Lebanese President Michel Aoun has received a letter from US mediator Amos Hochstein regarding proposals for the demarcation of a maritime border with Israel, the presidency said on Saturday on Twitter.
Media outlets in Lebanon reported that Aoun called Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati to consult with them regarding the proposal he received and how to properly respond to it in a timely manner.
A deal could defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, which has warned against any Israeli exploration and extraction in the disputed waters.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on Saturday in which he acknowledged that the Lebanese government was negotiating a maritime demarcation line with Israel. He refrained from making extreme threats, a departure from previous speeches and threats.
This means that Hezbollah appears to be toning down the rhetoric.
Nasrallah said that the “maritime border demarcation file has reached a decisive stage in light of the mediator’s letter.” He said that “Hezbollah supports the Lebanese state regarding the talks with the US mediator.... Maritime victory is the fruit of national solidarity and will help Lebanon cope with the economic crisis.”
الرئيس عون استقبل سفيرة الولايات المتحدة الأميركية في لبنان دوروثي شيا وتسلم منها رسالة خطية من الوسيط الاميركي اموس هوكستين حول الاقتراحات المتعلقة بترسيم الحدود البحرية الجنوبية pic.twitter.com/vQL7WDcpK2— Lebanese Presidency (@LBpresidency) October 1, 2022
Hochstein has made several trips to Lebanon to resolve the issue and has met with Lebanese officials, but Hezbollah has previously accused him of bias and threatened to attack gas rigs and energy fields off the coast of Israel.In his speech on Saturday, Nasrallah said that the maritime talks appear to be reaching a “positive outcome thanks to dialogue.”
Although Nasrallah did not mention Israel, he also didn’t appear to be warning of any attacks.
“We are facing critical days regarding the maritime demarcation file,” he said, indicating that the full picture will become clear in coming days.
The Hezbollah leader also mentioned Lebanon’s continued failure to form a government. Lebanon, like Iraq, has a strong pro-Iranian element; neither country has a functioning government. Iran is also facing protests, meaning that several states where Iran has a role are all on the verge of chaos.
“The last parliament session proved that whoever wants to elect a president of the republic must move away from the logic of defiance in favor of consultation,” Nasrallah said, adding that “time is running out with regard to forming a government.”Israeli security and political echelons assessed this past week that the chances of signing an agreement to determine the maritime-economic border with Lebanon have improved, with the remaining gaps between the parties being defined by Israel as “small and solvable.”
Strategic importance of a Lebanese gas reservoir
From a strategic perspective, the defense establishment considers it very important that Lebanon also has an active gas reservoir.In such a situation, Israel believes that beyond the potential for improving economic and security stability, and reducing dependence on Iran and its energy sources, the presence of an active gas reservoir will ultimately curb Hezbollah’s activities.
This comes with the understanding that any terrorist damage to assets essential to Israel, including the gas reserves threatened by Hezbollah, will be met with a counter-reaction with similar damage to Lebanese assets.In other words, as soon as Lebanon has a gas reserve that is very essential to its wounded economy, a balance of power will be created which will curb Hezbollah’s terrorist intentions toward Israel.