Lebanon seeks changes to sea deal with Israel

Jerusalem’s security cabinet is meeting today to discuss a prospective United States-mediated border demarcation deal with Lebanon addressing a disputed Mediterranean gas field, as Beirut expressed fresh reservations over terms of the agreement.

By Erin Viner

The proposal was presented by US Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein last week, aimed at paving the way for offshore energy exploration and potential profit-sharing in a disputed Mediterranean gas prospect while hopefully helping to defuse one potential source of conflict between Israel and the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization.

Lebanon submitted a list of changes it wants in the draft to the US Embassy in Beirut on Tuesday, revealed a top Lebanese official.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elias Bou Saab said a list of “amendments” were given US Ambassador in Lebanon Dorothy Shea.

The draft deal, which has not been made public, has had a mostly warm preliminary reception by the Israeli and Lebanese governments. There has also been, however, domestic opposition expressed in both countries – which are technically in a state of war.

Israel has already granted preliminary approval of the 10-page draft agreement.

“We are discussing the final details, so it is not yet possible to praise a done deal; however, as we have demanded from the start, the proposal safeguards Israel’s full security-diplomatic interests, as well as our economic interests,” announced Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid at the start of his weekly Cabinet session this past Sunday.

“For over a decade, Israel has been trying to reach this deal,” said Prime Minister Lapid, pointing out that it would lead to the strengthening of national security in the north of the country; while additionally, the offshore “Karish field will operate and produce natural gas. Money will flow into the state’s coffers and our energy independence will be secured. This deal strengthens Israel’s security and Israel’s economy.”

Washington has been trying to broker indirect demarcation talks between Beirut and Jerusalem in a process that began in 2000, to determine sovereignty over offshore oil and gas resources to pave the way for more exploration.

This is not the first time Lebanon has demanded alteration to existing understandings.

Israel proposed a 58:42 division in favor of Lebanon when negotiations were resumed last year, but an impasse was reached after Lebanon nearly tripled its claim by around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) over the initial Decree 6433 Lebanon submitted to the United Nations in 2011. The new Lebanese claim angles farther south, placing an 860-square kilometer triangle in the Mediterranean (amounting to about 2% of Israel’s economic waters) at stake, including the northern end of the Karish field which Jerusalem firmly maintains is part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll said the security cabinet – a generally secret forum for approving key strategic affairs will convene today at 4 PM to review the agreement, after which it will submitted to the full government and the Knesset.

A senior Israeli official warned today that the deal would be jeopardized if the Lebanese demands amount to significant changes.