What the new Lebanon-Israel maritime border deal means for everyone

Special A picture taken on August 5, 2021, from the northern Israeli town of Metula near the border with Lebanon, shows Lebanon and Israel flags. (AFP)
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A picture taken on August 5, 2021, from the northern Israeli town of Metula near the border with Lebanon, shows Lebanon and Israel flags. (AFP)
Special What the new Lebanon-Israel maritime border deal means for everyone
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The Israeli navy was deployed in June as tensions flared in Lebanon and Israel’s maritime dispute when an Israeli drilling rig entered disputed waters. (AFP)
Special What the new Lebanon-Israel maritime border deal means for everyone
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Lebanon's officials led by President Michel Aoun (C) meeting with US envoy Amos Hochstein (5th L) and his team at the presidential palace in Baabda on Aug. 1, 2022. (Dalati & Nohra via AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2022

What the new Lebanon-Israel maritime border deal means for everyone

What the new Lebanon-Israel maritime border deal means for everyone
  • US-mediated talks over the disputed maritime border dragged on for more than a decade  
  • The contention centered around access to key gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean

LONDON: Ten years after the US began its mediation efforts, Lebanon and Israel have finally reached an agreement delineating their maritime border in what pundits are describing as a “historic” moment. However, some observers are taking a more cautious view.

“It’s at least 10 years overdue,” said Ambassador Frederic Hof, a former director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, who served as US mediator in 2012 under President Barack Obama.

“We need to be cautious at this point. There is still an elongated ratification process in Israel. There is a question of whether, after the Nov. 1 elections, the deal would be sustained if there’s a change in government,” he told Arab News.




A platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea as seen from the Israeli northern coastal beach of Nasholim. (AFP)

“On the Lebanese side, there are a couple of questions. The obvious question is: Are there indeed marketable natural gas deposits under Lebanese waters? And, given the fact that there will not likely be any revenues for five years, will the Lebanese political system undergo some changes that would enable the Lebanese people to benefit from all of this?”

The dispute goes back to 2012, when the two countries failed to reach an agreement over the location of their shared maritime border. Israel initially pushed for Line 1 (see map), while Lebanon favored Line 29. 

Hof, who was the first US mediator appointed to the process, proposed a line that lay closer to the Israelis’ preferred option. In the end, however, the border that was agreed is Line 23, which is closer to Lebanon’s preferred boundary.

At the heart of the dispute are two offshore natural gas fields: the untapped Qana field in Lebanon’s territorial waters and the Karish field in Israeli territory. The contested claims to the resources escalated in July when Hezbollah, the Lebanese Iran-backed militia, launched a drone attack on the Karish field. Israeli air defenses managed to shoot down all three drones before they reached their target. It is hoped this week’s border agreement will stave off similar incidents.

According to leaked details of the deal, revenues from gas extracted from the Qana field will be split between Lebanon and French energy company Total, and 17 percent of Total’s revenues will go to Israel. Israel will continue to have exclusive rights to the Karish field.




United Nations peacekeeping force vehicles patrol in Naqura, south of the Lebanese city of Tyre, on the border with Israel on June 6, 2022. (AFP)

Although the deal settles the maritime border issue, it does not affect the yet-to-be recognized land border between the two countries, the so-called Blue Line that was demarcated in 2000 and is supervised by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

Reflecting on why a maritime border agreement could not be reached 10 years ago when the process began, Hof said the then government of Najib Mikati — who now serves as Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister — had already started to “steadily fall apart.”

He added: “Now, the decision-making process seems to be in the hands of the three presidents in Lebanon (the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament) and unless things change, which I don’t think they will, all three seem to agree that Lebanon did well in this mediation.”




Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) meeting with US envoy Amos Hochstein and US Ambassador Dorothy Shea (L) at the Presidential Palace in Baabda on June 14, 2022 . (Dalati & Nohra photo via AFP)

Others, such as Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Levant analyst for Tablet Magazine told Arab News that “what changed now is that the Biden administration abandoned the earlier framework of dividing the disputed area along a 55:45 ratio, and managed to press a pliant lame duck government to concede to 100 per cent of Hezbollah's demands.”

US officials also view the maritime deal, mediated by Amos Hochstein, the Biden administration’s senior advisor for energy security, as a diplomatic win that will ultimately improve overall security and stability in the region.

“At the end of the day, the US was able to mediate a deal between Lebanon and Israel — two enemy countries — to get into a maritime border deal that they think would stabilize the situation between both countries and make it harder for them to go to war,” Laury Haytayan, the Middle East and North Africa director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute, told Arab News.

Indeed, she believes that Israel, which already enjoys sufficient energy supplies, correctly identified the security benefits offered by a deal that favored Lebanon’s territorial claims over Israeli economic self-interest.

“If Lebanon is stable, and Lebanon focuses on its economy, they think that they will be less interested in war” and, in turn, less dependent on Hezbollah and Iran, Haytayan added.

Officials in Beirut likely had other concerns in mind, however. As Lebanon faces economic catastrophe, the caretaker government is eager to show it is playing ball with the international community’s demands for reforms in exchange for assistance.




Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah react as the group's leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses them through a giant screen on August 9, 2022. (AFP)

Haytayan said Lebanon’s primary aim was to place “a card in the hands of the political class to use to talk to the international community and to talk to the Americans for the first time, so that the Americans will not continue with the sanctions.”

Since Lebanon’s economic collapse in 2019, which was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port in August, 2020, the US has put sustained pressure on the Lebanese government to address a culture of rampant corruption.

Among those placed under sanctions by the US is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, who is a former foreign minister and the current head of the Free Patriotic Movement.




Gebran Bassil, the current head of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement. (AFP)

Because of the reputation of the Lebanese elite for lining their own pockets at the expense of the public purse, citizens cannot help but feel pessimistic about the prospect of any oil revenues that result from the border deal being put to good use.

“I think the threat to revenues not being used for the benefit of the Lebanese people, and for the rebuilding of Lebanon, comes from the existence of a totally corrupt and totally incompetent political class in Lebanon, which enjoys the support and protection of Hezbollah,” said Hof.

Although it will be at least five years before Lebanon sees any financial return on gas explorations, there are several indirect, short-term gains on offer, said Haytayan.

A public commitment given by Total that it will begin drilling operations in the Qana field could help to convince more businesses to invest in Lebanon, which would give the Lebanese government additional “cards to play with negotiators, with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the international community, the US and Europeans,” said Haytayan. “This would ease the pressure for reform that has been put on them for three-and-a-half years.”




Total Energies has committed to begin drilling operations in the Qana field once Israel and Lebanon settle their maritime border dispute. (AFP file)

US President Joe Biden called his Lebanese counterpart, Aoun, to congratulate Lebanon on the maritime deal.

“Everybody is happy that Lebanon has done this deal with Israel, so there is political energy injected into the survival (of Lebanon’s political class),” Haytayan said.

The maritime border deal is no doubt a major step forward. However, Hof doubts it will lead to any normalization of relations between Israel and Lebanon in the near future. Instead, he views the coming years as a test of the willingness of Lebanese politics for reform and of the elite’s readiness to put the needs of the public ahead of their own.

“Five years is the estimate one most often sees (for gas exploration),” said Hof. “This gives the Lebanese people five years to do their best to create a system reflecting rule of law, accountability, transparency, and to build a Lebanese state that is capable of using these God-given resources for the benefit of the Lebanese people.”

As for Badra, he explained that the deal lead Hezbollah to “emerge clearly as the Biden administration’s, and France’s, primary interlocutor in Lebanon -- a recognition that it is the only party that matters in, and that dominates, Lebanon."

“The Biden administration not only assisted Hezbollah’s optics of coercing Israel to concede under fire, but also, the deal itself cements France's partnership with Hezbollah, along with other potential foreign investments.”

