Gas deal: Security guarantees for Israel, economic benefits for Lebanon

The maritime border agreement with Lebanon will maintain the Israeli security line in territorial waters; the US and France will be the guarantors.

  Karish gas field, located in Israel territory and disputed by Lebanon.  (photo credit: ENERGEAN)
Karish gas field, located in Israel territory and disputed by Lebanon.
(photo credit: ENERGEAN)

Israel will receive royalties from gas that Lebanon extracts in the disputed area of the Mediterranean Sea, Prime Minister Yair Lapid revealed at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Both sides received a proposed economic waters agreement over the weekend from US Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein, who has traveled repeatedly between Beirut and Jerusalem over the past year to negotiate the deal.

The deal will have Israel concede the entire triangle of economic waters that had been in dispute with Lebanon in 2012-2021, but not the extended triangle that Lebanon demanded in early 2021. It will also allow Lebanon to develop the entire Kana Field, which extends South into what would be Israeli waters.

“As we demanded from the first day, [Hochstein’s] offer protects all of Israel’s security and diplomatic interests.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid

What's in the maritime border deal?

The royalties deal will be worked out in advance between Israel and the gas consortium led by French energy company Total, which has the Lebanese license to extract gas from the Kana field; it will be an agreement on how to calculate the compensation for Israel, since exploration has not yet begun and the amount of gas in the reservoir remains unknown.

In addition, the agreement includes recognition of what Israel calls the “buoys line,” which extends 5 km. into the sea from Rosh Hanikra, on the border with Lebanon. A senior diplomatic source explained that the line was vulnerable because Israel had established it unilaterally as a zone necessary for the Jewish state to have freedom of action for its security, and the agreement with Lebanon will anchor that line in international law.

“Anchoring the ‘buoys line’ as part of the agreement will allow us to treat it as our territorial line in the water, without opposition from UNIFIL,” the source explained.

The triangle in dispute for gas extraction purposes begins far beyond 5 km. away from the shore.The agreement will be guaranteed by the United States and France, as the major stakeholder in Total.

THE FINAL details of the deal are still under discussion and are being reviewed by legal advisers, as well as Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, before being brought to a Security Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Lapid said Israel has “no opposition to the development of an additional Lebanese reservoir from which we will, of course, receive the royalties we deserve.”

A maritime border agreement “will weaken Lebanon’s reliance on Iran, will restrain Hezbollah and will bring regional stability,” the prime minister stated at the cabinet meeting.

Despite economic hardships facing its own citizens, Iran sends over $1 billion to its proxy groups, including over $500 million to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Tehran has also offered to send 600,000 tons of fuel to Israel’s northern neighbor over the next five months to help the country.

The majority of Lebanese citizens have only one or two hours of state-provided electricity a day, less than even the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

According to Gantz, the agreement does not guarantee that there will be no future conflict with Lebanon, “but there is no doubt that it will strengthen stability, deterrence and, in the long run, will also weaken Lebanon’s dependence on Iran, which supplies it with fuel and other means.”

The prime minister said that, “as we demanded from the first day, [Hochstein’s] offer protects all of Israel’s security and diplomatic interests.”

After resolving the maritime border dispute with Lebanon, which has lasted over a decade, Israel’s North will be more secure and the country will be able to extract gas from the Karish reservoir, which abuts the disputed area, bringing more money and energy security to Israel, Lapid argued.

This is an agreement whose essence is economic,” Gantz said. “And if it is signed – we, as well as Lebanon and its citizens, who are suffering from a severe crisis, will enjoy it for years to come.”

“Beirut didn’t get everything they wanted,” the senior diplomatic source said, adding that they didn’t want Israel to get anything. And while Israel had to compromise, “it’s a compromise that guarantees our security. It’s a deal that is good for both sides.”

LEBANON WILL not recognize Israel in the agreement, nor does it mention land borders, Hezbollah TV channel Al-Manar reported.

According to a senior diplomatic source, there is no connection between the maritime deal and future negotiations on the land borders between the two enemy countries.

Nasrallah expresses optimism about pending deal

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, had a positive attitude towards the deal coming together, expressing hope for “a good end that will help the Lebanese and Lebanon.”

Nasrallah had previously threatened to attack Israel if it begins extracting gas from the Karish field.

According to the senior diplomatic source, Hezbollah was playing with fire with their threats.

“Hezbollah certainly has the ability to interfere with the agreement,” he said, while emphasizing that the Iran-backed terrorist group was not a party to the negotiations.

Israel sees the rig as a strategic asset several kilometers south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted, and has warned that it will defend it.

Gantz stressed that “the IDF and all of Israel’s security forces are prepared on all fronts, and also in the North to protect the citizens of Israel and our energy assets-regardless of negotiations, all the time, 24/7.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a “surrender to Nasrallah’s threats” and warned that Lapid was planning to use a loophole to not bring it before the Knesset.

“Lapid has no mandate to hand over sovereign territories and sovereign assets, which belong to all of us, to an enemy state,” Netanyahu said.

In addition, right-wing NGOs have already said they plan to petition the High Court if the maritime border deal is not brought for parliamentary review.