Lebanon, Israel to sign maritime deal Thursday

Hezbollah had warned that Israel would be crossing a "red line" if it extracted gas before a deal is officially signed.

 Energean rig at Karish Field (photo credit: ENERGEAN)
Energean rig at Karish Field
(photo credit: ENERGEAN)

Israel and Lebanon are set to finalize and sign their maritime border deal on Thursday, a day after natural gas extraction began at Israel’s Karish field.

The cabinet is expected to vote in favor of the agreement, two weeks after it was submitted to the Knesset for review, but not a vote. In the interim, the High Court of Justice confirmed that parliamentary authorization was not legally necessary.

On Thursday afternoon, the Israeli and Lebanese negotiating teams will sign the agreement at UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters in Naquora, on the border between the countries. Lebanon does not recognize Israel in the framework of the deal and did not negotiate directly; as such, each country’s delegation will be in a different room.

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein will visit Beirut to meet with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, before the ceremony and Jerusalem, to meet with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, after it.

The US-mediated and guaranteed agreement will allow Lebanon, through its licensee, French energy company TotalEnergies, to develop the Kana Reservoir and extract natural gas that may be there. The gas field was in an area of the Mediterranean Sea that Israel and Lebanon claimed as their own; Israel conceded the entire disputed zone, but will receive 17% of the value of Kana once Total has done a thorough survey of how much gas is in the reservoir. The deal also gives a more official international standing to the “buoys line,” a physical boundary that the Israeli Navy set up in 2000, which extends 5 km into the sea from the Israel-Lebanon land border.

Energean CEO Mathios Rigas (Credit: Energean)

Beirut is working to ensure that the deal is not seen as a form of normalization between Lebanon and Israel, according to L'Orient-Le Jour.

Energean, a British company began extracting natural gas from the Karish field, the company confirmed on Wednesday.

Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist group that is a party in Lebanon’s government, threatened Karish in recent months, claimed it is in the dispute, and launched drones at it – which Israel shot down - though it is not in the area that was under negotiation with Israel.

The extraction of gas before a deal was signed was declared as a "red line" by Hezbollah. Earlier this month, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stressed that a deal could only be considered as reached after it was signed by both sides in Naqoura.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that Lebanon has "no problem" with Israel beginning to extract gas since a deal has been reached, even though it hasn't been signed yet.

Energean’s announcement came a day after the Energy Ministry granted the company permission to start production at the field.

Gas sales to Energean's customers are expected to begin in the coming days, according to the company.

The Energean Power FPSO (Floating Production Storage Offloading) and the sales gas pipeline have an ultimate capacity of 8 bcm per year, with the initial capacity sitting at 6.5 bcm per year.

Commercial gas sales should reach the initial level in about four to six months. Additional infrastructure planned by Energean in the area should bring production to 8 bcm per year.

"I am delighted to confirm that Energean has reached first gas at the Karish field, offshore Israel," said Mathios Rigas, CEO of Energean. "We have delivered a landmark project that brings competition to the Israeli gas market, enhances security of energy supply in the East Med region and brings affordable and clean energy that will displace coal-fired power generation, making a material impact to the environment.”

An Israel Democracy Institute poll conducted at the end of September found that half of Israelis think that the heads of Israel's defense agencies support the deal with Lebanon for political reasons and not just security considerations. A third (33%) disagree with that statement and 17% did not know or refused to answer.