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October 12, 2022 2:47 pm

Israeli Government Approves Historic Maritime Border Deal with Lebanon; Netanyahu says Israel “Surrendered” to Hezbollah

avatar by Andrew Bernard

People walk as Israeli navy boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea as seen from Rosh Hanikra, close to the Lebanese border, northern Israel May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel’s security cabinet on Wednesday voted to approve the newly negotiated permanent maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. The landmark deal aims to resolve a decades long dispute between Israel and Lebanon over territorial and gas rights in a 330 square mile area of the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel’s wider coalition government, made up of eight political parties, also approved the terms on Wednesday by a “large majority,” according to the Prime Minister’s office.

The deal, which was brokered by the United States and agreed to by the Lebanese and Israeli leaders on Tuesday, will be brought to the Knesset for a non-voting review before returning to the Israeli cabinet for final approval in 14 days.

Following years of mediation by the United States, the Governments of Israel and Lebanon today announced consensus on an historic agreement to establish a permanent maritime boundary between the two countries,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “This breakthrough promises to usher in a new era of prosperity and stability in the Middle East and will provide vital energy to the people of the region and to the world.”

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While settling the maritime boundary between the two countries, the deal also clarifies control of the Karish and Qana gas fields. Flow testing began at the Karish field on Sunday. On Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced that the French energy major Total would begin the exploration phase of the Qana field “immediately.” Under the agreement, Israel will receive approximately 17% of the revenues from the Qana field when it comes online.

For now, the deal allays concerns about a military escalation along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Last week Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz had placed the IDF on alert when the outcome of the negotiations still remained uncertain.

“The deal decreases the likelihood of conflict in the short-term, but things could derail rapidly,” said Will Todman, Middle East Program Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If Israel elects a more hardline government and seeks to amend or cancel the deal, Hezbollah will likely adopt a much more aggressive stance. In the longer-term, if no hydrocarbon reserves materialize in Lebanon’s territory, the mutual deterrence will fade and the risk of conflict will increase.”

Security analysts have cautioned that the long-term effects of the deal on Lebanon’s fragile economy remain to be seen.

“The deal will not solve Lebanon’s crisis,” said CSIS’s Todman.  “There are no confirmed reserves and even if there are, it will likely be years until revenues begin to flow.”

Nevertheless, Todman said, the deal has been welcomed in Beirut as pushing the country toward the right direction.

“The Lebanese political elite are delighted at the prospect of major hydrocarbon revenues and are depicting this deal as a potential solution to its economic crisis.”

In an address Tuesday, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said that he would welcome any deal backed by the Lebanese government. “It is strange that some in Israel and in the Arab media are claiming that Hezbollah wants to sabotage the deal. We have no problem when the Lebanese officials say that the agreement meets the Lebanese demands,” Nasrallah said. “Tonight we will not issue threats. Tonight there will only be joy and clapping.”

In Israel, the deal was met with mixed reactions.

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu took to twitter to criticize the deal saying,  “Behind the backs of the citizens of Israel and the Knesset, Lapid and Gantz surrendered to Hezbollah’s blackmail. They transfer strategic assets of the State of Israel to Hezbollah in a liquidation sale. Hezbollah will use billions from the gas to arm itself with missiles and rockets against Israeli citizens.”

At a press conference Wednesday Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that criticism of the deal was “poisonous propaganda,” and that Netanyahu had not seen the final text of the agreement. “When the deal is brought before the public, everyone will be able to see for themselves that the claims about it were false,” Lapid said. “This evening, I sent an invitation for a briefing to Opposition Leader Netanyahu, so he can know about the agreement and its details. We will invite all the opposition party heads for a briefing and show them the details of the deal for the first time.”

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