What’s behind Beirut’s concessions in maritime border talks with Tel Aviv?
Lebanon and the Israeli regime have been engaged in talks to resolve the maritime border dispute since October 2020. Beirut is at odds with Tel Aviv over an area of around 860 square kilometers. The division of this area into 10 blocks makes block 9 – lines 29 and 23 – the main…
AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Lebanon and the Israeli regime have been engaged in talks to resolve the maritime border dispute since October 2020. Beirut is at odds with Tel Aviv over an area of around 860 square kilometers. The division of this area into 10 blocks makes block 9 – lines 29 and 23 – the main point of border conflict, with each side claiming it as their own territory. They began talks two years ago with the American mediation and eventually the Lebanese side under an agreement to withdraw from the maritime border of lines 23 and 29.
Beirut-Tel-Aviv border dispute at sea
The main border dispute between Lebanon and the Israeli regime concerns block 9, in an offshore area of 860 square kilometers rich in oil and gas. The disputed maritime borders are very important for both sides because of their oil resources, and the use of these resources can offer potentials for Lebanese economic independence and reduction of debt and unemployment. The talks were organized by UNIFIL, a UN peacekeeping mission, at its headquarters in Naqoura, southern Lebanon. They were, however, discontinued in May 2021. Held in four rounds, they made no progress until February 2020.
Controversial Lebanese withdrawal of lines 23 and 29
As part of the mediation to settle the border dispute, US Representative Amos Hochestein visited Lebanon on February 8 to discuss the resumption of talks with Beirut officials.
“We have to get to the point where both sides decide they want a solution, that’s why I came here last November, went to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and now I’m back to see if both sides want an agreement,” he told Lebanese broadcaster MTV, adding, “Today we have closed the gaps in demarcation and it is possible to reach an agreement.”
Following this trip, news of Lebanon’s withdrawal of claims to Lines 23 and 29 spread, fueling speculation that the move would pave the way for the completion of negotiations.
Commenting on President Michel Aoun’s stance on the concession, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Blu Habib said in an interview with Al-Jumeirah newspaper that line 23 is what achieves Lebanese interests but clinging to line 29 bears no fruit.
Bassam Yasin, Lebanon’s chief negotiator, was another Lebanese official to comment on the talks. He said: “The Lebanese side is discussing with Israel the demarcation of maritime borders within the framework of international law. These negotiations are conducted in accordance with international law, the 1949 Ceasefire Agreement between Lebanon and Israel and the Paulet-Newcombe Agreement of 1923.”
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also commented. He maintained that Hezbollah does not interfere in the negotiations as a resistance movement because “for us, Israel does not exist. On the demarcation of maritime borders, the decision belongs to the Lebanese government and we, as a resistance, are committed to ensuring that the borders are approved and approved”. decided by government institutions. »
The purpose of the maritime border agreement
The resolution of the maritime border dispute comes at a time when the political and economic situation in Lebanon is critical and when the country, which is facing difficulties due to US energy sanctions, is increasingly focusing on the political nature talks with the presence of the American envoy. On the one hand, the American and Israeli regimes are trying to link the talks to the Arab agreements on the normalization of relations with Tel Aviv, and on the other hand, with the approach of the Lebanese elections, they are pursuing their political interests. Furthermore, the objective of the Israelis and the government of Prime Minister Neftali Bennett in trying to reach an agreement with Lebanon is to replace Iran as an exporter of energy to Lebanon and to limit the Lebanese market to Israeli energy.
Additionally, the United States links Lebanon’s exception to anti-Syrian sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, to a border agreement with Tel Aviv. Monir al-Rabee, a Lebanese analyst, told the Abadolu news agency that “the American envoy, Amos Hochstein, made it clear to the Lebanese authorities that the demarcation of the border would facilitate the transfer of Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon.
Al-Rabee, pointing to the Lebanese concession, continued that there might be political calculations behind it to conclude the demarcation more quickly, especially as the country heads towards legislative and presidential elections. President Aoun intends to conclude the drawing of the borders by the end of his presidential term in October 2022 and to declare the gas and oil exploration operations.
“Aoun has another concern and he is lifting the sanctions against his son-in-law Gebran Bassil and giving good cards to play as the elections approach,” he continued.