Israel signs Lebanon sea deal

Israel and Lebanon sign a maritime delineation agreement – which US President Joe Biden proclaims to be of historic proportions.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has officially signed the maritime border delineation deal with Lebanon – setting the final stages of ratification into motion merely five days before Israel’s national parliamentary elections.

Speaking at a special cabinet meeting ahead of the ceremony, the Premier proclaimed the United States-mediated deal has benefited the State of Israel “in security, economically, diplomatically and in energy.”

While American security guarantees remained classified, Prime Minister Lapid stated that, “this agreement strengthens Israel’s security and our freedom of action against Hezbollah and the threats to our north. There is rare consensus in the security establishment regarding the necessity of this agreement. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the IDF, the Mossad, the ISA (Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet) and the NSC (National Security Council) – everyone has signed off on this agreement and its contribution to Israel’s security and our operational needs.”

Lapid further highlighted that the deal marks a major diplomatic achievement.

“It is not every day that an enemy state recognizes the State of Israel, in a written agreement, in view of the international community,” he emphasized, adding, “It is not every day the United States and France stand behind us and provide security and economic guarantees for this agreement.”

Specifying that the agreement “is also an economic achievement;” Prime Minister Lapid went on to say that gas production began from Israel’s offshore Karish rig, and that the country will receive 17% of the profits from Lebanon’s Qana-Sidon field. “This money will go into Israel’s economy and will be used for health and welfare, education and security,” he vowed, while also commend Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and her staff for managing this aspect of the agreement.

Washington’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, who negotiated the maritime delineation agreement between Jerusalem and Beirut, voiced hope that the benefits of the new deal would be felt by the Lebanese people.

“I think what’s important now that we reached this milestone is not just this milestone but what happens from here and I truly believe and hope that this could be an economic turning point in Lebanon for a new era of investments and continued support to lift up the economy and make sure that whatever arrangements happen they are done openly, transparently and making sure that the benefits are felt directly by all the Lebanese people, “said the US envoy, speaking from Beirut.

Further underscoring that there is nothing in the deal that could hinder activity by French and Italian companies which have secured exploration rights in the newly- acquired Lebanese maritime territory, he stated that, “This agreement allows for the beginning of the work by the block 9 operators led by Total and ENI to begin investments and exploration to see what is available,” which will not “take any of the revenues away or the gas away from the Lebanese people.”

While it remains to be seen whether the offshore reservoir in the Lebanese territory of the Mediterranean Sea contains gas or not, the American envoy voiced confidence that neither side would violate the maritime agreement.

“The most important piece if this agreement is that it is entirely in the interest of each country to not violate it and to move forward,” he said, emphasizing that, “Everybody in this agreement wins if both sides continue to implement it. If one side violates it both sides lose, and therefore i don’t believe we are going to have that concern.”

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun earlier signed a letter approving a landmark deal, the Arab Republic’s top negotiator told reporters.

Speaking from the presidential palace, Elias Bou Saab said it marked the beginning of a “new era” and that the letter would be submitted to US officials at Lebanon’s southernmost border point of Naqoura today.