US hands Lebanon draft maritime border agreement with Israel

Yesterday, the office of Lebanese president Michel Aoun announced on Twitter that US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea had handed to the president a note from US mediator Amos Hochstein setting out proposals for drawing a maritime border between the economic waters of Lebanon and Israel.

Aoun sent the draft to the prime minister of Lebanon Najib Mikati and to the speaker of the Lebanese parliament Nabih Berri, who is close to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Nasrallah has already made what can be considered a positive comment on the draft. In a speech yesterday afternoon, he said that it was a very important step, and that it would be government officials who would make the decision for the benefit of Lebanon. “We are facing decisive days in the matter of Lebanon’s rights, and we hope that the result will be good,” Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah had previously threatened that unless “Lebanon’s rights” were assured, he would not allow Israel to produce gas from the Karish reservoir, preparation for which is underway. The IDF shot down four drones that Hezbollah directed towards Karish, and the organization was warned that if it tried to hit Israel’s gas platforms, the response would be extremely severe, including making Nasrallah himself a target.

In the coming days, the flow of gas in the pipelines connecting the Karish production platform to the shore will be tested. A senior diplomatic source told “Globes” that the government was pressing Energean, the company with the rights to the Karish reservoir, to defer the start of gas production, and that the government was delaying related matters for which it was responsible, in order to reach a draft agreement acceptable to the Lebanese government first.

The Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources denied that this was the case, saying that it was a matter of a complex infrastructure installation that needed to meet regulatory requirements, and that teams from the ministry and international consultants whom the ministry had hired were working unceasingly to carry out the necessary checks in order to allow the production platform to operate.

Diplomatic sources in Lebanon, Israel and the US have expressed optimism about a maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon being achieved within the next few weeks. According to one of these sources, the draft agreement presented to the two sides skirts several possible pitfalls, and allows Israel to continue developing its gas fields and Lebanon to start developing its own. He added that the prospects of Lebanon obtaining a significant future source of revenue were tending to neutralize opposition to an agreement with Israel, including on the part of Hezbollah.

Israel’s security cabinet is due to meet on Thursday to discuss the draft agreement, against a background of calls from the opposition for it to be brought for approval before the Knesset. Knesset members Yariv Levin and Orit Strook have written to the prime minister and the speaker of the Knesset, and to Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar, on the basis of the law requiring any territorial compromise by the State of Israel to be brought before the Knesset for approval. Sa’ar, who has the right to veto any decision not to submit the agreement to the Knesset, has not yet announced his stance on the matter. “Globes” has learned that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has handed the matter to her deputy Gilad Noam, who is responsible for matters of international law.

Former Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz told “Globes” that there was no need for Knesset approval for the agreement with Lebanon, since it did not concern Israeli territory but only the border between Exclusive Economic Zones.

The area in dispute in an 860 square kilometer triangle between a northern maritime borderline claimed by Israel, and to which Lebanon had agreed in the past, and a more southerly tending line which Lebanon is now demanding. US envoy Amos Hochstein has achieved a compromise that, according to the details that have reached “Globes”, is not a straight line but a zig-zag, and leaves most of the disputed area in Lebanese hands.

The important compromise is over the Qana/Sidon prospect, which stretches from Lebanese waters through the disputed area into Israeli waters. As previously reported by “Globes” on the basis of US and Israeli sources, Israel has agreed that Lebanon will manage drilling and production in this field, through French energy company Total, and if gas is in fact discovered, Israel will receive royalties from it. The amount of royalties has not been set precisely, and will be decided by a professional international consultant, if gas is found.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 2, 2022.

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


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