On Tuesday, Israel announced a “historic” pact with Lebanon to resolve a long-running maritime border dispute over Mediterranean waterways, in what is being viewed as a huge diplomatic breakthrough. Israel and Lebanon do not have official diplomatic relations and are technically at war.
Analysts believe that this agreement will ease tensions between the two countries. The proposed deal, floated by US ambassador Amos J Hochstein, who is the special envoy and coordinator for international energy issues and heads the US Department of State’s bureau of energy resources (ENR), attempts to resolve Israel and Lebanon’s competing claims over offshore gas deposits in the region.
According to The Times of Israel, Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser and senior negotiator at the talks, said in a statement on Tuesday morning, “All our demands were honored, the revisions that we requested were remedied.” We safeguarded Israel’s security interests and are nearing a historic accord.”
The announcement came shortly after Lebanon’s representative, Elias Bou Saab, stated that the accord had allayed the country’s earlier misgivings. According to Saab, the latest draft “takes into account all of Lebanon’s criteria,” and “we believe that the other side should feel the same.”
The dispute dates back to 2011 when the two countries claimed overlapping borders in the Mediterranean Sea. Because both countries were technically at war, the UN was called to mediate.
According to a BBC piece from 2011, the problem gained prominence after Israel discovered two gas resources off its coast a decade ago, which experts hoped may help it become an energy exporter.
While Israel currently produces natural gas in adjacent locations, this deal resolves a territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean sea, where Lebanon wants to explore natural gas. The gas field in question is located on the two countries’ maritime border, and this deal would allow both countries to receive royalties from the gas. It also establishes a border between Lebanon’s and Israel’s coastal waters for the first time.
According to the New York Times, the accord will also avert the immediate possibility of a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, after fears of escalation if negotiations failed. According to the newspaper, analysts anticipate that the agreement will provide new sources of energy and cash for both nations, which is especially crucial for Lebanon, which is experiencing devastating energy and financial issues.
It could also have a broader impact, it could give Europe a fresh source of gas during energy shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The accord excludes the contentious shared land border between Israel and Lebanon, where both nations have agreed to a cease-fire. This is also known as the Blue Line, which was established by the United Nations after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
The United Nations forces are currently patrolling this land boundary. According to source, resolving the land boundary conflict between Lebanon and Israel is far more difficult, and it lacks the urgency of the oil component. Furthermore, any resolution to this land boundary would most likely be contingent on a broader peace agreement, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, according to the source article.
The Blue Line is a demarcation line created by the United Nations on June 7, 2000, between Lebanon and Israel, as well as Lebanon and the Golan Heights, to assess if Israel has fully withdrawn from Lebanon. It has been referred to as a “line of withdrawal” rather than a border.
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