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October 6, 2022 11:32 am
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Israel Prepares for Possible Escalation on Northern Border With Lebanon as Maritime Border Deal on Brink of Collapse

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Ari Rabinovitch

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday instructed the IDF to prepare for the possibility of an escalation along the northern border with Lebanon as an attempt reach an agreement on delineating a maritime border appears to have gone sour.

During a situation assessment held together with the IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, and other senior defense officials, Gantz ordered the “defense establishment to prepare for any scenario in which tensions increase in the northern arena – including defense and offense readiness,” according to a statement by the Defense Ministry.

The move comes after Israel on Thursday dismissed amendments demanded by Lebanon on the US-brokered offer for the demarcation of a maritime boundary putting into question whether a deal can be struck to allow both sides to explore offshore gas reserves.

Amid the ongoing talks, the head of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization Hassan Nasrallah has in recent months escalated threats to attack Israeli targets in the Karish gas field, located south of the disputed area, unless an agreement delineating the Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary is reached. Hezbollah member Hussein Jashi told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed news site on Thursday that if there is no understanding on the border demarcation, then Israel will not be able to extract oil from the site off the Mediterranean coast.

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On Tuesday, Lebanon sent its comments to the proposal mediated by US envoy Amos Hochstein for an agreement on the maritime demarcation line, just days after Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed his support to the draft deal, which was presented to both countries, raising hopes for a breakthrough after more than a decade-long territorial dispute.

After Israel studied the “substantial” changes that Lebanon is seeking to make in the proposed agreement, Lapid ordered his negotiating team to reject them, according to reports in the Hebrew press. The main sticking point is reportedly over Beirut’s demand to change the wording and location of the so-called “line of floating buoys” and its recognition as an international border, according to a report by Walla! news. The line has been in place since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and is considered an important security interest.

Lapid emphasized that Israel will produce gas from the Karish field soon but will not compromise its security and economic interests in any way, even if it means that there is no agreement in the near future on the maritime border demarcation.

“If Hezbollah or anyone else tries to damage the Karish field or threaten us – the negotiations on the maritime border will stop immediately, and Hassan Nasrallah will have to explain to the citizens of Lebanon why they do not have a gas rig and an economic future,” an Israeli official told the Hebrew press.

Earlier this week, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that progress on the draft agreement was on the right path and that Beirut’s leaders were unified on the remarks.

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