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Israeli gov’t approves Lebanon deal

Jerusalem’s Security Cabinet voted in favor of Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s summary of a United States-brokered draft agreement for the delineation of Israel’s maritime boundary with Lebanon – highlighting the importance of swiftly ratifying the deal.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

All three states involved in negotiating the deal have praised it as “an historic achievement.” If ratified, it would mark a diplomatic departure from decades of war and hostility as well as opening the door to offshore energy exploration.

At the culmination of the Security Cabinet’s meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office published Lapid’s briefing which notes “There is importance and urgency in reaching the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, at this time. The members of the Security Cabinet express their support for the Government of Israel to advance the agreement.”

Nevertheless, while most of the Security Cabinet Ministers supported of the transitional Premier’s position, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked vocally opposed the deal due to political considerations and abstained from the vote.

Israeli Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu also denounced the emerging deal.

“For over a decade, the governments under my leadership did not give in to (Lebanon’s Iran-backed head of Hezbollah Chief Hassan) Nasrallah’s threats, and there was no war. And then Lapid arrived – within three months he completely surrendered to all of Hezbollah‘s demands. On the day Lapid entered the Prime Minister’s office, Nasrallah sent UAVs to a gas rig in our territories, something he did not dare to do under the governments headed by me. He threatened Lapid, “By force of arms I will force Israel to surrender in negotiations.”

The former Prime Minister, who has vowed to stage a political comeback in the impending 1 November elections, also leveled addition accusations at his rival. He repeatedly accused his successor of being “frightened” and having “surrendered” to Hezbollah; denouncing the agreement with Lebanon as “Lapid’s Clearance Sale.” The Likud leader further asserted that his centrist rival’s capitulation to Hezbollah is proof he should not serve as the nation’s leader.

For his part, Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah declared that his group will closely monitor developments until the signing of any agreement with Israel.

“For us, when the Lebanese officials and the president announce the official Lebanese stance that agrees with this agreement and understanding, things would be done for the resistance (Hezbollah). But until then, we will remain vigilant,” Nasrallah said during a taped address to his followers from an undisclosed bunker in Beirut.

While the Hezbollah leader alluded to benefits expected to emerge from the maritime agreement for his internationally recognized terror organization; the US will reportedly provide written security-related guarantees to Israel, explicitly ruling out that any financial windfall from future Lebanese offshore gas exploration would be funneled to Hezbollah.

Following endorsement by the Israeli Cabinet, Knesset members and a parliamentary committee will now have 14 days to review terms of the deal before it can be presented for a final vote by the government.

Political sources say that Lebanese President Michel Aoun is also interested in fast-tracking the deal, to serve as his crowning achievement in office just ahead of the expiration of his six-year term on 31 October. Only the President, Prime Minister and Parliamentary Speaker are required to greenlight the signing, with which the the de facto ruling troika of the financially stricken Arab Republic has already expressed satisfaction.

Lebanon’s deep economic crisis was also an incentive for it to move quickly, as potential revenues from gas exploitation could help replenish state coffers or at least ease chronic electricity shortages.

TotalEnergies is set to begin exploration at the Qana prospect immediately after the deal takes effect, though Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayad acknowledged that preparations could take a number of months.

The agreement will officially be implemented after both Jerusalem and Beirut send formal letters to Washington, which would subsequently issue a notice announcing the deal is in place. That same day, Israel and Lebanon will simultaneously file corresponding maritime coordinates to the United Nations detailing the boundary’s location.

The development follows years of upheaval and diplomatic efforts by the United States to mediate indirect talks between the two warring states, in a process that began in 2000. Revival of talks aimed at reaching a settlement in 2021 stalled, and the matter was further complicated when Beirut not only expanded its claim by around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) over the initial Decree 6433 Lebanon submitted to the United Nations in 2011, but also failed to respond to an undisclosed proposal by a US envoy earlier this year to restart the talks.

Both Lapid and Aoun received congratulatory calls from US President Joe Biden.

Please find the entire texts of Israeli Prime Minister Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz‘ remarks at a special press conference held last night on the Maritime Agreement with Lebanon, alongside Minister of Energy Karin Elharar, as follows:

Prime Minister Lapid:

“Good evening, before anything else, I want to send all of our condolences to the families of Sergeant Noa Lazar z”l (of blessed memory) and Staff Sergeant Ido Baruch z”l (of blessed memory), who fell this week in the line of duty, defending the citizens of Israel. We will not rest until we apprehend their murderers. 

After months of complex negotiations which reached their peak in recent days, we have succeeded in reaching a diplomatic-economic agreement with Lebanon on a maritime boundary between our countries.

