Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid had rejected Lebanon’s requested modifications to the United States proposal on resolving the long-running maritime border dispute between the two countries, Israeli official with knowledge on the issue told The Times of Israel on October 6.
According to the unnamed official, Lapid also emphasized that he would not compromise on Israel’s economic and security interests even if it meant that there would be no deal with Lebanon in the near term.
The maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon returned to the spot light last June when the Greek-owned Energean Power FPSO [Floating Production Storage Offloading] reached the Karish naval field to extract gas for Israel. Lebanon claims that at least a part of the gas field is within its exclusive economic zone.
U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein sent a draft agreement to the Israeli and Lebanese governments at the weekend. The draft agreement had a mostly warm preliminary reception from the two sides back then.
Hezbollah has already warned Israel against extracting gas from Karish before the maritime border with Lebanon are demarcated.
The Israeli official warned Lebanese group against trying to strike Karish or threaten Israel, saying the talks would “end permanently, and [the group’s leader] Hassan Nasrallah will have to explain to Lebanese civilians why they don’t have gas rigs or an economic future.”
Despite Israel’s rejection of Lebanese modifications to the U.S. proposal, the Lebanese side is still optimistic. Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s lead negotiator, said that the maritime agreement was “90% done but the remaining 10% could make it or break it”.
From his side, Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that the agreement with Israel would avert a new wave.
“We are avoiding a definite war in the region,” the PM said he told Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi during a meeting in Bkerké. “When we unite and our decision is one, we can reach what we all want.”
A war between Israel and Lebanon will be hard to avoid if no maritime agreement is reached soon. While the U.S. does not appear to be interested in a new war in the Middle East, it will not likely do much to pressure Israel into easing its stand on the issue.
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