It makes sense to be suspicious of the maritime deal - opinion

RIGHT FROM WRONG: No, you don’t have to be a maritime expert to grasp the magnitude of the gambit. Common sense and experience ought to suffice.

 PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu have opposing views of the Lebanon maritime agreement. Will the voters care on November 1? (photo credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu have opposing views of the Lebanon maritime agreement. Will the voters care on November 1?
(photo credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

You don’t have to be a maritime expert to be suspicious of the US-brokered gas deal that Israel’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, hastily finalized with Lebanon on Tuesday. The speed with which the territorial-waters arrangement was reached is ample cause for genuine concern, especially since its terms were kept under wraps until Wednesday morning.

Mideast analysts in Israel, therefore, initially had no choice but to rely on reports from Lebanon about what the sides were actually negotiating. Pundits were basing their evaluation of the situation on statements by Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist organization that controls the enemy state along Israel’s northern border. 

Not that Lebanon is even what one could call a “state,” mind you. It’s a failed, impoverished geographical area with a lame-duck president, Michel Aoun, who is on his way out at the end of this month, with no replacement in sight. 

Oddly, this is one of the reasons given by those politicians and pundits promoting the deal – before even seeing it – for its urgency. The premise is a familiar one, no matter how many times it has been proven false. The idea behind it is that Israel’s foes pose a greater danger when they are in dire economic straits, and it is thus in the Jewish state’s interest to make sure that they flourish financially.

Never mind that this attitude, when translated into policy, is always a recipe for disaster. The Oslo Accords, and the disengagement from Gaza, are two examples of Israeli attempts to purchase “peace” or “quiet” through territorial withdrawals and lots of cash.

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

Money in the wrong hands 

AS SHOULD be clear by now to all the world’s democracies, money in the hands of terrorist-run entities serves only to enrich the killers at the helm. Nor do mass murderers honor any deal forged with them.

Ironically, it turns out that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has been trustworthy in his assessment of the current agreement. Though the maritime border in question has been a point of contention and negotiations for at least a decade, it shot to the fore last month, thanks to a not-so-veiled threat that he issued in mid-September. 

He indicated that if Israel begins pumping gas from the Karish rig “before Lebanon obtains its rightful demands,” Hezbollah would blitz the site with missiles. Because the Iranian proxy had launched drones at the gas field in July (they were shot down by the Israeli military), Jerusalem took the warning seriously enough to enhance IDF presence in the North. 

Unbeknown to the Israeli public and parliament, while the defense establishment was supposedly preparing for a Hezbollah attack, Lapid was busy caving to pressure from Washington. He didn’t require much arm-twisting from US President Joe Biden, though, since he had his own motives for wanting to shove the deal through. 

Avoiding an immediate confrontation with Hezbollah was only one of them. Equally pressing for the caretaker premier was the fast approach of the November 1 Knesset elections and his ability to tout his prowess at peacemaking, however phony. After all, Lebanon still doesn’t recognize Israel. 

It’s so hostile, in fact, that a condition of the deal it just okayed is that any revenues it ends up owing to Israel have to be delivered through the French company, Total, which will be licensed to search for gas in the Kana field.

Lapid is in on the scheme

THE WHOLE thing stinks, and Lapid knows it, which is why he was so adamant about not presenting the deal to the Knesset for a vote. After hours of deliberations on Wednesday, first in the security cabinet and subsequently in a meeting with the rest of the ministers, the government also nixed the need for legislators’ assent.

This was an unethical stunt pulled by a group whose days are literally numbered. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked pointed out that if a similar move had been made during the premiership of opposition leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Lapid and the others present would have likened him to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The reference to Netanyahu – ferocious in his objections to capitulating to Hezbollah – spurred Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton to retort, “Due to the pervasive incitement, it’s preferable not to bring [the deal] to the Knesset.” Wow.

Meanwhile, Biden was positively gleeful. Israel and Lebanon, he said, “have been at war, declared war, at one another [sic] for a long time. They’ve worked out a bond and relationship in the eastern Mediterranean for oil. They’re going to make an agreement that is historic.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, too, was pleased. “It is good for Israel’s security; it’s good for Israel’s prosperity,” he said. “It’s good for Lebanon’s security and its prosperity.”

Not surprisingly, the happiest of them all was Nasrallah. “We don’t need to dispatch drones or carry out maneuvers [to cause] the enemy [Israel] to understand that the resistance is serious,” he declared, adding, “Israel is more afraid of war than the Lebanese.”

It’s hard to blame him for this perception. And though Lapid has been furious with Netanyahu for decrying that the deal was in direct response to Nasrallah’s bullying, even Channel 13’s “anybody but Bibi” political commentator, Raviv Drucker, said exactly that on Wednesday evening. The difference is that Druker portrayed it as something positive. 

“If not for Nasrallah’s threats,” he said, “we could have dragged out the negotiations for 200 years, during which we would have been pumping gas from Karish without caring that the other side [Lebanon] wasn’t ready.”

Jaw-dropping press conference

LAPID’S PRIME-time press conference was just as jaw-dropping. Lauding the great “achievements” that Israel made by (ostensibly) rejecting a set of Lebanon’s additional demands, he boasted that the cabinet had approved the deal and thanked Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron for their help and support. Oy.

He proceeded to acknowledge that the agreement “staves off the possibility of a flare-up with Hezbollah,” quickly averring that “Israel is not afraid of Hezbollah. The IDF is stronger than any terror organization, and if we went to battle, we would deal it a heavy blow. That being said, if it’s possible to prevent war, it’s the job of a responsible government to do so.”

Questioned by a reporter about the government’s consent to circumvent a Knesset vote, he blabbered about the legality of the decision. Then he let the cat out of the bag.

“In light of the utterly profligate behavior of the opposition, we didn’t think that it would be [the] right [thing to do],” he explained.

In other words, the risk of Hezbollah interference in Israel’s gas mining is smaller in Lapid’s eyes than a potential parliamentary thumbs-down. Which brings us to Iran.

Biden's horrific foreign policy

DESPITE THE ongoing protests across the Islamic Republic that are providing a glimmer of hope about the ultimate fall of the regime, the US administration is continuing to convey its desperation to revive the nuclear pact and fill Tehran’s coffers with billions of dollars. This travesty is typical of Biden’s horrific foreign policy

Israel cannot afford to follow in such ill-fated footsteps. Nevertheless, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata defended the gas deal on the ridiculous grounds that it “goes against Iran’s interest in Lebanon and weakens Hezbollah’s hold on the government in Beirut.” 

Really? 

No wonder Udi Adiri, Israel’s longtime lead maritime border and gas extraction negotiator, resigned a couple of weeks ago in exasperation over the contents of the document that was crafted against his better judgment. This didn’t have an effect on what is going to be a signed, sealed and delivered deal on October 31, the day of Aoun’s exit and 24 hours before Israelis head to the polls.

No, you don’t have to be a maritime expert to grasp the magnitude of the gambit. Common sense and experience ought to suffice, if not in Israel’s soon-to-be-shuffled halls of power, then at least at the ballot box.