Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Michael Fitzpatrick

Sea border deal opens access to offshore gas for Israel, Lebanon

Lebanese navy patrols boat sail near the German Navy corvette FGS Erfurt, deployed off northern Israel's Rosh HaNikra and Lebanon's southern Naqoura on October 27, 2022. AFP - JACK GUEZ

Israel and Lebanon on Thursday separately signed a US-brokered maritime border agreement that paves the way for lucrative offshore gas extraction by the neighbouring nations, who are technically at war. Lebanon insists the deal has no political implications.

The agreement will come into effect on Thursday afternoon, after two exchanges of letters -- one between Lebanon and the United States, the other between Israel and the US.

The deal, signed separately by Lebanon's President Michel Aoun in Beirut and Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, comes as Lebanon struggles to emerge from what the World Bank has described as one of the worst economic crises in modern world history.

The border agreement comes as Lapid seeks the boost of a major achievement days ahead of a general election due in Israel on 1 November.

The deal settles a decades-long dispute about the precise location of the eastern Mediterranean border between the two states, which in turn determines exploration and extraction rights.

The exchange of letters is due to take place in the southern Lebanese town of Naqura, in the presence of US mediator Amos Hochstein and the United Nations's special coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka.

There will be no meeting of the two delegations.

Contradictory interpretations

The Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, sounds very upbeat. “This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security," he says, "bring billions into Israel’s economy and ensure stability on the northern border.”

Lapid has also claimed that Lebanon's acceptance of the deal amounts to a de-facto recognition of the Jewish state.

Lebanon was quick to deny any political interpretation of the accord.

"Demarcating the southern maritime border is technical work that has no political implications or effects contradicting Lebanon's foreign policy," said Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday morning.

The two countries have been at war since 1982. Lebanon was not part of the Arab coalition defeated by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.

Gas already flowing

The London-listed Energean on Wednesday said it began producing gas from Karish, an offshore field at the heart of the border agreement, a day after Israel gave the green light.

Lebanon will have full rights to operate and explore the so-called Qana or Sidon reservoir, parts of which fall in Israel's territorial waters, with the Jewish state receiving a share of revenue.

With demand for gas rising worldwide because of the energy crisis sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Lebanon hopes that exploiting the offshore field will help ease its financial and economic crisis.

But analysts caution that it will take time for production to start in Lebanese waters, meaning no quick return for a country that is desperately short of foreign exchange reserves.

Hezbollah approves the deal

The maritime border deal could not be signed by Lebanon without the consent of Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite militant faction backed by Israel's arch enemy, Iran.

Hezbollah had threatened to attack Israel if the Jewish state began extracting gas from the Karish field before reaching an agreement.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006. The Shiite movement is the only faction to have kept its weapons after the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.