Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks may be in trouble

Source in U.S.-brokered talks to delineate valuable offshore oil fields says “chances of success are less than 50%.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A source involved in the talks between Israel and Lebanon to set their offshore maritime border said new Lebanese demands are endangering the success of the negotiations, Kan News reported over the weekend.

The source estimated that the chances of success of the talks being mediated by the United States are less than 50% after the second round of unprecedented negotiations ended Thursday between the two countries that have no diplomatic relations.

Israel is already developing its extensive offshore gas and oil fields, but politically divided and nearly bankrupt Lebanon has been hard-pressed to make the national decisions and muster the resources to start developing their own fields.

However, the offshore fields appear to cross maritime boundaries that have never been formally declared, and with their country facing an economic crisis the Lebanese relented to sitting in the same room with Israeli negotiators in order to reach an agreement. The Lebanese refuse to talk directly to the Israelis, so the Americans act as the intermediaries.

The source said talks will continue later this month, but the Lebanese side presented a map that goes far beyond the sea border line Lebanon itself submitted to the UN in 2010. The source also said Israel respects the line previously agreed to with the UN and called on the Lebanese to return to the original line of disagreement and not create further disputes.

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The London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted a source from Israel’s Energy Ministry saying that the new Lebanese request to expand the disputed area was an attempt to gain control of the Israeli gas fields and is vastly different from the demands that Lebanon put forward 10 years ago.

In the talks at Naqoura, just north of the Israel-Lebanon border, the Lebanese are reportedly demanding an additional 1,430 square kilometers of the Israeli zone in offshore waters, as opposed to the original ​​850 square kilometer area.

Channel 12 news reported the request came from Lebanese army commander General Joseph Aoun, who told the committee the border should reflect the original borders drawn between Britain and France, which controlled the region during the British mandate period in 1923.

Aoun is no relation to Lebanese President Michel Aoun. During his military career he trained several times in the U.S. and is fluent in Arabic, English and French.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that members of the Lebanese Hezbollah on Wednesday attacked reporters covering the talks, demanding the journalists leave the area.

“As we were covering the negotiation session in Naqoura and after obtaining permission from the Lebanese army, three young men expelled us from the area,” Lebanon TV correspondent Nayla Shahwan said on Facebook, adding that when she tried to contact her TV station the men seized her phone and equipment and “gave us 3 minutes to leave.”

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The Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group controls the southern part of Lebanon where the talks were held, in violation of UN Resolution 1701 that was passed in 2006 in a bid to disarm Hezbollah and give the Lebanese central government control over the area. Hezbollah refuses to comply and continuously threatens to attack Israel.