Lebanon reportedly drops claims on Karish gas field

The dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the border of their economic waters is moving towards a decisive point.

 View of the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near the Israeli city of Caesarea, on January 31, 2019.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/POOL)
View of the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near the Israeli city of Caesarea, on January 31, 2019.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun has met with US mediator Amos Hochstein, the special envoy of US President Joe Biden, and presented his country's position which includes a compromise. The proposal has been passed to Israel, sources close to the matter have told "Globes."

According to one report, Aoun did not submit any written proposal to Hochman but rather told him the details in a person-to-person meeting out of concern that the compromise would be leaked to Hezbollah.

Aoun understands that the Shiite militant group sees the gas issue as a major story that can divert attention away from the criticism while presenting itself as the defender of the country against "Israeli attempts to conquer Lebanese gas."

Hezbollah threats

Hezbollah recently raised the level of alert of their naval forces and their spokespeople have been making more extreme statements. Senior Hezbollah official Nabil Kauk said, "Missiles of resistance can harm Israel's strategic installations." He even went further and blamed the US for Lebanon's current situation. The position of the Americans is the biggest obstacle on the way to saving Lebanon and halting its collapse."

In contrast to Hezbollah's position, "Globes" has been informed by US sources and others involved in the mediation attempts that the Lebanese President's proposal, mainly involves the gas field stretching into Lebanon's economic waters, through the triangular area of sea in dispute, and into Israel's waters.

"Aoun aims to ensure that Lebanon will receive most of the profits from producing gas in that field," sources say. The original Lebanese name of that field was Sidon but it was changed to Qana as a sign of defiance against Israel.

The sources say that Lebanon would be ready to reach an agreement based on Line 23 originally presented to the UN and retreat from Line 29, which it has been demanding in negotiations since December 2020.

"Globes" has already revealed that Hochstein had made his return to Beirut to continue mediation contingent on the Lebanese accepting the original Line 23 that they had proposed in negotiations with Israel.

Aoun made it clear that Lebanon would not raise any claims on the Karish field, if Israel accepts Lebanon's demands regarding Sidon-Qana. One option that has been raised is the management of drilling and production from the field by an international body, after principles have been set for the division between Israel and Lebanon and marking the border.

Aoun's proposal has been passed on to Israel and is currently being discussed by various authorities. Hochstein, according to reports, expects to be able to return to Lebanon at the start of July with Israel's response.

Former Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources told "Globes" that it is not possible to rely on Lebanon's proposals because no senior figures have kept their word in the past and retreated from compromise agreements reached in 2012.

Steinitz adds that Israel's position on Line 1 to mark the border of the economic waters was set according to an agreement with Lebanon and Cyprus less than 20 years ago, and was adopted by Israel.

Only later when Israel began to develop the gas fields did the Lebanese decide on Line 23, claiming that the previous line was a mistake. But Steinitz said that Israel can afford to be flexible because for Beirut "not developing the gas fields would be a tragedy," and the dispute with Israel has led to a halt in all drilling in Lebanese economic waters.

For the time being, those in Aoun's entourage are keeping their options open and generating deliberate leaks about Lebanon's rigid negotiating position

One such leak claimed that Aoun was demanding that the Sidon-Qana field would be exclusively Lebanon's, in exchange for agreeing that Israel can produce gas from the Karish field. Another Lebanese demand is that Israel will not start producing gas from the Karish field in September while Lebanon has not begun drilling the Sidon-Qana field. One major problem is that it is not yet clear whether the Sidon-Qana field is even big enough to justify production.

Gas from Egypt

Meanwhile, Lebanon and Egypt are expected to sign an agreement this week for gas supply via a pipeline through Jordan and Syria, which will fuel a power station in Lebanon to help with the severe energy crisis that the country is trying to cope with.

Most parts of Lebanon only have two hours of electricity per day with hospitals and hotels using generators. The deal is interesting because Egypt buys gas from Israel, so it is possible that the same gas could find its way to Lebanon.