We refused the final demands raised by the Lebanese government last week, and they were removed from the final wording. Today, the agreement was presented before the Security Cabinet and the Government, both of whom approved by a large majority the continuation of this process. I thank President Joe Biden and President Emmanuel Macron for their support, backing, and assistance.

This is a great achievement for the State of Israel, for Israel’s security and for Israel’s economy.

This deal preserves the security of communities in the north as well as the freedom of action of the IDF and the Israeli Navy’s control of the area closest to the shoreline, on what is known as the Buoy Line. The security establishment made clear to the Security Cabinet and the Government that this agreement optimally meets our security needs. As the Chief of General Staff told the Government, it does not preserve our security, it enhances our security.

This agreement staves off the possibility of a military clash with Hezbollah. Israel is not afraid of Hezbollah. The IDF is stronger than any terror organization, and if we went out to battle, we would deal them a heavy blow. That being said, if it is possible to prevent war, it is the job of a responsible government to do so.

At every step of the way, we made it clear to the Lebanese — that with or without an agreement, Israel will not delay by even a single day, the production [of gas] from the Karish platform and will not give in to any threat. The Karish field is in our sovereign territory, and an attack on it is an attack on the State of Israel. We will not hesitate for a second to use force to defend our gas field.

This deal secures the energy security of the State of Israel and will bring in billions in revenue that every family in Israel will benefit from.

Israel will receive approximately 17% of the revenues from the Lebanese gas field, the Qana-Sidon field, if and when they will open it. We built this agreement with the Americans so that money from this field will not reach Hezbollah.

Now that negotiations have been concluded, the Government has approved placing the agreement on the table of the Knesset for 14 days, and this will already be done this evening. All classified intelligence materials that we cannot bring before the Knesset plenum, will be laid out before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

When the deal is brought before the public, everyone will be able to see for themselves what an historic achievement it is for Israel, and the extent to which the false and poisonous propaganda spread about it is disconnected from reality, done for political purposes, primarily by people who had not seen the deal and had no clue what was and was not in it.

This evening, I sent an invitation for a briefing to Opposition Leader Netanyahu, so he can know about the agreement and its details. We will invite all the opposition party heads for a briefing and show them the details of the deal for the first time.

This is an agreement signed off on by all the security bodies, that the United States and the international community are praising, that instead of war: brings the people of Israel billions in revenues and energy security for years to come.

I want to thank Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and her team, who truly have not slept for months. I want to thank the head of the negotiating team, National Security Advisor Dr. Eyal Hulata, Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alon Ushpiz, Military Secretary Maj.-Gen. Avi Gil, and all the staff of the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is a good deal for the State of Israel. For Israel’s security. For Israel’s economy. For the citizens of Israel. Thank you.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz:

“First, I would like to express my condolences and share in the grief of the families of Sergeant Noa Lazar and the late Staff Sergeant Ido Baruch. We are expanding our operations against terrorism in Judea and Samaria. We will get our hands on the terrorists and those who sent them, and we will dismantle the ‘nests’ of terrorism [in the area]. We are determined and we will defeat this terrorism.

Citizens of Israel, the State of Israel faces a variety of complex security challenges – from the Iranian threat and its proxies to the necessary fight against terrorism, and the operational reality in the north and south. We will have to continue facing them, including in the near future.

We must not forget even for a moment, that on our northern border stands a murderous terrorist organization, supported by Iran – an organization that holds tens of thousands of missiles. The IDF and all security forces will continue to stand guard. We will not allow Iranian entrenchment and the transfer of advanced military equipment to Syria and Lebanon, and we will do everything necessary to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel.

I wish to speak today as someone who began most of his military service for the State of Israel, in Lebanon over 40 years ago, as someone who knows the security reality on the ground, the costs of war, and if I may also say – the Lebanese people. 

The agreement we discuss today is important and just, and it serves the deepest interests of the State of Israel.

The agreement guarantees continued freedom of action in the area adjacent to the coast and wherever necessary. It establishes a new ‘security equation’ with regard to the sea and the strategic assets of the State of Israel, and has the potential to reduce Iran’s influence on Lebanon.

I would like to emphasize that we have not given up one ‘millimeter’ that is critical to our security.

Along with the security elements, the agreement is also important from an economic perspective. The agreement is also positive for the citizens of Lebanon and will help strengthen stability in the entire region.

Indeed, the maturity date of the agreement close to the elections is not optimal – but it is necessary and therefore right to accept and uphold it because currently face a window of opportunity that may close. This agreement is in the interest of the citizens of Israel.

In conclusion, I would like to thank our American partners, the leaders from other countries in the region who contributed to this process, and of course the head of the National Security Council, the people in the Ministry of Energy, the IDF and the Ministry of Defense who have worked tirelessly in recent months. I also thank the Prime Minister who leads and manages this important issue together with me, the Minister of Energy and the Cabinet.”