Lebanon deal is a capitulation contract for Israel -opinion

Hassan Nasrallah tried to create an equation according to which the production of gas from the Karish gas field by Israel will only be possible if Israel and Lebanon reach a maritime agreement.

 An Israeli Navy missile ship patrols the waters near the Karish gas rig. (photo credit: IDF)
An Israeli Navy missile ship patrols the waters near the Karish gas rig.
(photo credit: IDF)

The maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon is a capitulation contract for Israel. According to details of the agreement, Israel gave up all of its sovereign, economic and security demands. These concessions are fundamental and have the potential to worsen Israel’s position in the regional arena.

The original Israeli demand for the registration of the border between the countries was to place the border on Line 1 as a continuation of the “buoy line” (the northernmost points on Israel’s shores, where Israel operates militarily, and which constitutes Israel’s territorial waters). Whereas Lebanon proposed that the border line would move further south, along Line 23 (north of the Karish gas field).

Both the Israeli and Lebanese lines crossed what is known as the Qana field. In February 2022, Lebanon hardened its demands, claiming that the border should be marked further south toward Israel, on Line 29 (across the Karish field). The purpose of the Lebanese move was to achieve a compromise that would lead Israel to agree to the outline of the original Lebanese demand (line 23).

In 2010, the US proposed to the two countries a compromise that won Israeli approval, according to which Lebanon would receive 55% of the disputed area, and Israel 45%. In an interview with the Israeli media on October 3, David Schenker, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs during the Trump administration, claimed that Israel’s retreat to Line 23 meant meeting 100% of Lebanon’s demands

From his words, it can be concluded that even during the Trump administration, the compromise was based on the Obama administration’s proposal. David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel during the Trump administration, strengthened Schenker’s claim in a post on Twitter the same day.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid flies over the Karish gas rig. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) Prime Minister Yair Lapid flies over the Karish gas rig. (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

What does the Lebanon Deal

THE PUBLICATION of the agreement shows that the Israeli government not only agreed to give up its original demand to register the border on Line 1, and not only completely gave up Line H, but also agreed to accept Lebanon’s demand that the border be marked on Line 23. 

Israel also gave up everything on the Qana field (since, according to Line 23, a small part of the Qana field was supposed to remain in the hands of Israel). In addition, according to the Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata, Jerusalem even gave up about 10 sq.k. of territorial waters.

As for the royalties for the production of the gas, according to the agreement, the companies that expected to produce the potential gas in the Qana field (French energy company “Total” and Italian energy company “ENI”) are supposed to compensate Israel for the rights in the field, but not within the maritime agreement. Thus, Israel may lose a considerable amount of money if it signs an agreement at a price that will later turn out to be low compared to the gas discoveries in the field.

Israel was not able to reach an achievement even in the political and foreign policy field. The agreement between Israel and Lebanon is not bilateral; nor does it address normalization with another Arab country in the spirit of the Abraham Accords. 

Instead, Israel’s agreement was signed with the US and the UN. Furthermore, Section B-1 of the agreement does not recognize the maritime border (with regard to the “buoy line”) as an international boundary line, but also maintains the status quo.

Section B-1 also has implications on the security level, since Hezbollah could receive a pretext to act militarily against Israeli forces that are in the area of the “buoy line.” In addition, although Lebanon will not be able to sign an agreement with a gas production company that is under UN sanctions, it will be able to do so with a company that is included in the US sanctions list. 

This clause in the agreement may allow hostile elements to act against Israel. For example, Lebanon could allow an Iranian so-called energy company to drill nearby Israel offshore and establish an Iranian base for military and intelligence activity under an economic guise.

Nasrallah's strategic equation

IT IS IMPORTANT to note that the negotiation between Israel and Lebanon had reached the point of an agreement during periods of high-security tension between Israel and Hezbollah. In the past year, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, tried to create an equation according to which the production of gas from the Karish gas field by Israel will only be possible if Israel and Lebanon reach a maritime agreement. These threats were backed up by actions such as the launching of three UAVs toward Israel’s waters in July of this year. 

Hezbollah’s threats and actions also strengthened its power in the domestic Lebanese arena – even within the opponents to the organization, who claimed that the “resistance” had a great influence that contributed to the approval of the agreement. Even if Israel was not really impressed by Hezbollah’s threats when it rushed to approve the agreement with Lebanon, it really is an appearance of Israeli surrender and fear of Hezbollah’s threats.

According to supporters of the agreement, its approval will prevent the start of a war with Hezbollah, which – they claim – was inevitable. However, this approach does not take into account other possibilities and scenarios. For example, it is possible that if Israel had threatened Hezbollah and Lebanon in a much more firm and blatant manner, in addition to military preparations at the border (some of which have been done), the tensions would have ended without starting a war.

Also, it is not at all certain that approving a bad agreement is necessarily better than a military round between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel should not fear a military confrontation at any cost.

Another claim by some supporters of the agreement is that Lebanon and Hezbollah will show restraint after gaining access to a gas field, as they will have something to lose in the event of a conflict against Israel. But even today, Lebanon and Hezbollah have a lot to lose. Lebanon is still a country with critical national infrastructures that are expected to be damaged by Israel in the event of war.

In the bottom line, Israel did not achieve any political or diplomatic breakthrough in the agreement, nor economic achievements or improvement in its security situation. On the contrary, it further worsened its geo-strategic, political and security situation in the region.

The writer has a PhD in political studies. He is a military strategy and national security expert, and a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS).