'One compromise after the other': Lebanon and Israel officially sign maritime deal

'One compromise after the other': Lebanon and Israel officially sign maritime deal
3 min read
27 October, 2022
After more than a decade of indirect negotiations, long-time enemy states Lebanon and Israel have signed a deal marking their maritime territories, in what all parties involved have called a "historic day".
Critics of the deal in Lebanon have said that it concedes too much to Israel. [Getty]

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun officially signed the maritime deal with Israel on Thursday, finalising the border demarcation between the two countries after more than a decade of negotiations.

Aoun signed the letter at the presidential palace in the presence of US Energy Envoy and mediator Amos Hochstein, who called it a "historic day."

The Lebanese and Israeli negotiating teams then met in the UN base in Lebanon's southernmost border town of Naqoura, where the official signed deal will finally be handed over to the United Nations.

A settled maritime border between the two countries paves the way for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction. Israel has already started exploiting the Karish gas field, while Lebanon has tasked TotalEnergies with exploring the Qana field.

Lebanon's leaders have sold it as a victory for the country, with the Minister of Energy Walid Fayyad saying Lebanon will soon become a "petro-state."

Even Hezbollah, which nominally opposes any sort of cooperation with Israel, has supported the deal. Officials have said in private that the Iran-backed militia's military threats against Israel – alongside diplomacy – helped bring the deal to fruition.

Israeli PM Yair Lapid, by contrast, said that Lebanon was "recognising" Israel with the signing of the maritime border deal.

"It is not every day that an enemy state recognises the State of Israel, in a written agreement, in front of the entire international community," Lapid said on Thursday morning.

Lebanon denies this, and Aoun said the deal would not have any political dimensions or impact that contradicts his country's foreign policy. 

Lapid's comments came as the Israeli airforce conducted flights over Lebanon on Thursday. Israel carries out reconnaissance flights on a near-daily basis, sometimes using Lebanese airspace to launch airstrikes on Syria. Beirut has repeatedly complained to the UN about these violations. 

There were also reports of Israeli gunboats crossing into Lebanese territorial waters, but pulled out before the meeting in Naqoura began, local media said.

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The deal is not without its critics in Lebanon. Opposition policymakers in the country have protested what they see as undue concessions to Israel in the agreement.

"There was one compromise after the other, including giving up Karish without a fight. In addition to that, they should have linked the land border to the sea border," independent MP Mark Daou told The New Arab shortly after the deal was announced.

Israeli PM hopeful Benjamin Netanyahu has also criticised the deal and has warned that he will scrap it if he takes the Prime Ministry in Israel's upcoming elections in November.

The gas reserves on the Lebanese side of the border are still unproven, and estimates vary from just $6 billion to hundreds of billions. Regardless, oil experts say it will take almost eight years until profits are seen from the Qana field.