A sea-based Iron Dome air defense system is seen guarding the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, on 2 July, 2022. (Photo credit: Israel Defense Forces)
Lebanese authorities convened in the presidential palace on 14 September to study the coordinates that US mediator in border talks with Israel, Amos Hochstein, delivered last week.
Outgoing President Michel Aoun hosted Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elias Bou Saab, Director General of Public Security Major General Abbas Ibrahim, and the head of the Army’s Hydrographic Department, Lt. Col. Ghafeef Ghaith, among others, to come up with a unified position on the Israeli proposal.
“The contacts to finalize the demarcation file have made major progress, in which Lebanon has achieved what enables it to exploit its resources in its waters,” Aoun said ahead of the meeting.
US-mediated talks between Beirut and Tel Aviv for control of a proven natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea restarted in June, after Israel deployed production and extraction vessels to the Karish field located in disputed territory.
According to local reports, the so-called ‘Hochstein line’ being reviewed by Lebanese authorities would establish line 23 as the maritime border, giving Israel full control of Karish. In exchange, Lebanon would be allowed control of the prospect Qana gas field.
Lebanon has maintained that line 29 is the maritime border, which gives them full control of Qana and a majority of Karish. For its part, Israel claims line one as the border.
The border demarcation talks are also taking place under the shadow of warnings made by Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, which gave authorities a “mid-September” deadline to secure Lebanon’s sovereign rights and to stop Israel from drilling in disputed waters.
“If US-Israel gives Lebanon what it demands, there will be calm. If they don’t give Lebanon what it demands, there will be conflict,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said last month.
In the face of these threats, Israeli officials have reportedly scrambled to secure a favorable agreement for both sides, while also trying to save face in front of citizens ahead of a new round of elections.
According to Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, interim Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid wants to reach an understanding that will allow Tel Aviv to start drilling for gas without making it appear as though he has folded under Hezbollah’s pressure.
But while Israel initially hoped to delay establishing the maritime border until after the elections, its US and European partners are pushing for a prompt resolution to the conflict, as the west is in dire need of new sources of fuel.
Furthermore, British hydrocarbon exploration and production company Energean – which Israel contracted to work on Karish – is pressuring Tel Aviv to reach a deal, as their contract has a time limit that does not exceed the first week of October.
Reports say Hochstein also warned Lebanese authorities of this upcoming deadline during his last visit, reiterating that the US and Israel “are keen to reach an agreement before the date of extraction and before the Israeli elections.”
However, the sources that spoke with Al Akhbar claim there is concern in Beirut that “some Lebanese officials” might throw a wrench at the proceedings, as there are interests that want to see the border demarcation file delayed until after the end of President Aoun’s term on 31 October.