BEIRUT: Following years of US-mediated discussions, Lebanon and Israel have struck a historic accord demarcarating a disputed maritime boundary, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday.
The agreement would represent a remarkable compromise between governments with a history of conflict and animosity, paving the path for offshore oil development and alleviating one of the sources of current tensions.
“This is a historic accomplishment that will improve Israel’s security, infuse billions of dollars into the Israeli economy, and maintain the stability of our northern border,” Lapid said in a statement.
In Lebanon, President Michel Aoun said the final US proposal’s provisions were favourable and that he hoped the agreement would be publicised as soon as feasible.
The deal is intended to settle a territorial issue in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where Lebanon intends to explore for natural gas. Israel is already generating natural gas in adjacent areas.
It creates for the first time a border between Lebanese and Israeli seas, as well as a mechanism for both nations to receive royalties from an offshore gas resource that straddles the line.
The current proposal, according to Lebanese negotiator Elias Bou Saab, “takes into account all of Lebanon’s needs, and we think that the other side should feel the same.” It was also supported by Hezbollah, a strongly armed Lebanese force sponsored by Iran.
A top Lebanese government official and a Hezbollah official stated the group had agreed to the conditions of the agreement and deemed the discussions “finished.”
TotalEnergies will begin its quest for natural gas.
In a similar move, Lebanon on Tuesday requested that French energy company TotalEnergies begin offshore gas drilling.
Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s interim prime minister, met with a group from TotalEnergies, which was granted an exploration licence in 2018.
“During the discussion, Mikati urged TotalEnergies officials to promptly take operational procedures to drill in Lebanese seas,” his office said in a statement.