Gas or brake – which will Lebanon and Israel choose?


Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text

The gas issue remains one of the most pressing in the Middle East. This time, attention was drawn to it by the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who called the gas reserves on the Lebanese shelf the basis for the development of the country and called on the Lebanese to unite for their development for the sake of the future.

You can't argue with the sheikh, but there is a problem: the gas fields are located in an area disputed by Lebanon and Israel. The two countries have been formally at war since 1948, and the maritime borders between them have not been defined.

The essence lies in the difference in the definition of the ceasefire line from 1949. They don't match on the maps of the two countries. According to the Israeli version, the line of the maritime border with Lebanon rests on the border of the Cypriot economic waters 15 kilometers north of the point on which Lebanon insists.

Initially, when the gas fields on the Levantine shelf were just discovered, Beirut opposed their development without agreeing on maritime borders. However, his efforts, in particular, his appeal to the UN, remained in vain.

And so far, for Lebanon, "to begin the development of deposits" means first of all to conclude an agreement on the maritime border. As for Israel, it simply ignores the problem from the very beginning: Tel Aviv, without any doubt, has been successfully developing production on Leviathan and Tamar for a long time.

The same approach has been demonstrated to them now. Shortly after Hassan Nasrallah's statements, the Israelis drove a gas production platform to the area of the Karish field exactly on the disputed section of the border.

In response, Hezbollah stated that it would not leave without reaction "Israel's violation of Lebanese sovereignty" and would act, including by force. However, a remarkable reservation was made: "if Israel and Lebanon do not reach an agreement on the border."

That is, the issue of the border was put at the forefront, and not in general about the right of the "Zionist entity" unrecognized by Lebanon to dispose of the natural resources of the shelf. But it was quite possible to expect such a radical approach from Hezbollah.

But no, the leading pro-Iranian force in Lebanon has demonstrated readiness for constructive dialogue. The only condition is the formal coordination of borders.

The disputed area of the water area is 860 sq. km. Substantive negotiations between Beirut and Tel Aviv on this topic began in 2020 with the mediation of the United States. However, on them, the Lebanese side announced new claims for 2.3 thousand square kilometers, including the Karish field and another promising block. Naturally, they were rejected, and negotiations were curtailed.

But in mid-June of this year, the parties returned to them. An American mediator, Amos Hochstein, appeared in the region. Beirut decided to abandon additional claims: they say, the previous government put them forward without thinking. And the Israeli Prime Minister (already former) Naftali Bennett called on the Lebanese government to start developing the shelf "within its exclusive economic zone", "seize the opportunity to improve its economy" and build "a better future for the Lebanese people." The words – note – are very similar to the rhetoric of Sheikh Nasrallah…

Against this background, Hezbollah's position looks quite constructive and negotiating. After all, it boils down to the fact that "the main thing is to agree on the borders, without detailing which borders: taking into account the Lebanese claims to "Karish" or without them. At the same time, it seems that the prospects for negotiations depend primarily on whether Iran is ready to follow the previous logic of "normalization" with Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese platform. If so, progress on the Israeli-Lebanese border is possible, which will open up opportunities for Beirut to revive the half-dead economy and gradually revive the country.

If not, Hezbollah will rise up against the "treacherous compliance" of the authorities and turn the maritime border into a new hotbed of tension.