Talks on Israel-Lebanon Maritime Border Continue But a Solution is Nowhere in Sight

© AP Photo / Ariel SchalitIsrael's offshore Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.
Israel's offshore Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.02.2022
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and years of animosity have prevented the two states from settling their maritime borders. The US is now trying to broker a deal between the two nations, a move that's needed to drill in the area, which is believed to be rich in gas.
The United States continues to put pressure on both Lebanon and Israel to come to an agreement on the demarcation of their maritime border, a dispute that's so far has prevented exploration in the area, which is believed to be rich with gas.
Both countries claim that a triangular area of the Mediterranean Sea, where the energy resource is believe to lie, is located within their territorial waters. Years of animosity and war have prevented Israel and Lebanon from resolving the crisis. Now, with the US mediation, a solution might be on the horizon.

Divided We Stand

Mohammed Kleit, a Beirut-based journalist, has been monitoring the developments closely, and he says the local media and the public are largely divided over their attitude towards the negotiations.

"There is a vertical division between two camps in Lebanon. The first focuses on the importance of negotiations and is hopeful that the deal would be paving a way to a peace deal with Israel".

The second one, says the journalist, is driven by the distrust Beirut has regarding the US and Israel.

"The only reason, why they would want to see that deal shaping is to preserve the Lebanese energy resources and end the state of crisis we’re living in."

Acute Energy Crisis

Lebanon has been having energy problems for years. Its state electricity company, Electricite Du Liban, has been a loss-making utility that has contributed significantly to the country's debt.
To cope with the crisis, Lebanese authorities used to import energy resources but as the country's financial situation deteriorated in 2019, that mission has become nearly impossible. As a direct result, the state is often plunged into darkness; queues at petrol stations have become a common phenomenon.
Those energy and financial crises have stirred public dissatisfaction and compelled many to protest. At times, the situation has become so tense that experts and journalists have warned that Lebanon was an inch away from another civil war.
To avoid such a scenario, Lebanon has agreed to hold talks with the US to resolve the decades' long dispute with Israel, but Kleit says he doubts a resolution is possible any time soon.

No Solution in Sight?

The first reason for this is the "far-fetched" demands of Washington, which insists Lebanon should be sharing its maritime resources with Israel. The second is general Lebanese distrust in the State Department as a fair negotiator.

"The US puts Israel’s security above any other regional player's interests, and what they are trying to do now is to lure Lebanon into a deal using their monetary aid. If Beirut dares to reject [the initiative], the siege will continue or even worsen," explained the journalist.

Beirut knows not to underestimate the influence the US has in the region and the world. On the one hand, Washington has been providing the Arab country with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual humanitarian assistance. It gave a greenlight to Egypt to transfer gas to energy-hungry Lebanon via Jordan and Syria.
On the other hand, it knew to impose sanctions on its companies and banks and the fear is that it can also pull strings with the International Monetary Fund, that's currently leading negotiations with Lebanon on a generous cash injection, and prevent it from unlocking billions of dollars needed for Lebanon's assistance.
Lebanon desperately needs that monetary package. In 2021, poverty rates in the country neared 75 percent. Unemployment levels have also been alarming, but to get international cash injections, Beirut needs to implement a number of political and economic reforms.
Now, with the US intensifying its efforts, Lebanon might be also asked to end its maritime dispute with Israel.
However, there is a catch -- Hezbollah. The Iran-backed Shiite militia has been at war with Israel since the 1980s, and there is "no chance," says Kleit, that the group will agree to bow down to US pressure.
"In 1982, when former President Bachir Gemayel called for peace and cooperation with Israel, he got assassinated," said Kleit, suggesting that history can repeat itself.
"Hezbollah has strong political, social and military positions in the country. Plus the anti-Israel sentiment in Lebanon is still strong, and as such a deal is highly unlikely," he added.
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