Lebanon softens demands in Israeli maritime border negotiations

Beirut drops demand for Israel’s Karish offshore gas field – but insists on claiming another potential gas field.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Lebanon is dropping its more extreme position in indirect negotiations with Israel regarding the maritime borders between the two countries, Globes reported this week.

While the decade-long talks had focused on what is known as Line 23, a triangle of 860 square kilometers of water, Beirut had suddenly claimed last December that the border should be set further south, at Line 29. The boundaries claimed by Lebanon would span an additional 1,460 sq. kilometers of water, including Israel’s Karish offshore gas field.

Israel has firmly rejected this demand. It warned both Lebanon and “all relevant third parties” against any unauthorized drilling activity in the area, saying they would be held legally liable if they participated in any “non-consensual economic activity in Israeli maritime areas.”

Gas development companies have indeed stayed away from the entire dispute, and any potential energy sources that could help Israel’s northern neighbor with its severe electricity crisis have remained untapped.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has now gone back to offering Line 23 as the border, but with an additional 300 square kilometers that would include the entirety of a potential gas field called Kana. Line 23 cuts across Kana, but Jerusalem may be amenable to a compromise on the issue, considering Lebanon’s desperate energy needs and the gas Israel is already exploiting from its other offshore fields.

It would be a face-saving measure for Aoun to say that he had “exchanged” the Karish field for full rights to Kana.

Globes added that Aoun made the proposal verbally to U.S. mediator Amos Hochstein instead of in writing, so that the terror organization Hezbollah — which is part of the Lebanese government and is taking a hard line in the dispute — would not get wind of it ahead of time.

Earlier this month, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that the recent arrival of Greek company Energean’s floating rig to start extracting gas from the Karish field off of Israel’s coast was an attack on Lebanese sovereignty and would not go unanswered.

“All possibilities are open for the resistance,” he said. “We don’t want war, but do not fear it. Israel must cease its activities in the Karish field and send the ship back quickly and immediately.”

Another senior Hezbollah figure, Nabil Kauk, threatened that “missiles of resistance can harm Israel’s strategic installations,” in an oblique reference to the offshore fields.

The IDF responded that its forces could protect Israel’s vital infrastructure and warned Lebanon against testing it.