Biden congratulates Lapid on maritime border deal

"We have preserved Israel's security interests, we are on our way to a historic agreement," Yair Lapid's national security adviser says.

 Israel's Security Council meets to discuss Lebanon maritime border deal, October 12, 2022 (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Israel's Security Council meets to discuss Lebanon maritime border deal, October 12, 2022
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Following Tuesday's announcement that Israel and Lebanon had reached an agreement on the maritime border deal, Israel's Security Cabinet convened at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning to vote on the implementation of the deal.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Security Cabinet voted in favor of approving the deal, besides for Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked who abstained.

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett voted in favor, saying that "under the current circumstances, it is right to approve it."

US President Joe Biden congratulated Prime Minister Yair Lapid for reaching a maritime border agreement with Lebanon on Tuesday.

“You’re making history,” Biden told Lapid on the phone, thanking him and pointing out that the US-mediated agreement was reached after a decade of failed attempts.

Biden emphasized his commitment to Israel’s security and regional stability, saying that their ability to work together toward the Lebanon agreement shows that the US-Israel relationship is unbreakable.

 A deserted post for the Lebanese army is seen in Naqoura, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, southern Lebanon, October 6, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER) A deserted post for the Lebanese army is seen in Naqoura, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, southern Lebanon, October 6, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AZIZ TAHER)

Lapid thanked Biden and US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein for an agreement that “will ensure Israel’s security on its northern border and strengthen the Israeli and Lebanese economies.”

Biden also congratulated Prime Minister Lapid and Lebanese President Michael Aoun on his Twitter account.

Biden also called Lebanese President Michael Aoun to congratulate him, stressing that the US supports stability and a stronger economy for Lebanon, and seeks to enable it to benefit from its natural resources.“

Energy – particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean – should serve as the tool for cooperation, stability, security and prosperity, not for conflict,” Biden said in a White House statement following the calls.

“The agreement announced by both governments today will provide for the development of energy fields for the benefit of both countries, setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region, and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world. It is now critical that all parties uphold their commitments and work towards implementation.”

Israel and Lebanon announced that they had reached an agreement on delineating their economic waters in the Mediterranean Sea earlier on Tuesday.

Lapid said the agreement is “a historic achievement that will strengthen Israeli security, will bring billions to Israel’s economy and ensure stability on the northern border.”

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata said that “the changes that we asked for were corrected. We protected Israel’s security interests and are on our way to an historic agreement.”

Aoun’s office said that “the final version of the offer satisfies Lebanon, meets its demands and preserves its rights to its natural resources.”

Hezbollah, a member of Lebanon’s government and an Iran-backed terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction, also agreed to the deal, a Lebanese government official and an official close to Hezbollah told Reuters. The approval came after months of threats from the terrorist organization.

Each side technically reached an agreement with the US, because Beirut refused to negotiate or sign a deal with Jerusalem.

Lapid calls on cabinet meeting to approve deal

Lapid called a Security Cabinet meeting, followed by a general cabinet meeting for Wednesday to approve the deal. The deal is expected to be submitted to the Knesset for review on the same day, but whether or not it will go for a vote – as opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the deal, has demanded – remains a point of contention. Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara reportedly recommended that the Knesset vote on the deal, but said she would defend the government if it decided not to take that route.

The two-week parliamentary review period would end less than a week before the November 1 election. A Senior US administration official said that this agreement “is not a win-lose agreement.”

“The parties are not getting more than the other, because they get different things,” the official said. “I have every expectation that this agreement is going to be signed and put into force as quickly as possible. And I think at the end of the day, that will happen because this agreement is delivering such critical wins for both sides.”

“No one can guarantee what lies in the future,” the official continued. “And therefore, no one guaranteed an opportunity for the future of Israel, for the security of Israel – and the economic prosperity of Lebanon will still be there at a different time.

Many people have said over the last several days that a better deal could have been done for one side or the other. Others claim that they could have negotiated a better settlement – some from the region, some from the United States.

“When those so-called better terms for either side were on the table, they ended up not reaching an agreement,” said the official.

“Israel already has significant gas resources in the Mediterranean and is very successful in developing them,” the official added. “This will provide Israel with kind of security and stability in the Mediterranean necessary to continue to rely on those waters for a lion’s share of the electricity in the country and for the ability to export and be part of the solution for the global and European energy crisis.”

Lebanese chief negotiator Elias Bou Saab, a pro-Hezbollah official, said that “we would not have reached an agreement if the two sides didn’t think they reached a solution that satisfied them. If one side won and the other lost, there wouldn’t be an agreement. I hope that Israelis will look at it from that perspective and not get into ‘who retreated and who didn’t.’"

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the agreement will be presented to the Israeli public in a transparent and clear manner, arguing that it is “just and positive for both sides” with support from the defense establishment.“We have not and will not compromise on a single millimeter that is critical to our security,” he said.

“We will continue protecting our security interests in any scenario and ensuring the security of the citizens of Israel.“Israel is interested in having a stable and prosperous Lebanese neighbor,” Gantz said.

Despite Hezbollah giving the deal a green light, Gantz said that it “is progressing despite threats by the Hezbollah terrorist organization, which attempted to destroy the process.”

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said that he will make a decision about the agreement after he sees the final draft and hears the position of defense officials.

Bennett has veto power over the agreement. As prime minister during most of the Hochstein-mediated negotiations, Bennett said he was willing to make compromises as long as Israel’s security interests are ensured.

Netanyahu continued to call the deal a “historic surrender” to Hezbollah

However, unlike in his statements from the past week in which he said that, if elected prime minister, he will not be obligated to the deal, this time Netanyahu said “we will handle it as we did other bad agreements that we inherited.”

When Netanyahu was first elected prime minister in 1996, he had to follow through on parts of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, even though he opposed them.

His formula at the time was reciprocity – he famously said “if they give, they’ll receive; if they don’t give they won’t receive” – meaning that Israel will only keep up its end of the bargain if the other side does.

The deal came amid growing concerns over a possible confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist group that is part of the Lebanese government.

Hezbollah threatened for months that it would attack the Jewish state if it moved forward with the development of the Karish field, which is near but not in the disputed area of the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel gave Energean, the Greek company licensed to pump the gas from Karish, the green light to start testing the pipeline on Sunday morning. The gas will be pumped from the land station to the sea-based rig to see that the pipe is operational. The tests are expected to last a month.

According to a Channel 12 poll, 40% of Israelis support the deal, while 29% oppose it and 31% were undecided.