Israel and Lebanon, who have been technically at war for decades and have no formal diplomatic or direct official relations, have made breakthroughs in their relationship. They have formally agreed to resolve a long-standing dispute over who controls the eastern stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.
If the respective parliaments ratify the agreement, it will ensure that the threat of conflict is averted between the Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Israel. Both sides have contested gas field ownership. Now the deal will allow one contested gas field to be controlled by Lebanon and a gas field in the south by Israel. This will be beneficial to all parties concerned. Energy companies will find it easier to extract gas in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea. For Israel and Lebanon, it will allow a new source of income and energy.
Analysts and officials hope that Israel will get more security after this deal. For Lebanon, it will pave the way for a better future and save them from crippling financial and energy crises. Europe may also benefit from a new energy source, especially after shortages caused by Russia Ukraine war.
In a statement, the president of Lebanon, Michael Aoun, said that the draft deal was satisfactory from the Lebanese viewpoint as it meets the country’s demand and safeguards its right to its natural resources.
Yair Lipid, Prime Minister of Israel, said that the historic deal would enhance Israel’s security, provide stability on its northern border and bring billions to the economy. The deal is mediated and guaranteed by the United States as both countries do not have any diplomatic relations. This has also resulted in no direct agreement between the two countries, and Israel and Lebanon will sign separate agreements with the United States rather than a direct one.
United States President Joe Biden termed this agreement historic and said it would bring peace, stability, and prosperity to the region and provide new energy resources to the world.
This agreement is limited compared to the overall world normalization between Israel and three Arab countries in 2020, which ended Israel’s years of isolation in the Middle East.
The deal, however, is still considered significant as it offers a breakthrough for the two countries who have been at war since 1982 when Israel occupied Southern Lebanon from 192 till 2000. In 2006, the Iranian-backed militia, Hezbollah, fought a month-long war that killed around 1500 people, mostly Lebanese.
Ariel Ezrahi, an analyst at a U.S.-based research group Atlantic Council and an energy diplomacy expert, said there were no illusions that the deal is a peace agreement. However, its importance cannot be underestimated for the region, and it will bring calmness to the eastern Mediterranean and be suitable for Europe, which has been looking to diversify its energy supply sources.
Decade old dispute
The dispute for an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean Sea will be resolved by the deal that will allow both countries to have sole ownership of natural resources. According to senior Israeli officials and western officials, Lebanon will recognize Israel’s control over their mile water stretch on the shared coast. At the same time, Israel will allow Lebanon to drill in the gas fields previously contested by them.
If the governments ratify the deal, Israel will proceed to drill at the Karish Gas field without fear from Hezbollah militants. Also, it will receive compensation for gas taken from Qana, a stretch of field within the Israeli Zone. Lebanon has given up any claims to a second gas field near Karish, which means Israel can extract gas without fear from Hezbollah.
Before the deal, Hezbollah had threatened they would disrupt any Israeli drilling at Karish. Earlier this year, Israel shot down several drones from Hezbollah towards the rig in Karish as a warning. There were fears that if negotiations for the deal fell through, it would lead to widespread escalation.
According to analysts, the deal will offer security to Israel and hope to Lebanon, which has been gripped by economic and political crises leading to widespread power outages and energy shortages. Though officials are not sure how much gas reserve is there in the Qana field, it will still take years to extract and distribute to the Lebanese population and sell to foreign markets.
The deal brokered by the U.S. envoy, Amos Hochstein, will ensure that Europe will find a long-term alternative solution to Russian Gas. This sends an important message to Russia though it will take several years for the gas to reach European consumers.
The Israeli government has lost its majority, and if the deal is put to the vote in the parliament, it could falter. Benjamin Netanyahu of the opposition has criticized the deal and said it meant rewarding Hezbollah’s aggressiveness and will further encourage the militant group to take more liberties.
The opposition has said that Lapid is only a caretaker prime minister after his government lost the majority this summer, and they have no legitimacy to make such an important decision. Netanyahu highlighted the deal before the November 1 election, where he portrayed himself as a stronger candidate. He said Israel needs a strong and experienced Prime Minister who does not give in the face of threats. Karina Elharrar, the energy minister of Israel, said the deal would benefit Israel and Lebanon.