This is a vital battle Lebanon is currently waging over the demarcation of the maritime border with Israel, and officials are visibly aware of this. The first assessment of the two-day visit by the American envoy Amos Hochstein aimed at putting this dossier back on track is considered positive. From the authorities’ point of view, Lebanon succeeded in pushing the American diplomat to resume his mission and to relaunch indirect negotiations with the Israeli side. The leaders also succeeded in agreeing on a common position, and each of them developed a particular aspect of the file in a precise distribution of roles, which constitutes a first in the Lebanese approach. Finally, they managed to be positive and flexible without giving up on the essentials. Moreover, according to one of the personalities who closely followed this visit, the American envoy promised to quickly transmit the new Lebanese proposal to the Israelis and to deliver just as quickly the response he should receive without necessarily returning to Beirut, the two parties having indeed agreed that Ambassador Dorothy Shea could take on this mission.
According to various concordant sources, the new Lebanese approach is the fruit of intense preliminary contacts made by the vice-president of the Chamber Elias Bou Saab and by the director of General Security Abbas Ibrahim. The two men have multiplied discussions with all the parties concerned over the past few days to convince them to reach a common position. Moreover, in an interview with the al-Hurra channel, Mr. Hochstein himself praised the unity of the Lebanese position. This was therefore not without difficulty, especially since this sensitive issue arouses passions.
It all started with the announcement of the arrival of the Energean Power boat off the Israeli coast, responsible for installing an oil and gas platform to begin extraction work in the so-called Karish field. For Lebanon, which is in the throes of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, this development could not pass without reaction. Officials saw this as an opportunity to restart negotiations, knowing that Lebanon had failed to respond to Amos Hochstein’s latest proposal which gave the country just under Line 23. He had in effect drawn a meandering line that starts at Ras Naqoura before deviating a bit to allow Israel to take advantage of the entire Karish field. Lebanese officials therefore believed that the timing was good since, with the war in Ukraine and the Russian gas crisis in Europe, gas from the Mediterranean basin was becoming more valuable. They therefore thought that the time was right to allow Lebanon to also benefit from its oil and gas resources. But in concrete details, each of them had their own vision. For example, Speaker of the House Nabih Berry wanted Lebanon to respond in writing to the Hochstein proposal, but Head of State Michel Aoun opposed the idea. Finally, after the intervention of the mediators, the point of view of the Head of State prevailed. But the President of the Chamber made a point of declaring to the American emissary that if the rights of Lebanon are not respected, the latter reserves the possibility of amending decree 6433 so as to formalize line 29 and to send to the United Nations. It was therefore the Head of State who orally transmitted to Amos Hochstein the Lebanese proposal consisting in claiming the entire field of Cana, knowing that unlike that of Karish, this field has not yet been delimited. Which means he can go past the 23 line, and even hook right up close to the 29 line and close to Karish’s field. According to one of the personalities present at the meeting between the President of the Republic and the US envoy, the latter would have declared that in 2011, when the leader of the CPL Gebran Bassil was Minister of Energy, he had made a similar proposal. If Lebanon had adopted it, it would have gained a lot of time, whereas there, it is well behind the Israelis, he would have added. According to those present at the meeting, the Lebanese proposal was not rejected by the American envoy, even if, according to concordant sources, he would probably have preferred it to be more flexible. In any case, he promised to submit it to the Israelis and to transmit their response as soon as he has it. With outgoing Prime Minister Nagib Mikati, the meeting also focused on the Lebanese proposal, while focusing the discussion on the mechanisms that should be adopted, especially if the current resigning government was still in place.
Amos Hochstein discussed Hezbollah’s position with his other interlocutors, who replied that he said he stood behind the state in this matter and that he did not interfere in the negotiations. However, in his last speech, the secretary general of the party Hassan Nasrallah was careful not to mention line 29 so as not to have to retaliate if it was not respected. He therefore contented himself with saying that it is the State which decides the maritime boundary. Once this has been made official, Hezbollah will feel obliged to defend it, and not before. Similarly, the commander-in-chief of the army, General Joseph Aoun, clearly stated during his meeting with the American envoy that the military institution stood behind the political leaders and did not interfere in the negotiations. This should put an end to the controversy of recent weeks about line 29 and the rights of Lebanon.
In fact, Beirut seeks, through these negotiations, to accelerate the process of exploration and exploitation of gas and oil, at least in the non-conflict blocks. It is in this context that the officials asked the American envoy to encourage international companies to start working in the Lebanese blocs, at the same time brandishing the threat of a response if the Israelis began the extraction at Karish, while Lebanon is prevented from prospecting. According to the aforementioned sources, Amos Hochstein would not have given a clear answer on this subject, contenting himself with specifying that the process should be accelerated in the interest of everyone.
For now, the Energean Power boat has stopped almost 3 miles from the controversial area and, according to information reaching the Lebanese, it is a fixed parking lot. He would therefore not intend to move forward. Which is seen as a positive sign.
This is a vital battle Lebanon is currently waging over the demarcation of the maritime border with Israel, and officials are visibly aware of this. The first assessment of the two-day visit by the American envoy Amos Hochstein aimed at putting this dossier back on track is considered positive. From the authorities’ point of view, Lebanon has succeeded in pushing the…
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Rather positive assessment of the Hochstein mission, Lebanon awaits the continuation
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