Israel-Lebanon maritime border agreement
Oct 13, 2022 | AIJAC staff
This Update is dedicated to providing background and analysis on the Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary agreement announced on Tuesday and accepted by Israel’s cabinet on Wednesday – a deal reached after more than a decade of on-again off-again US-mediated talks.
We lead with Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon’s take on the deal, as well as the debate within Israel about its merits. He looks at some of the terms of the deal, and some potentially far-reaching regional repercussions of it. He also notes that the deal has become intensely political in Israel – there is after all an election in less than three weeks – and offers his own take on the arguments being put by both the Government and the deal’s advocates and by its critics led by Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu. For Keinon’s strategic and political analysis, CLICK HERE.
Next up is former US Ambassador to Israel turned analyst Dan Shapiro, who offers his opinion that the deal is a triumph of US creative diplomacy. He makes a case that the deal will benefit Lebanon and Israel, and will also serve US interests. He cites top Israeli strategic analyst Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror to make the case that Israel benefits with both economic and security gains – especially because Lebanon is, for the first time, providing de facto recognition of the security line of buoys Israel has established just off its Mediterranean Coast. For Shapiro’s argument for the deal as a “win-win”, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Debbie Mohnblatt of the Media Line has obtained some expert opinion on how the politics of the deal is likely to play out in both Israel and Lebanon. On the Israeli side, she speaks to former Israeli government advisor Ashley Perry, who sees the deal as positive for the Government in the upcoming election, Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, a critic of the deal, and academic political scientist Dr. Eyal Lewin, who predicts the deal will have very little impact on Israeli politics. On the Lebanese side, political researcher Chadi Nachabe tells her the deal is crucial to the country given the severe financial crisis there and predicts even Hezbollah going along with it to prevent total economic collapse. For the politics of the agreement as seen through the eyes of these experts, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- A Jerusalem Post editorial arguing in favour of the Lebanon agreement. Plus another piece making the case for the deal comes from Israeli analyst and columnist Yoav Limor.
- Critical comments on the deal’s terms come from American columnist Jonathan Tobin and Lebanese-American analyst Tony Badran.
- Following the murder of 18-year-old female Israeli Military Police officer Noa Lazar in Jerusalem on Saturday, and the killing of IDF Staff Sgt. Ido Baruch in the West Bank on Tuesday, Israeli-Palestinian violence seems to be ramping up, with major rioting in Jerusalem last night.
- Good discussions of the reasons for, and Israeli options for dealing with, the current wave of Palestinian violence come from security reporter Ron Ben Yishai and top analyst Jonathan Spyer.
- AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro looks at the claims and counter-claims with respect to the tragic death of a seven-year-old Palestinian boy Rayan Yasser Sliman in a village near Bethlehem at the end of September, and why IDF claims they were not responsible appear, at the very least, credible.
Lebanon maritime border deal: A blessing or a curse for Israel?
A better deal can always be had. The question is whether the deal on the table serves the country’s long-term interests, even if it is not perfect.
By HERB KEINON
Jerusalem Post, Oct. 7, 2022
The Energean floating gas production facility at Israel’s Karish fields, now cleared to begin production (Photo: Energean).
On September 14, 2016, after long, drawn-out negotiations, Israel and the US signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding governing military assistance to Israel from 2019 to 2028.
Under the deal, finalized by then-US president Barack Obama in the waning days of his presidency, Washington would provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance over a decade, amounting to $3.8b. per year. No paltry sum, this represented a $7b. increase over the previous MoU.
As details of the deal began to trickle out even before the agreement was formally announced, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under a barrage of criticism. Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s bitter political rival, led the charge, arguing that had Netanyahu maintained better ties with Obama – and not gone head-to-head with him over the Iranian nuclear deal – Israel could have gotten an even better deal. Barak maintained that it would have been possible to get a $45b. package.
In addition, critics said that Israeli defense industries would be badly hurt by the MoU’s phasing out of an Off-Shore Procurement provision by which Israel could spend 26.3% of the US military assistance locally.
One of the counterarguments used by Netanyahu’s spokesmen at the time was that the opposition will always claim that it could have negotiated a sweeter deal.
It is ironic, therefore, that one of the arguments Netanyahu and the Likud are making against the draft agreement with the US over a maritime border arrangement with Lebanon is that Israel gave in too much, and that with more determination a better deal could have been had.
A better deal can always be had. The question is whether the deal on the table serves the country’s long-term interests, even if it is not perfect.
The Lebanon deal is heavily politicized
Prefictably, during an election campaign, the answer to that falls along party lines, with Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his supporters singing the deal’s praises, and Netanyahu and his supporters saying it was a total capitulation to Lebanon and Hezbollah.
Making matters even more difficult is that while the general contours of the deal have come out in the press over the last few days, the nitty-gritty details of the arrangement remain hidden from view.
According to reports in the press, Israel conceded some of what it claimed as its territorial waters to Lebanon so that the Lebanese could explore and then possibly exploit the Kana gas field.
In return, according to the reports, Israel will get a percentage of the royalties from that field, although the exact percentage has not been revealed. Beyond that, little more is known.
On Thursday Lapid’s office said that he rejected changes that the Lebanese wanted to insert in the agreement, though the public has no idea what those changes are. The security cabinet met to discuss the details of the plan only on Thursday afternoon.
Despite the dearth of any real information, a bitter political debate is already being waged over the issue, with Netanyahu arguing that Lapid has sold Israeli interests out to Hezbollah, and Lapid saying that Netanyahu is feeding Hezbollah propaganda.
In other words, a critical long-term strategic issue has turned into a short-term political one, leading to speculation whether Lapid would be pushing so hard for this deal if it weren’t three weeks before an election, and whether Netanyahu would be slamming it to the same degree if he were not in the midst of another election campaign.
The issue is a complex one, and negotiations surrounding it have been going on for over a decade, led first by Frederic Hof under the Obama administration, then David Schenker under the Trump administration, and over the last couple of years by Amos Hochstein, a Biden envoy.
At issue are competing Israeli and Lebanese claims about where their maritime border lies – an issue that took on great importance only over the last 20 years because of natural gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean. The line Israel originally claimed is hundreds of kilometers north of where Lebanon set its line – constituting a disputed territory of some 860 sq.km., an area that is believed to be rich in natural gas deposits.
In 2012, Hof split the difference between the two claims, giving Lebanon 55% of the disputed territory, and Israel the remaining 45%. This left the majority of the undeveloped Kana field on the Lebanese side of what became known as the Hof Line, while the lucrative Karish field would be fully inside Israel’s territorial waters.
Eight years later, however, the Lebanese changed their mind, and redrew their line even further south than their original position, encompassing the entire Karish field. Israel dismissed those claims, and the Karish field has been developed and is just awaiting word from the government before becoming operable.
One thing that has held up making Karish operable is Hezbollah’s threats. In July the organization launched four drones toward the rig, and a month later released a video putting the rig within Hezbollah missile sites. The message was clear: if Israel begins pumping gas from Karish, Hezbollah will retaliate, undoubtedly triggering a wider conflagration.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: The political debate in Israel regarding the new Lebanon deal centres on whether Israel’s concessions amounted to surrendering to Hezbollah threats and violence (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, khamenei.ir)
At first glance, Hezbollah’s message seemed aimed at Israel: don’t dare start pumping from Karish until the maritime dispute is resolved. But in retrospect, the message seemed designed for the Lebanese public: to convince it that it was Hezbollah’s threats that forced Israel to back down on its demands and compromise on its maritime claims.
So when Netanyahu said, as he did on Sunday, that Lapid “shamefully surrendered to Nasrallah’s threats” by “giving away sovereign Israeli territory with a huge gas reservoir,” that is also the same impression Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah wants to create.
The question is whether willingness to concede Kana is a surrender.
Former US ambassador David Friedman apparently believes it is. On Monday he tweeted the following: “We spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. Got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel. No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel. Would love to understand how we got here.”
To understand “how we got here,” the first place to look is at the geopolitical map, which – because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – has changed radically in the two years since Friedman was involved in trying to broker the deal. In addition, the situation in Lebanon has only worsened since Friedman left his post as ambassador.
Both the US and France have been heavily involved in trying to strike a deal, primarily as a way to keep Lebanon – already a basket case – from completely unraveling. While it will take years before any gas from Kana actually flows – as of now it is not even clear whether there is a commercial quantity in the field – an operable and profitable Kana field could help put Lebanon on a better trajectory.
The US has made it clear that it has an interest in seeing this deal through, and reportedly has placed pressure on Jerusalem to give it the green light. America’s interest is not only in trying to prop up Lebanon, but also in trying to find alternative energy resources for Europe, which is desperately seeking new energy sources now that the Russians – on which Europe was heavily dependent for its energy needs – have turned off the spigot.
Kana does not solve Europe’s energy needs, but – taken together with other alternative avenues that Europe is exploring – could eventually make a dent.
For Washington this deal is in the interests of not only Lebanon and Israel, but also the US. As such, Israel must ask itself whether it wants to say no to its most important ally over an issue that is more an economic than a security one, especially at a time when the Iranian nuclear issue still looms large and tensions are rising with the Palestinians.
In addition, the deal could potentially have far-reaching positive regional repercussions.
For instance, if the Kana field is developed, it would make it less likely for Hezbollah in the future to target Israel’s offshore gas sites, as it has threatened to do in the past, since this deal would give Israel a convenient target to retaliate against.
Secondly, while this deal is light years away from any kind of treaty or normalization agreement with Lebanon, it will provide Lebanon with a stronger incentive than it has now to ensure that the border with Israel remains calm.
And, thirdly, the stronger Lebanon becomes economically, the less it will depend on Iran. In this sense, the deal looks worthwhile from a long-term strategic viewpoint, even if it means paying an economic price.
What’s the problem?
The problem is that these types of logical scenarios predicting how various actors will play is reminiscent of the arguments the government made before Israel carried out its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
The Palestinians will want to maintain the quiet, it was argued, because of a fear of Israeli reprisals and because if they had something to lose, they wouldn’t want to jeopardize it. Furthermore, then prime minister Ariel Sharon also argued that this would give Israel more leeway from the Bush administration in acting against the Palestinian terrorism of the Second Intifada.
It all made sense in a theoretical world – it’s just that in the real world not all the actors acted as expected.
The issues involved in the maritime agreement with Lebanon are weighty – such as how Kana might be used to fill Hezbollah’s coffers, and what will be the ramifications of Hezbollah presenting this to the Arab world as an Israeli capitulation. This matter deserves a serious debate that goes beyond Netanyahu and Lapid trading barbs. The problem is that with just three weeks until the election, the chances of getting such a discussion are slim.
And that raises another difficulty. Should such a significant decision be made by a caretaker government in the final weeks of its tenure? And if the decision to accept the arrangement is made so close to the new election, won’t the legitimacy of the deal be forever questioned?
Creative diplomacy yields wins for Lebanon and bigger wins for Israel
Daniel B. Shapiro
Times of Israel, Oct. 12, 2022
Creativity is underrated in diplomacy. But when deployed effectively, it can turn a hopeless stalemate into an unexpected opportunity. The key is that all parties must embrace what it offers.
Through more than a decade of US-brokered attempts to resolve the Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary dispute, little had changed and nothing had moved. It was an essentially zero-sum negotiation over how much of a sliver of the Mediterranean Sea would be included in each country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. There were potential gas deposits in the area, which made each side press for the maximum share it could get. But no deal was ever reached, denying both sides certainty, and Lebanon any ability to develop its gas resources, even as its economy plummeted and all of its Eastern Mediterranean neighbors produced gas at will.
President Biden’s special envoy, Amos Hochstein, a veteran of some of the frustrating earlier rounds, came with a different approach. Armed with unique knowledge of energy production protocols in other regions, he suggested each side focus not on what they were giving up, but on what they most needed.
Lebanon needed a chance to drill for gas in its waters. Considering the economic, energy, and humanitarian crisis Lebanon is facing, failure was not an option. No international gas producers would drill in waters subject to dispute and potential conflict. So a deal was imperative, one in which Lebanese leaders could also claim to their public that they had not relinquished Lebanese territory and energy resources.
What Israeli leaders decided they needed was the certainty of quiet in the Mediterranean, and protection of its economic and security interests. Quiet comes from Lebanon’s own incentive to ensure there is no conflict, so its gas (assuming commercially viable deposits are found) in the Qana field that straddles the border can flow, while Israeli gas can flow unmolested in the adjacent Karish field, which is nearly ready for production. In addition to heading off a potential conflict in the north, the agreement ensures Israel will receive its proportionate share of royalties from the shared Qana field, protecting its economic interests.
The Israel-Lebanon coastal border at Rosh Haniqra – Israel will gain Lebanese recognition of Israel’s five kilometre security border into the sea from this point. (Photo: Flickr, Herman Pijpers).
