Israel-Lebanon maritime border offer to be delivered by end of the week

It is hoped the offer, if agreed upon, will bring struggling Lebanon one step close to a final agreement on the maritime border delineation

Israel is preparing to activate an offshore gas field near its disputed maritime border with Lebanon, aiming to boost energy exports to Europe but risking further tensions with its northern neighbour. AFP
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A written offer concerning maritime border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel will be presented to Lebanese officials by the end of the week, Lebanon's presidency said on Monday.

Deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab was in New York last week for talks with Amos Hochstein, the Israeli-born US diplomat mediating the maritime demarcation between the two countries, and briefed President Michel Aoun on the outcome, the presidency tweeted.

A source close to the negotiations underscored that a written offer would not constitute a formal agreement.

"It's not a formal agreement. We are just expecting to receive Hochstein's written proposal for the border delineation," the source said, adding the offer would finalise what was previously a verbal proposal.

"The Lebanese side gets a copy and the Israeli side gets an identical copy," the source said. If both sides agree to the terms of the offer they would then hold an indirect meeting in Ras el Naqoura ― the international border crossing between Lebanon and Israel ― to finalise details through US mediation.

Maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel have proceeded at a distinctly faster pace since June, when tensions rose over an Israeli-contracted gas drilling ship's arrival near a disputed gas field. The talks had previously been stalled since last year.

The presence of the ship escalated tensions between the two enemy nations — technically at war since 1948. Upon the drilling rig's arrival at Karish, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group ― a Lebanese political party and paramilitary group designated as a terrorist organisation by the US, threatened to launch an attack if Israel extracted from the field before an agreement had been signed.

US, Lebanese and Israeli officials have for weeks heralded hopes that an agreement between Lebanon and Israel could be reached within days, following Mr Hochstein's speedy visit to the region in early September during which he met with Lebanese officials.

In an exclusive interview with The National, caretaker foreign minister of Lebanon Abdullah Bou Habib last week said a maritime deal had reached its final stages and confirmed that Hezbollah would neither block nor support a maritime deal between Lebanon and Israel.

“Hezbollah has no issue whatsoever with any agreement we reach as a state, I heard it from them and others did too,” Mr Bou Habib told The National last week.

But Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati shared a more reserved stance last week in an interview with London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

The border file is "not final yet," he told the newspaper.

Since a maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel began in 2007, various rounds of US-mediated negotiations have taken place ― all falling short of a signed agreement.

The maritime dispute involves an 860-square-kilometre section of the eastern Mediterranean which is thought to be an area rich in hydrocarbons.

Israel seeks to partially fill the global energy gap left by Russia's war in Ukraine.

Lebanon hopes the discovery of hydrocarbons on its side of the border would contribute to its desperately needed economic recovery.

Since 2019, Lebanon has suffered one of the most severe economic crises to hit the world since the mid-19th century.

The UN says about 80 per cent of the previously upper-middle-income nation’s population has slipped into poverty.

Updated: September 26, 2022, 4:12 PM