US energy envoy in Beirut as Israel, Lebanon eye maritime border deal

Amos Hochstein’s trip comes just days after media cited Israeli officials as saying that the longstanding border dispute was “on the verge of a solution.”

By JNS

U.S. Senior Adviser for Energy Security Amos Hochstein was due in Beirut on Sunday as part of an ongoing effort to mediate indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon aimed at resolving a longstanding maritime border dispute, according to a State Department statement.

During his visit, Hochstein will “discuss sustainable solutions to Lebanon’s energy crisis, including the Biden administration’s commitment to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on the maritime boundary. Reaching a resolution is both necessary and possible, but can only be done through negotiations and diplomacy,” the statement read.

The trip comes just days after local media cited Israeli officials as saying that the dispute was “on the verge of a solution,” and that Hochstein would present a draft compromise proposal enabling both countries to drill for gas in the contested Karish field.

“In Israel, the declarations by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah are being viewed as an attempt to frame the latest development, so that if an agreement is reached on the maritime dispute, it will be [seen as being] due to his declarations and actions,” the officials told Kan.

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Nasrallah last week threatened war if Israel begins extracting gas from its offshore Karish field in the absence of a deal with Beirut.

“If the extraction of oil and gas from Karish begins in September before Lebanon obtains its right, we would be heading to a ‘problem,’ and we’ll do anything to achieve our objective,” Nasrallah told the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV channel, according to Lebanese news site Naharnet.

Previous U.S.-mediated talks failed to produce an agreement, especially after Lebanon pushed its claim in the disputed maritime zone from a boundary known as “Line 23” further south to “Line 29,” adding around 1,400 square kilometers (540 square miles) to its claim, including part of Karish.

On July 2, the Israel Defense Forces shot down three unmanned aerial vehicles sent by Hezbollah from Lebanon towards the Karish platform, which is located some 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the coast of Haifa.