Friday, December 8

Israel and Lebanon reach ‘historic’ maritime border and gas fields deal | Lebanon

Israel and Lebanon have reportedly agreed to a deal in a dispute over gas fields and the two countries’ maritime border, a groundbreaking diplomatic achievement that could boost natural gas production in the Mediterranean before the European winter begins.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s prime minister, said on Tuesday that months of US-brokered negotiations had resulted in a “historic agreement” between the two nations, which have technically been at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. The deal would “strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border”, he added.

A statement from the office of the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, said the latest version of the proposal “satisfies Lebanon, meets its demands, and preserves its rights to its natural resources”, adding more consultations would be held before an official announcement.

The agreement is expected to enable Israeli production of natural gas from the Karish maritime reservoir, which with the nearby Tanin field is estimated to hold as much as 2-3tn cubic feet of natural gas and 44m barrels of liquids. Lebanon had previously claimed part of the Karish field as its own.

While relatively small in terms of global production, bringing Karish online is a welcome development for Israel’s western allies, as the invasion of Ukraine has sent energy prices soaring and left Europe searching for alternatives to Russian oil and gas.

Lebanon, looked at in a deep economic crisis, hopes the neighboring prospective field, Qana, could provide a financial lifeline worth billions of dollars. A delegation from TotalEnergies, the French hydrocarbon giant, arrived in Beirut on Tuesday to discuss immediate gas exploration.

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Talks on resolving the border dispute began in 2020 but have faced repeated setbacks, including threats towards Israel from Lebanon’s powerful Shia movement, Hezbollah, warning against beginning extraction from Karish before the deal went through.

After Israel brought a London-listed Energean production vessel into Karish over the summer, Hezbollah launched unarmed drones towards it, which were shot down by the Israel Defense Forces.

Momentum towards an agreement hit a roadblock last week, when Israel said it planned to reject Lebanon’s proposed changes to a final draft put forward by the US energy envoy Amos Hochstein, Washington’s chief mediator.

However, with pressure to reach a deal before Aoun’s term as caretaker president expires on 31 October, and before Israel holds elections on 1 November, negotiators managed to deliver a modified proposal on Monday night acceptable to both sides.

“Of course there was compromise on both sides,” said Orna Mizrahi, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli thinktank. “By implication maybe the deal is a little more restricted than I would hope, but this is still a very important agreement. It even raises hopes that there could be real change in the relationship between the two countries.”

She added: “In the end, Hezbollah has decided to get on board; it seems they realized they can’t be the spoiler in the talks any more given the urgent economic situation in Lebanon.”

The final draft of the agreement will be brought before Israel’s caretaker government for approval this week.

Israeli gas production is up by 22% so far this year as a result of Europe severely reducing its dependence on Russian energy.

Israel has exported gas from an offshore field to Egypt, where it is liquefied and shipped to the EU, since 2020. In June the three parties agreed on an infrastructure investment plan to boost exports to the bloc.

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