Gantz, Blinken talk Lebanon, with Beirut optimistic about maritime border deal

Their call came on the heel of US President Joe Biden's visit to the Middle East, during which he visited both Israel and Saudi Arabia.

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the State Department in Washington, US, June 3, 2021. (photo credit: JACQUELYN MARTIN / POOL / REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the State Department in Washington, US, June 3, 2021.
(photo credit: JACQUELYN MARTIN / POOL / REUTERS)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed maritime border talks between Israel and Lebanon in a phone call on Saturday.

The conversation took place a day after Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said he is more optimistic than ever that an agreement will be reached.

Among the topics Gantz and Blinken discussed was “the need to pursue an agreement on the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon and the necessary American involvement in it,” according to a Defense Ministry statement.

Other topics they discussed were US President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia and its impact on greater regional security cooperation, as well as continued pressure and negotiations towards a nuclear deal with Iran.

Bou Habib said in a tweet from his ministry’s account on Friday that “there has never been optimism to the extent that there is today.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the State Department in Washington, US, June 3, 2021. (credit: JACQUELYN MARTIN / POOL / REUTERS)US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the State Department in Washington, US, June 3, 2021. (credit: JACQUELYN MARTIN / POOL / REUTERS)

He noted that the US official mediating the dispute, Amos Hochstein, was scheduled to arrive in Beirut for talks with Lebanese officials.

Lebanon and Israel are locked in US-mediated negotiations to delineate a shared maritime border that would help determine which oil and gas resources belong to which country and pave the way for more exploration. The dispute goes back over a decade and Lebanon has, more recently, expanded its original demands to include the Karish gas reservoir, which Israel has already hooked up to a gas rig.

Hochstein met Israeli negotiators in June and updated them on the results of a visit to Lebanon earlier that month, the Israeli Energy Ministry said at the time.

The dispute risks exacerbating tensions between two foes.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this month that “no one” would be allowed to operate in maritime oil and gas fields if Lebanon was not able to do so in areas off its own coast.