In fact, there is a strong argument that not only did Israel protect its interests, but, by ensuring Lebanon has its own gas resources, it advances them in two key ways.
The best articulation I have heard of this idea came from Israel’s former National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror. In an interview on Radio 103 FM in August, recounted by Ben Caspit in Maariv, he said that Israel has no interest in having a humanitarian crisis on its northern border. He might have gone further and reminded his listeners what happened the last time there was a total collapse of the Lebanese state: a 15-year civil war that killed tens of thousands, destroyed millions of lives, and, among other disasters, resulted in the rise of Hezbollah.
Second, he said Israel has a strong interest in Lebanon having its own gas rigs so that Lebanon will be motivated to maintain quiet at sea because it will have something to lose. If Hezbollah ever attacked Israel’s rigs, he said, it is perfectly clear what the response would be. That means enhanced Israeli deterrence.
Amidror found the mutual interests argument far more compelling than the question of the angle at which a line is drawn from the coast to determine Exclusive Economic Zones. (There is more than one legitimate way to draw the line.) He judged the government capable of balancing these questions, understood that in a negotiation no side gets everything, and rejected claims of a blow to Israeli sovereignty. The sliver of sea that Israel no longer claims, he pointed out, is not holy land. It is not even land. So the requirements for approval of territorial withdrawals do not apply.
In addition to its economic and security gains, under the agreement, Israel achieves something it never has before: effective Lebanese recognition of the security border Israel asserts in the first 5 kilometers from the shore with the buoy line in its territorial waters. Lebanon will deny this, but it is very clear that this line is now accepted as the status quo and will be treated as Israel’s legitimate maritime border by the international community.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was relatively restrained in his remarks on the deal. But in time, he will return to his blusterous claim that Hezbollah’s threats made Israel capitulate. That big talk will be a poor attempt to mask that Lebanon has, for the first time, entered a kind of de facto recognition of Israel and its borders. It also won’t acknowledge that Hezbollah’s own freedom of action will now be constrained.
The deal still must survive passage through both countries’ political systems, which will not be easy. For Israel, there are internal matters that the Attorney General, the courts, the Knesset, and ultimately, the voters, will have to address. But for US interests, a creative resolution that allows any gas to flow for Lebanon and more gas to flow for Israel without risk of conflict is a win.
Daniel B. Shapiro is a distinguished fellow a the Atlantic Council. He previously served as US Ambassador to Israel.
‘Historic’ Lebanon-Israel Maritime Deal Will Affect Internal Politics in Both Countries
Israeli PM Lapid (top): This deal “will strengthen Israel’s security, bolster our economy and deliver cleaner, more affordable energy”: Opposition Leader Netanyahu (bottom): Government “shamefully surrendered to Nasrallah’s threats” by “giving away sovereign Israeli territory with a huge gas reservoir.” (Photos: Shutterstock, Gil Cohen Magen and Alexandros Michailidis respectively)
The Media Line, Oct. 11, 2022
Israel and Lebanon have reached a United States-brokered agreement on their maritime borders, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced on Tuesday, describing the deal as “historic.”
“This unprecedented deal will strengthen Israel’s security, bolster our economy and deliver cleaner, more affordable energy to countries around the world,” Lapid tweeted.
Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser, said in a statement: “All our demands in the maritime border negotiations with Lebanon were met. The changes we asked for in the text were made. All of Israel’s security interests were safeguarded. We are on a path toward a historic agreement.”
Lapid will convene the Security Cabinet on Wednesday, after which the full Cabinet will meet to approve the agreement, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun also expressed optimism about the draft deal.
“Reaching an agreement on maritime border demarcation will enable the exploration for oil and gas in the Lebanese fields located within the exclusive economic zone, which will achieve a new momentum for the process of economic revival,” he said Monday in a statement ahead of the announcement of the completion of the draft agreement.
Negotiations on the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, backed by the United Nations and mediated by the United States, were launched in 2020. Over the last few months, the talks captured the world’s attention as they moved forward and American mediator Amos Holstein traveled between the two countries to facilitate the indirect negotiations.
Ashley Perry, a strategic consultant and a former senior adviser to Israeli government ministers including the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the Defense Ministry, told The Media Line that the signing of the deal could have an impact on Israel’s internal politics, especially with parliamentary elections approaching.
Perry believes that the maritime agreement definitely will help Lapid improve his image for the November 1 elections.
