Lebanon and Israel start unprecedented negotiations on their maritime border

Photo of author

By admin

Naqoura | Lebanon and Israel, two neighbors officially still at war, begin on Wednesday unprecedented negotiations under the aegis of Washington to delimit their maritime border, with a view to removing obstacles to the prospecting of hydrocarbons.

After years of American diplomacy, Lebanon and Israel announced at the beginning of October these talks which will be held within UN premises in Naqoura, a border town in southern Lebanon, a “historic” initiative according to Washington.

Only a few weeks after normalization agreements with Israel signed by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House, but also with the approach of the American presidential election, observers question the symbolism of these developments for the president Donald Trump.

Beyond this bilateral dispute, these talks take place in a regional context of strong tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean around hydrocarbons and the delimitation of maritime borders, also involving Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, among others.

Negotiations in Naqoura are due to begin around 10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m. GMT) on a border base of UNIFIL, a UN force deployed to monitor the buffer zone between the two countries.

The Lebanese army and UNIFIL soldiers blocked the roads leading to the base, while UN force helicopters flew over the area, an AFP photographer noted.

“Direct negotiations”?

The Lebanese and Israeli delegations will be in the same room. Mediation will be provided on Wednesday by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East David Schenker. Diplomat John Deschent will then take over.

If Israel spoke of “direct negotiations”, Lebanese officials assure them that the two delegations will not speak to each other.

Two soldiers and two civilians – an official from the Petroleum Authority and a specialist in the law of the sea – represent Lebanon.

The Israeli delegation is made up of six members, including the director general of the Ministry of Energy, a diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chief of the strategic affairs directorate of the army.

Lebanon insists on the “technical” – and not political – character of the talks.

But the two Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal on Wednesday blasted the presence of civilian figures in the Lebanese delegation, believing that only soldiers should have been there and thus revealing divisions within the political class.

“This harms Lebanon’s position and its interests (…) and represents a capitulation to Israeli logic which wants some form of normalization,” they denounced in a statement.

“Negotiations without legitimacy”, headlines the daily “Al-Akhbar”, close to Hezbollah.

“No illusion”

But the talks are crucial for a bankrupt Lebanon that has embarked on offshore hydrocarbon exploration.

In 2018, the country signed its first exploration contract for two blocks with an international consortium. Problem: part of one of the blocks, number 9, spills over into an area of ​​860 km2 that the two neighbors are fighting over.

A source at the Israeli Ministry of Energy assures that the maritime delimitation can be resolved “in a few months” if the process goes smoothly on the Lebanese side, she warns.

“We are under no illusions. Our goal is not to create any normalization or peace process, ”the source adds.

The last major confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel dates back to the summer of 2006. A devastating war lasting just over a month left more than 1200 dead on the Lebanese side, mostly civilians, and 160 on the Israeli side, mostly military.

Since then, routine tripartite meetings have been organized by UNIFIL with senior officials from both armies.

According to the UN, talks on their land border will be conducted separately within the framework of tripartite meetings supervised by UNIFIL.

For this process, Hilal Khashan, political scientist at the American University of Beirut (AUB), evokes a major obstacle: “In the event of an agreement on the land border, the question of Hezbollah’s weapons will then arise.”

The Shiite movement is the only Lebanese faction not to have abandoned its arsenal after the civil war (1975-1990), using its role of “resistance” to the Hebrew state as justification.

According to Mr. Khashan, “Hezbollah will not agree to give up its arsenal”.

Leave a Comment