IIsrael and Lebanon have reached an agreement over the course of their sea border. After days of intense American mediation over a final draft, accompanied by harsh Israeli threats, the two sides on Tuesday spoke of a “historic deal.” So did Israeli Prime Minister Jair Lapid, who said on Twitter that the agreement would strengthen Israel’s security and “flush billions into the economy”.
Lapid said it would take the matter up with the Security Cabinet. The Lebanese Presidential Office also expressed its satisfaction with the latest draft of the deal in a statement. “All of our demands have been met,” it said. Lebanon’s rights to its mineral resources would be preserved.
There are two natural gas fields in the sea area, which has been disputed for decades. Israel has long since begun preparing to produce natural gas from one of the two, the Karish Field. And the Lebanese are in a hurry too. Prime Minister Najib Mikati met a delegation from the energy company Total Energies on Tuesday morning, the official Lebanese news agency reported. According to experts, however, the bankrupt Lebanese state cannot hope for quick income. As a result, it is not even certain that the deposits in the Qana field, which could be exploited under the Lebanon agreement, are actually large enough to make it worthwhile for a company like Total. Furthermore, there is still no infrastructure to bring the gas to the European market, for example.
Meanwhile, the vague prospect of natural gas revenues is being sold by the corrupt political class to the enraged, impoverished Lebanese population as a surefire cure. Lebanon is stuck in one of the worst economic crises in recent history. The state is bankrupt, the Lebanese currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value and continues to fall. International rescue packages cannot be put together because the cartel of warlords, clan leaders and oligarchs that dominates and plunders Lebanon is blocking any reforms.
Hezbollah is also hoping for income
At least the agreement on the course of the sea border creates hope that the situation on the Israeli-Lebanese border will calm down. Israel and the Iran-sponsored Shiite organization Hizbullah have been walking on the brink of a new, destructive armed conflict for some time. Hizbullah, whose leaders repeatedly indulge in fantasies of annihilation with regard to Israel, is the strongest military force in Lebanon. Nothing can be enforced against their will. The ideological brand essence of the organization continues to be hostility towards Israel.
The indirect negotiations between the two countries, which have officially been at war since 1948, were particularly delicate. The government coordinated closely with the Shiite organization. But Hezbollah is also very interested in putting off the prospect of gas income for its own clientele. She had repeatedly intervened in the negotiations with threats in order to claim a role for herself. Its in-house broadcaster “Al Manar” also claimed that the agreement was only possible thanks to military pressure from Hizbullah.
It was a sometimes dangerous game played by Israel and Hezbollah. The Shiite organization threatened to attack the offshore rigs if Israel began exploiting the Karish Field without an agreement being reached beforehand. Israel had threatened severe retaliation in this case, most recently with the “destruction of Lebanon”. When the deal was hanging in the balance last week, Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, even suggested a pre-emptive military strike. At the same time, Israel, where the maritime border dispute was a major issue in the election campaign, pushed ahead with preparations for the exploitation of the Karish Field. According to the Israeli announcement, these should begin by the end of the month at the latest – one way or another.