Israel and Lebanon Reach Landmark Maritime Agreement

Lebanon and Israel said they reached “an agreement” after both sides approved the latest draft of a US-brokered deal that settles a maritime border dispute in a gas-rich part of the Mediterranean Sea.

The accord could pave the way for both countries to ramp up offshore gas production, including Israeli exports to Europe, which is desperate for more supplies after Russia cut flows after invading Ukraine. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement that the agreement will “inject billions into Israel’s economy,” while a tweet from the Lebanese president’s office said that it “preserves its rights to its natural wealth.” 

If ratified by both sides, the deal is expected to avert the immediate threat of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, and could eventually help salve energy shortages.

Israel and Lebanon have agreed to a draft deal to resolve a decades-old dispute over the control of an eastern stretch of the Mediterranean Sea, the two countries announced on Tuesday, in a major diplomatic breakthrough between two neighbors that technically remain at war and have no direct official relations.

The deal makes it easier for energy companies to extract gas from the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea.

The deal would allocate drilling rights at Qana gas field to Lebanon and confirm Israeli control of Karish field to the south, safeguarding new sources of energy and income for both countries.

Officials and analysts hope the deal will give Israel more security, allow Lebanon greater leeway in the future to salve its crippling energy and financial crises, and provide Europe with a potential new source of gas amid energy shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The office of the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, said in a statement on Tuesday morning that the draft deal satisfied “Lebanon, meets its demands and preserves its rights to its natural resources.”

Minutes later, the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, said in a statement: “This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, bring billions into Israel’s economy and ensure stability on the northern border.”

President Biden later called the deal “a historic breakthrough in the Middle East,” one that was “setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region, and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world.”

Mediated and guaranteed by the United States, the deal is much more limited than the sweeping normalization ones that established full diplomatic ties between Israel and three Arab states in 2020, after years of Israeli isolation in the Middle East.

The deal represented a significant breakthrough for two countries that have a long history of conflict. Israel occupied parts of southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, and fought a monthlong war in 2006 with Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese militia, that killed more than 1,500 Lebanese civilians.

The deal settled a decades-old dispute about the location of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean, demarcating where both countries have the sole right to extract resources.

Lebanon also recognized Israel’s existing control of a three-mile-wide stretch of water closest to their shared coast, while Israel allowed Lebanon the right to drill in a previously contested gas field that stretches between the Israeli and Lebanese economic zones.

If ratified by both governments, the deal would allow Israel to proceed with drilling at the Karish gas field without fear of reprisals from Hezbollah.

In exchange, Israel will receive compensation for any gas taken from the section of the field, known as Qana, which is within the Israeli zone.

Officials are still unsure how much gas is in the Qana field. In any case, it will take years to extract and distribute to Lebanese consumers, or sell to foreign markets.

To monetize cash from such a field takes years, but it’s a good step moving forward toward growing the economy and successful governance in Lebanon.

Brokered by a U.S. envoy, Amos Hochstein, the deal also bolsters European governments seeking to find long-term alternatives to Russian gas, amid growing fuel shortages in Europe created by the war in Ukraine.