“It makes him look prime ministerial, makes him look like a leader who can work well on the diplomatic and global stage. Definitely [Lapid] can show it as an achievement to look prime ministerial and someone who can work very well for the good interests of the country,” he said.
On the other hand, Perry says, the agreement arguably for the first time creates an opportunity for the right to differentiate itself from the left in Israel, since “over the last few months, if not longer, this current government has done pretty well in security whether it has to do with Gaza and the Islamic Jihad or whether it’s in Judea and Samaria,” the biblical designation for the West Bank.
He believes that the political opposition, which is headed by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will attempt to delegitimize the deal since it will be closed by an interim prime minister.
“They’ll try to paint it as illegitimate; they’ll try and paint it as illegal; they’ll try and paint it as far too much of a compromise for the Israeli security and interests,” Perry said.
He added that there is talk about asking Israel’s Supreme Court to rule that it is illegal and illegitimate for an interim government to sign such an agreement, since typically during an election campaign big decisions like this are deferred.
Netanyahu has criticized the deal and he has been quoted by Israeli media as saying that Lapid seeks “to authorize the agreement without a debate in the Knesset and without the referendum required.”
“Lapid has no mandate to hand over sovereign territories and sovereign assets that belong to all of us to an enemy state,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on social media.
Other political voices in Israel also are opposed to the deal, arguing that it compromises the security and the economic interests of the country. Still others say that the way the decision was made is illegal.
“Relinquishing sovereign territory can only be done legally by presenting the deal to the Knesset for public discourse and by obtaining a special majority of 80 out of 120 members of Knesset, or by general referendum,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, founder and CEO of the Israel Defense and Security Forum, said in a statement.
Avivi told The Media Line that after Hizbullah sent drones to the Karish gas extraction platform in July and threatened it, “we got nervous, we negotiated a very fast deal ceding basically what Hizbullah asked, and obviously this will hurt dramatically Israel’s deterrence, the way Hizbullah sees it, the way Iran sees it.”
Also, he continued, “we don’t know what the future will hold, because if Lebanon will extract gas, there is a very good chance that the money will not go to benefit the people but will go to terror.”
Overall, Perry believes that this event opens up the possibility of a more substantive debate in the last weeks of the current election campaign, which he thinks have been lacking in the previous four campaigns in the last four years. “Most people are just talking about who they will sit with how they will form a government, and whether they will be able to form a stable government or not,” he said.
With only a few weeks to go before the elections, according to Perry, “this gives an opportunity for the right to differentiate itself from the left and to try and pick up a few votes from those disgruntled right-wing voters who voted for people in the current government, such as Naftali Bennett’s former supporters, (or) Ayelet Shaked’s current supporters.”
Dr. Eyal Lewin, chair of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science at Ariel University, believes that the maritime agreement will not necessarily affect the outcome of the elections.
“The results at the ballots are dictated by the clashes of social identities in Israeli society,” he told The Media Line, adding that Israelis vote according to identity “like football fans who would never abandon their team no matter how bad they played.”
He says that Netanyahu’s chances depend on the two Knesset mandates that move from election to election from one side of the political map to the other. “Voter turnout will probably make far more difference for Netanyahu’s chances than anything connected with the deal,” he said.
Lebanese academic Chadi Nachabe: Agreement was crucial for Lebanon due to the country’s severe financial crisis, something even Hezbollah recognises given its own interests in preventing total collapse (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, studio.scala_lebanon)
Chadi Nachabe, a Lebanese political and economic researcher, told The Media Line that both the Israeli and the Lebanese sides are trying to show that they won.
For Lebanon, however, this agreement is crucial due to the country’s financial crisis.
“The president needs to show that he did something in the end of his ‘lifetime’ presidency,” he said.
He adds that it seems that there is a green light from both sides, as well as the US and Iran, meaning that Hizbullah will not fight against the agreement.
Additionally, he noted that Hizbullah needs the economic stabilization, too. “The current system is the best-case scenario for Hizbullah, since total collapse will be against its power,” said Nachabe.
He also pointed out that it appears the US will provide aid to Lebanon on issues related to electricity in the current period and, also, that Lebanon will be able to receive monetary credit due to the start of fuel extraction from the contested maritime areas.
That, Nachabe said, will help in attracting investment.
Finally, and most importantly, according to Nachabe, if the agreement is signed, Lebanon will become a fuel-producing country, which will help with economic prosperity.