US hopes to seal Israeli-Lebanese naval deal to release more gas for Lebanon | JNS

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In recent days, Lebanese President Michel Aoun told a UN envoy his country was ready to return to indirect negotiations with Israel over the maritime border between the two countries.

Days later, US envoy to the sea negotiations, Amos Hochstein, began shuttle diplomacy, which included meetings with Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and scheduled meetings with Lebanese officials in Beirut.

The developments represent an American push to seal a border deal as part of Washington’s broader desire to bring additional gas to Lebanon, Maj. (res.) Tal Beeri, chief of research at the Alma Center, a defense research center in northern Israel, said JNS.

“Americans are pushing hard for an agreement,” he said.

Last year, regional Arab states and the United States worked out the details of a plan aimed at bailing out Lebanon from its deep energy crisis by sending Egyptian natural gas to the Lebanon is transported to supply the Lebanese Deir Ammar power plant with a capacity of 450 megawatts. In addition, according to the plan, Jordan will connect its power grid to that of Lebanon via Syria to increase electricity supply.

Aoun’s announcement comes after Lebanon found itself “on the bench” again on the issue of undersea gas reserves as other regional actors finalized sea borders and secured their access to such resources, said Beeri, who served in the Israel Defense Forces military for 20 years Intelligence Directorate.

“Lebanon has long been out of the economic waters game. The Syrians have “bitten off” the gas reserves in the north – and the maritime border between Syria and Lebanon has never been definitively determined,” Beeri noted.

Instead, in 2011, Lebanon demarcated its maritime borders independently, which led to a rare complaint from Syria to the United Nations over the issue in 2014.

As things stand, Syria’s Block 1 zone overlaps with Lebanese Block 2 zone – meaning Syria has claimed 750 square kilometers of sea space and started exploring for gas with Russian company Capital Oil.

Since then, “no one in the Lebanese government has dared to confront the Syrians,” Beeri said. “The Syrians have been conducting gas searches and nobody in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, has said a word. The only exception is the protest of the leader in this regard [Christian Lebanese movement] Lebanese Armed Forces, Samir Gaegae, in 2021,” he stated.

Syria and Russia are not the only winners in this situation; Hezbollah is likely to receive “gas coupons” from discoveries in the area from the Syrian Bashar Assad regime in the event of a gas field discovery.

“No green light for normalization with Israel”

Meanwhile, Lebanon is also excluded from other regional agreements due to its paralysis. In 2010, Israel and Cyprus signed a former maritime border agreement that gave Cyprus access to the Aphrodite gas field.

“Lebanon did not want to participate because of Israel’s involvement; So it stayed outside of the talks,” Beeri said. Now Beirut sees itself able to complete only one sea area – the southern sea zone where the Karish gas field is located.

Beeri noted that the country “has decided that it must take its stance to the extreme to avoid another defeat”.

This approach has led to Lebanon demanding a southern maritime border in 2021, well south of the line presented in 2010. The line “coincidentally” runs halfway through the well-known Karish gas field zone – meaning demand is expected Lebanon can hire companies to simply arrive and start drilling, skipping the lengthy search phase, Beeri pointed out.

For its part, Hezbollah has allowed the Lebanese government to participate in indirect talks, primarily for economic reasons.

“It is clear that part of the gas profits will ‘flow’ into Hezbollah’s accounts,” Beeri said. “Furthermore, politically it doesn’t want to be remembered as the side that prevented Lebanon from reaching gas. As a result, it is suddenly adopting ‘moderate’ positions and allowing negotiations after years of Lebanon facing an economic crisis directly affected by Hezbollah’s activities.”

Although Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah routinely accuses Israel of stealing Lebanese resources, including gas, the Lebanese terrorist organization has kept the issue within the purview of the Lebanese government.

Her main concern, Beeri said, is to make it known that she is not a side of the negotiations with Israel and to market herself as a defender of Lebanese borders.

“Hezbollah always emphasizes that the negotiations are part of a national Lebanese demand, but not a green light for normalization with Israel,” Beeri said. “Hezbollah tells a story that this is a purely military-technical matter, not a normalization affair. That there are no political ties between Israel and Lebanon.

“When former Lebanon Minister of Foreign Affairs Jubran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and President Aoun’s nephew, offered in April 2021 to speed up talks by co-investing in a third-party gas exploration company with Israel, he was told by the Hezbollah strongly reprimanded,” Beeri noted. “Hezbollah wants to dance at two weddings – to say that it is present on this issue, but also that it is absent.”

Post-US hopes of sealing an Israeli-Lebanese naval deal to release more gas for Lebanon first appeared on JNS.org.

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