US State Department Senior Adviser for Energy Security Amos Hochstein will be the American mediator between Israel and Lebanon on their border dispute, a State Department spokesperson confirmed overnight Saturday.
“We can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as US mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks, which he held during the Obama administration,” said the spokesperson. “He looks to build upon the strong work done by Ambassador John Desrocher over the last year.”
The special adviser is expected to visit Lebanon and Israel this month.
“We welcome the appointment of a professional who will bring about agreements on the topic,” said an Energy Ministry spokesperson.
Born in Israel, Hochstein spent his adult life in the US, working in Congress before the State Department and holding a similar envoy position in the Obama administration undersecretaries of state Hilary Clinton and John Kerry. He was considered a possible candidate for the Biden administration’s ambassador to Israel.
At the end of the Obama administration, in 2015, Hochstein worked to kickstart talks between Beirut and Jerusalem about their disputed maritime border.
Those negotiations did not begin until October 2020, the first talks between the countries in 30 years, with Desrocher mediating. They broke down soon after.
Israel and Lebanon disagree about where the maritime border between their countries is drawn. Settling the dispute would allow for further gas exploration in the area, which could, in turn, provide a much-needed boost to Lebanon’s collapsed economy.
The dispute is over a triangular area of the Mediterranean Sea starting at the land border between the countries. The area is five to six kilometers wide on average and makes up about 2% of Israel’s economic waters.
However earlier this year, Lebanon increased its demands by submitting a new borderline that would increase the disputed area from 860 sq.km. to 2,300 sq.km.
Energy Minister Karin Elharrar said in June that “despite Israel’s strong legal case, we are willing to consider creative solutions to bring the matter to a close.”
Lebanese officials expressed outrage last month after Haillburton Company announced it had a contract with Greek energy producer Energean to drill in the Karish North natural gas field, which is near the disputed maritime border with Lebanon.
The Israeli Energy Ministry said the drilling is not new and is not taking place in the disputed area.