Lebanon and Israel sign an agreement to delineate their maritime borders
On October 27, Lebanon and Israel signed a historic agreement demarcating the maritime borders between them. The signing, which took place by each country separately, came after months of shuttle diplomacy that the US envoy to the two countries, Amos Hochstein, conducted through indirect negotiations.
The formal signing of the agreement before the end of October is an important achievement for the American mediator and the two parties to the agreement, as the term of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who is authorized to sign the agreement on the Lebanese side, ends on October 31, knowing that Lebanon is expected to enter into a presidential vacuum that extends could extend for a prolonged period, with the absence of consensus on a presidential candidate who can obtain the vote of a sufficient number of deputies.
On the Israeli side, the Knesset elections will be held on November 1, and in the event the right-wing wins the elections, it intended to block the agreement and renegotiate its terms.
The agreement is to end a long-running dispute between the two countries over an area of 860 square kilometres, supposedly rich in oil and gas. The final agreement approved Line 23 gives Israel the entire Karish gas field, and Lebanon, in return, gets the Qana field.
Implicitly, the agreement was made between Israel and Hezbollah, which controls the decision-making establishment in Lebanon, as it was not possible to reach this moment without the party’s full approval of it, knowing that the party was declaring throughout the indirect negotiations that it does not interfere in this, and that it stands behind what is decided by the Lebanese state, while confirming that it is ready to move militarily if needed. The same thing was also announced by Israel through its threat to respond to any targeting of drilling facilities.
The approval of the new maritime demarcation means legal recognition by the party and its axis for the first time of the borders of Israel, as refusing to recognize these borders was previously one of the founding values of the axis. In parallel, Hezbollah's political opponents in Lebanon accused both the party and its ally, Aoun, of making concessions to Israel from the Lebanese share in the offshore fields.
Theoretically, the demarcation of the border brings close economic benefits to both parties, as they can directly exploit the gas fields in the region. However, in addition to Lebanon needing time - perhaps years - to finish the exploration process and start a possible extraction of gas, it will be less able to take advantage of this opportunity, given the weak economic and logistical infrastructure in the field of energy, and given its political fragility, which impedes the completion of major projects, which It always faces the obstacles of sectarian and partisan quotas.
Lebanon is already suffering from the absence of energy resources, which makes its ability to export gas quite limited, even after its extraction; despite the fact that this gas is supposed to help Lebanon solve its chronic electricity crisis. On the other hand, Israel is ready in all respects to extract gas immediately, and it was announced on October 27 - before the signing of the agreement - that gas extraction operations would begin.
In addition to the direct effects of the agreement on the two countries, Europe is the main beneficiary of reaching such an agreement, as the gas extracted from this region can fill an essential part of European needs, at a time when the countries of the continent are seeking to search for new sources to help them get rid of of its dependence on Russian gas.
The United States is also one of the main beneficiaries of the agreement between Lebanon and Israel; firstly because it is recorded as a success for the American administration headed by Joe Biden, as it was achieved through the US’s sponsorship and indirect negotiations, and secondly because Washington has been working actively for months to compel and help Europe to abandon its previous dependence on Russian energy. Israeli gas represents an ideal option for the United States, given that the new partnership between Europe and Israel will benefit allies on both sides of the relationship.
It is too early to talk about whether the maritime demarcation agreement will lead to other political or economic agreements between Israel and Lebanon, but it certainly establishes the necessary ground for reaching new understandings. Negotiating with Israel is no longer objectionable in Lebanon after it received the support and blessing of the "resistance current." Despite Hezbollah's attempt to stress that this agreement does not mean a breach in the relations between Lebanon and Israel, people close to the party likened it to the "April Understanding" in 1996, which followed the war known as the "Grapes of Wrath".
On the other hand, the political mood in Israel has tended to accept partial understandings that help normalize relations with the countries of the region, including Lebanon, as steps in the right direction to achieve Israeli interests, at least on the economic and security levels.