Israel Must Force Lebanon to the Table by Extracting Gas
A ship operated by the London-based Energean company brings a new drilling platform to Mediterranean waters that Israel says are part of Israel’s economic zone, not a disputed area as Lebanon claims. (Twitter)

Israel Must Force Lebanon to the Table by Extracting Gas

Ma’ariv, Israel, June 9

The voices emanating from Lebanon call for a hardening of the country’s position vis-à-vis Israel regarding the demarcation of the maritime border between the two countries. After last month’s general election, there was a false hope that Beirut would prefer to reach a compromise that would allow it to extract gas from the ocean and ensure adequate revenue for the state coffers. More than a decade ago, Israel and Lebanon conveyed their position on the issue to the United Nations. The two countries agreed that the dispute between them is over an area of only 860 square kilometers. They sought Washington’s assistance in resolving this dispute. The American diplomat Frederick Hoff, who was in charge of dealing with the issue, drew a straight line from Metula and divided the area of dispute between the two countries, with Lebanon receiving 57% of it, and the rest being allocated to Israel. Israel agreed but Lebanon did not because according to this outline, part of the Lebanese Qana gas field was to remain in Israeli hands. Hezbollah opposed this, arguing that gas production by Israel and Lebanon in Qana would require cooperation between them, thereby paving the way to normalization. At the end of 2020, contacts between Israel and Lebanon, with American mediation, resumed. However, following pressure from the Lebanese army, studies by a British company, and the opinion of international experts, Lebanon changed its position and began to demand an area of 1,460 square kilometers in addition to the 860 square kilometers already under discussion. Of course, Israel objected, mostly because the Karish gas field, which is currently in Israeli hands, would be transferred entirely to Lebanon under such an arrangement. The president of the United States appointed a new mediator, the Israeli American Amos Hochstein. Hochstein made a proposal that sums up two main points: One is that the discussions between the parties will take place according to the initial area of dispute (i.e., 860 square kilometers). The second point is to redraw Hoff’s line in a way that would leave Lebanon full sovereignty over Qana. Lebanon has rejected this proposal, and as stated, the voices stemming from Beirut today are demanding that Lebanon’s position be hardened. At the beginning of this year, Israel and Lebanon warned each other in writing not to produce gas from the disputed territory. If Lebanon submits an official complaint to the UN canceling the previous one submitted in 2011 and makes a formal demand for the larger area in question, we will find ourselves back at square one, and tensions between the two countries will rise. It is possible that the Americans, who invited the head of the Lebanese security service, Abbas Ibrahim, to the White House, raised the issue with him. America’s intervention now is cardinal. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, whose party status has weakened in recent elections, could play the naval demarcation card to advance his agenda to elect his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, an ally of Hizbullah, as the next president. Israel can shuffle the cards by extracting gas from its disputed territory without waiting for a resolution, forcing Lebanon to return to the negotiating table with intentions of reaching a compromise. –Yitzhak Levanon (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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