What Led to the Lebanon and Israel Maritime Border Deal?

Israel and Lebanon, two of the most bitter enemies, have finally reached an agreement over the location of their maritime border. The topic of who has the authority to drill for natural gas in disputed waters off the coast of the Mediterranean was the most important aspect of this deal. After more than a decade of mediation by the United States and some recent threats made by the Hezbollah in Lebanon, a compromise about drilling rights was finally struck. Additionally, it has been speculated that this transaction would be regarded as a “turning point” in the history books and that it will be beneficial to all parties involved. Additionally, it is the most significant step forward in terms of diplomatic relations between the two countries in recent times. On the other hand, recent developments in international politics have brought a number of previously resolved controversial issues back into the spotlight. All of these issues, from the crisis in Ukraine to the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, have deep roots in the past and are starting to resurface as issues that are relevant in the present day. The recent conflicts and sanctions imposed on the global economy have started to have an effect on the agricultural and energy sectors that has never been seen before. In addition to that, the economy of the globe has been impacted by a range of crises, such as inflation, food shortages, and the depletion of energy resources. When seen from this angle, the border deal between the two countries that have been at odds for a very long period demonstrates how vital it is to negotiate and search for a resolution.

The dispute 

To comprehend this conflict and the border agreement, one must first grasp the international rules that underpin both. The authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is at the heart of the issue. States are entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off their coast under this treaty. Lebanon adopted UNCLOS in 2011 and presented its proposed boundary to the UN. However, Israel never signed the pact but usually conforms to it and simultaneously presented its proposed boundary to the UN. On the other hand, Lebanon does not recognize Israel and has no diplomatic ties with it. Instead, when proposing treaties to the UN, Lebanon refers to Israel as “the state of Palestine,” and the two nations must depend on third parties to conclude agreements. And here is where the disagreement occurred.

The deal 

The parties have agreed to use the United States as a mediator in the event that cross-border deposits are discovered. The agreement also establishes, for the first time, a boundary between Lebanese and Israeli waterways, mostly along a delineation called Line 23. Since negotiating Line 23 would include giving up territory in the Karish field to the Israelis, splitting the Qana gas field, and lowering Lebanon’s share of Blocks 8 and 9, Lebanon was initially hostile to the idea. The deal states that Israel’ will keep all rights to develop the Karish field, while Lebanon will keep all rights to Qana (with one exception). Due to Qana’s extension southward over Line 23, Israel was able to get a royalty share via a separate arrangement with Total, the French company that operates Block 9. Moreover, in the future, unless already agreed upon bilaterally, neither party will submit any additional charts or coordinates to the United Nations.

Reasons behind the deal for Israel and Lebanon 

Put an end to the border issue and start talking about peace

The deal clarifies the sea borders between the two countries, which have been a bone of contention between them for many years (though it does not touch the 50-mile Israel-Lebanon land border, which remains highly contested). Importantly, the maritime arrangement seems to have received the (grudging) acceptance of Hezbollah’s leadership, which has, for weeks, indicated support for the leadership of the Lebanese government in the negotiations. This is a significant development. An additional advantage of the deal for many Lebanese is that it improves energy access for the people of Lebanon. At the moment, the majority of residents in Lebanon have only two hours of power per day, so this deal will improve the residents’ quality of life and stability, albeit slightly, in a country that is experiencing a cascade of problems. Because of the agreement, the degree of tension that exists between Israel and Lebanon will decrease, and it will be less likely that these two countries would battle in the near future. Even though the agreement is limited and is not a peace deal between the two warring countries, it is still an important step forward because it shows that Lebanon recognizes Israel in a “soft” way. On the Lebanese side of things, the agreement was one of the few instances in which all of Lebanon’s various political groupings came to a consensus on anything.

To discover untapped natural resources

If the area in question were a completely uninhabited body of water, the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon would be moot. There is oil and gas in the oceans off the coast of Israel. It is hypothesized that the waters off the coast of Lebanon contain some, with reserves believed to extend into the contested zone. Seismic research suggests that Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) may contain 25 trillion cubic feet (tcfg) of natural gas. This would be a major windfall worth billions of euros for a state whose economy have been in a holding pattern for the last several decades.

An economic relief for Lebanon 

This arrangement might signal the beginnings of a vital cash stream for Lebanon’s weak economy. Lebanon’s government is so split that the nation has been in a four-year financial crisis. This maritime border accord will considerably help Lebanon’s present crisis position. The accord would boost foreign trust and bring “hope” to Lebanon’s young people. The deal allows for gas development at the Qana prospect, which is located inside Lebanon’s exploration zone but crosses into Israeli waters. Despite the fact that the Qana gas field has yet to be completely explored, its potential richness is well acknowledged across Lebanon. If natural gas is found in Qana, drilling and exploration might commence in Lebanon via a collaboration led by Total, the French energy firm. In return, Lebanon would pay Israel royalties. The agreement is a positive move for Lebanon’s economy.

Israel’s plan of producing gas for Europe 

Europe’s gas issue is worsening. Governments are doing all they can to protect customers from price increases, but the problem worsened when explosions damaged Nord Stream 1. It was Europe’s primary supplier of Russian gas. Israel has said that once a maritime agreement with Lebanon is reached, it would be able to begin producing oil and gas from its Karish field and exporting it to Europe within weeks. Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Lapid has often mentioned the role Israel can play in assisting Europe as it attempts to wean itself from Russian energy. 

A last-minute call just before the Israel’s election 

In just over three weeks, Israel will have its sixth election in less than four years. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might return to power in the November 1 election, unseating the current centrist caretaker Prime Minister Lapid. According to Lapid, the agreement is “historic” and a “win” for Israel on both security and economic grounds. So, Lapid expects the accord to be a political boon for him.

Economic benefits for Israel 

The deal is beneficial to Israel for a variety of economic and political reasons. Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the agreement in his statement, calling it “a historic victory that will boost Israel’s security, infuse billions into Israel’s economy, and preserve the stability of our northern border.” In terms of economics, the arrangement provides Israel with around 17% of income from Lebanon’s Qana-Sidon gas field.

It’s not even close to being a peace accord. Israel, on the other hand, has high expectations that the pact would bring peace to the volatile region along its northern border, while Lebanon has high hopes that the potential gas it discovers will be able to fix the country’s failing energy infrastructure and ultimately infuse income into its weak economy. On both sides, this is seen as the first step in working together on a solution. This agreement demonstrates that even under circumstances in which peace cannot be achieved, major actions with wider-ranging ramifications and possibilities may be implemented. Also, this deal has the potential to be a game-changer since it may pave the way for Israel and Lebanon to make strides toward more engagement for peace with one another.

[Photo by Fracois354, via Wikimedia Commons]

*S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Analyst at the Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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