated: "The platform is safe and the work routine on it was not interrupted. As always, the company expresses full confidence in the state of Israel and the defense establishment."

Lebanon: Positioning the platform is an invasion by the Israeli enemy

The efficient response to Hezbollah’s egregious attempt to hit the Israeli gas platform is the product of the IDF’s rapid response to threats from Lebanon. The gas reservoirs, of which Karish is the northernmost and the closest to Lebanon, have for some time been defended by various means, including ships and submarines and various types of detection devices.

Yesterday’s attempted attack represents a new peak in tension between Israel and Lebanon, following the positioning of the Karish platform on June 5 at its location some 80 kilometers offshore from Haifa.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati warned at the time that the start of gas production from Karish would have consequences: "The positioning of the platform represents an invasion by the Israeli enemy of our economic waters. This is a serious and dangerous step that is liable to ignite tension the consequences of which cannot be foreseen."

At the same time, the Lebanese president instructed the Lebanese army to provide information and maps relating to the location of the platform and the gas reservoir. "The negotiations to draw the southern maritime border are still in progress, and any action in the area under dispute represents a provocation and a hostile act."

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued a more explicit threat earlier, saying that Lebanon would not allow Israel to produce gas from the reservoir, which he claimed belonged to Lebanon, and declaring that all of Israel’s drillings were in danger.

For its part, at the beginning of June Israel warned Lebanon that any action against Israeli offshore gas operations would lead to a very severe response. Yesterday’s developments will certainly be disturbing to US President Joe Biden’s envoy Amos Hochstein, who over the past month has tried to bring about a breakthrough in the negotiations on drawing the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah has meanwhile been trying to present itself as the defender of Lebanon’s economic waters, hence the drone operation yesterday.

On Friday, US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea met President Aoun and updated him on Hochstein’s talks with Israel, following a compromise proposal by Aoun. It is not inconceivable that Hezbollah fears a historic diplomatic breakthrough between Beirut and Jerusalem, and that yesterday’s attack was an attempt to thwart such a development.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week of Hochstein’s talks with Israel, "The exchanges were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides." Elias Bou Saab, a Greek Orthodox Christian who is deputy speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, said in response, "The announcement is a positive sign."

The key to the negotiations lies, however, with the speaker of the Parliament, who in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution is a Shi’ite, Nabih Berri. Berri has a reputation as a pragmatist, but he will be tested by the way in which he chooses to respond to developments in the maritime border issue. In a situation in which Aoun and Mikati are on one side and Hezbollah is on the other, will he choose the side of the Sunni and Christian leadership? It’s too early to tell.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 3, 2022.

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

Energean FPSO platform  credit: Energean
Energean FPSO platform credit: Energean
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