Israel and Lebanon finalized an agreement on the maritime borders of the Mediterranean on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced on Twitter, as the United States signed the agreement brokered by the United Nations mission on the land border between the countries.
The signing ceremony officially resolves the years-long maritime border dispute over large oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean.
The neighboring countries – still formally at war – had been in conflict for years in an area of the sea off the coast of Israel and Lebanon. The area in question touches the Karish oil and gas field and the region known as the Qanaa prospect. The deal gives Israel oil and gas rights in the Karish field, while Lebanon will have access to the Qanaa prospect, with Israel earning 17% of the profits.
Each side separately announced on October 11 that they had agreed to a border demarcation, and British energy giant Energean announced on Wednesday that it had begun producing gas from the Karish field.
The Israeli Cabinet met in a special session earlier on Thursday to approve the deal, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailing it as a victory for Israel “in security, economically, diplomatically and in energy”, adding: “It is not every day an enemy country. It recognizes the State of Israel, in a written agreement.” .
Lebanese President Michel Aoun made a much more measured statement on Twitter ahead of the signing ceremony, denying that the deal is a recognition of Israel.
“Completing the southern maritime border delimitation file is a technical process without political dimensions and does not have contradictory effects on Lebanon’s foreign policy compared to other countries,” he tweeted.
Tensions rose in the disputed region this summer when an Energean vessel arrived at the Karish field to develop the gas field, although the platform was located south of any line in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militia backed by Iran, sent drones to the rig in July as a “message” to Israel, threatening to attack the rig if it began pumping gas before an agreement was reached.
But a combination of factors pushed Israel and Lebanon to end the deal, including global demand for natural gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; the possibility of an agreement that will guarantee calm on Israel’s northern border; Israel’s upcoming elections; and economically it hit Lebanon in need of revenue.