The Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal - GulfToday

The Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal

Prime Minister Yair Lapid discusses the Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement with his security cabinet. (Twitter)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid discusses the Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement with his security cabinet. (Twitter)

Israel and Lebanon have agreed to a maritime border deal, which has been brokered by the United States and took 10 years to take final shape, is expected to create a win-win situation for the two countries. The maritime border became a contested one because of the two gas fields discovered in the waters shared by Israel and Lebanon.

According to the agreement, which has to be ratified in Israel and in Lebanon, one of the two gas fields, that of Qana in the Lebanese territorial waters and Karish in the Israeli side.

While Karish remains fully with Israel, Israel and Lebanon will split the revenues of the Qana field with the French energy company Total, and 17 per cent of Total’s revenues will go to Israel. It will be another five years before Lebanon can get any revenues from the Qana field.

The Americans consider the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel as a diplomatic victory for the Biden Administration. According to Laury Haytayan, Middle East and North Africa director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute: “At the end of the day, the US was able to mediate a deal between Lebanon and Israel – two enemy countries – to get into a maritime border deal that they think would stabilise the situation between both countries and make it harder for them to go to war. If Lebanon is stable, and Lebanon focuses on its economy, they think they will be less interested in war.”

And by implication, they will be less dependent on Hizbollah and Iran. Hizbollah had recently launched Iran-made drone attacks on Karish gas field, but Israel was able to shoot down the drones.

Though the maritime border deal has been clinched, American negotiators are that this would not as yet ensure peace between Lebanon and Israel.

They believe what will ensure peace is to use the revenues from Qana gas field for strengthening the Lebanese economy, and they feel that this would be the best way of reducing the influence of Hizbollah and Iran in Lebanese politics.

There is also the view that maritime border deal has made the Hizbollah a player to reckon with in Lebanese politics because the deal has taken into account Hizbollah’s demand that the gas revenues from Qana should belong to Lebanon.

Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Levant said “the Biden administration abandoned the earlier framework of dividing the disputed area along a 55:45 ratio, and managed to press a pliant lame duck government to concede to 100 per cent of Hizbollah’s demands.”

The American initiative to settle the differences between Lebanon and Israel started in 2012 under President Barack Obama. And it took 10 years and much persuasion and quite a bit of change in the initial American solution. It is interesting that some of the experts believe that the deal would help marginalize the Hizbollah, while the other believes that the deal was made possible because Hizbollah’s demands were conceded either partly or fully.

Lebanese politics remains complicated, and it shows that the political factions cannot hope to edge out or eliminate any of the players. The Americans seem to have recognised the complication, and tried to deal with the Hizbollah and its demands on the maritime border.

Lebanese politics is contentious, and even vicious, and its economy frail. The deal should help strengthen the economy, and the Qana gas field and its economic potential should serve as a guarantee for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) to extend an urgently needed financial package.

Lebanon needs to come out of the economic crisis even if political volatility in the country will remain.

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