US dispatches senior diplomat to Beirut to calm Israel border tensions

Special US dispatches senior diplomat to Beirut to calm Israel border tensions
David Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2018

US dispatches senior diplomat to Beirut to calm Israel border tensions

US dispatches senior diplomat to Beirut to calm Israel border tensions

BEIRUT: David Satterfield, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department, arrived on Tuesday in Beirut to meet with Lebanese government officials and discuss bilateral relations, a source at the US Embassy told Arab News.

Talks will focus on recent disputes between Lebanon and Israel over their border and ownership of the Block 9 offshore gas field, said sources acquainted with the surprise visit.

Lebanese MP Mohammed Qabbani told Arab News: “The tripartite meeting on Monday between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, addressed the possibility of demarcating the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border just as the land border was demarcated.”

He added: “UNIFIL proposed this solution, and Lebanon welcomes it provided the international force undertakes this task.”

But he said: “Lebanese maritime fields occupy 22,000 square kilometers, and they fully belong to Lebanon. We won’t negotiate any inch of it, especially as Israel attempts to encroach on 865 square kilometers of this area.”

Qabbani is to head a parliamentary meeting on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s threats regarding Block 9.

During the tripartite meeting, Lebanon warned against Israel’s plan to build a wall along their border, and denounced Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recent claim that Block 9 belongs to Israel. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Lieberman’s statement is a “threat to Lebanon.”

Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a joint statement after their meeting in Baabda Palace on Tuesday: “(Israel’s) threats are a blunt violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, and an upfront threat to the stability that has been achieved in the border area since the implementation of the first phase of the international resolution in August 2006 as a result of the Lebanese Army’s efforts and its cooperation with UNIFIL.”

Aoun, Berri and Hariri agreed to “continue to work at various regional and international levels to prevent Israel from building the concrete wall inside the Lebanese border, and from potentially encroaching on oil and gas fields in Lebanese waters. 

“This will be done by adopting a series of measures that will be proposed to the Supreme Council of Defense during an extraordinary meeting that will be held on Wednesday.”

UNIFIL Commander Gen. Michael Beary stressed during the first tripartite meeting of 2018 the need to “maintain a climate of calm and stability.”

UNIFIL “stands ready 24/7 for any follow-up meetings, and encourages both sides to examine the benefits that can be achieved by reaching agreement through close coordination,” he said.

Beary acknowledged “the restraint exercised by both parties in decreasing tension and maintaining stability.”

Satterfield’s visit coincided with an announcement by the US Embassy in Lebanon that America will provide the Lebanese Army with 827 Copperhead shells, valued at more than $1.4 million, to fill a shortage of this ammunition, which was used to defeat Daesh in Lebanon.

This aid is part of a deal worth more than $100 million to support the Lebanese Army, the embassy said.

The US “remains committed to a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous Lebanon,” the embassy added. 

“Thanks to the weapons, equipment, and training provided by the US, the Lebanese Army continues to improve its capacities and ensure that it remains a uniting national force, a bastion against the menaces of extremism and terrorism, and the only legitimate defender of Lebanon.”