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Israel, Lebanon Said on Verge of Maritime Border Talks

Israel and Lebanon are expected to launch direct maritime-boundary talks following initial negotiations conducted by Assistant US Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker, who has been shuttling around the region. An Israeli official who requested anonymity told the Associated Press that Israel’s delegation would be led by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. Due to the discovery and exploitation of numerous offshore gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, the importance of demarcating international maritime boundaries has taken on additional urgency. The site for talks is expected to be a United Nations facility in southern Lebanon. If they actually get underway, it is believed that Hizbullah, the powerful Iran-backed Lebanese political party and militia, will have given its tacit approval. Israel and Lebanon remain in an official state of war, and many believe that Hizbullah would be key to any changes in that status – although the Shi’ite group insists it will never countenance Israel’s existence.