 


Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria

Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria
Updated 16 sec ago

Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria

Jordanian aid plane jets off to Turkiye and Syria
  • A Jordanian rescue team, including five doctors, was also on the plane

AMMAN: Jordan’s first of several aid planes loaded with rescue equipment, tents, and logistical and medical materials for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkiye, took off on Tuesday.
Aboard the plane was a team of 99 personnel from the Jordanian International Search and Rescue Team and five doctors from the Jordanian Royal Medical Services.
Jordan’s News Agency shared on Tuesday a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, saying the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization on Monday evening reached out to authorities in Syria and Turkiye in order to send aid to the areas affected by the earthquake and to take part in rescue operations.
The JHCO is the only entity in Jordan responsible for delivering aid, the statement underscored, and any cash or in-kind donations will be delivered through the organization.


UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts
Updated 47 min 59 sec ago

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts

UK activates aid for Turkiye, Syria rescue efforts
  • Development minister: ‘The aid budget is under very considerable strain’
  • The UK is sending 76 experts and specialists to Turkiye, as well as an emergency response team

LONDON: The UK is sending aid to Syria and Turkiye to support earthquake recovery efforts, The Guardian reported.

Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said although Britain’s development budget faces “very considerable strain,” there are reserve funds that can be activated to respond to severe humanitarian disasters.

Dozens of countries around the world, as well as hundreds of aid organizations, have committed to sending aid and personnel to Turkiye and Syria in the wake of the earthquakes, which killed more than 5,000 people.

The UK is sending 76 experts and specialists to Turkiye, as well as an emergency response team, Mitchell said.

“The aid budget is under very considerable strain. But Britain always carves out a certain amount to cope with humanitarian crises,” he told Sky News.

The death toll from the series of earthquakes, which measured at magnitude 7.5, could rise to more than 20,000, the World Health Organization has warned.

“There’s continued potential of further collapses to happen so we do often see in the order of eightfold increases on the initial numbers,” said Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe.

“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows.”


Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims
Updated 07 February 2023

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Egypt to send urgent relief aid for Syria, Turkiye quake victims

Cairo - Egypt is to send urgent relief aid to Turkiye and Syria following Monday’s earthquake that killed thousands of people in the two countries.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry offered condolences to his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Miqdad, informed him about the Egyptian aid, wished success for the rescue efforts, and a speedy recovery for the injured.

Shoukry also passed on his country’s condolences to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the consular sector in the ministry was in constant touch with the Egyptian embassies in Ankara and Damascus to monitor the situation for Egyptians affected by the quake.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit sent messages to the foreign ministers of Syria and Turkiye expressing “sincere sympathy for this great affliction,” and wishing a speedy recovery for those wounded in the earthquake.


Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
Updated 07 February 2023

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
  • Rescue effort hampered by freezing conditions
  • White Helmets rescuers seek international help

AMMAN: Time is running out to save hundreds of families trapped under the rubble of buildings brought down by Monday’s earthquake, the head of the Syrian opposition-run civil defense service said on Tuesday.
Raed Al-Saleh told Reuters urgent help was needed from international groups for the rescue effort by the organization known as the White Helmets in rebel-held northwest Syria, where hundreds were killed and injured.
“Every second means saving lives and we call on all humanitarian organizations to give material aid and respond to this catastrophe urgently,” he said.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkiye and Syria early on Monday, toppling apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals and leaving thousands of people injured or homeless.
At least 1,444 people were killed in Syria and about 3,500 injured, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.
Rescue teams worked early on Tuesday to free people trapped in the rubble of buildings in southern Turkiye as the death toll in that country rose to more than 3,400.

 

 

In areas hit by the earthquake in northwestern Syria, rescue efforts were hampered by lack of equipment and freezing conditions. Rescuers cleared piles of debris using makeshift tools and their hands.
“There are a lot of efforts by our teams but they are unable to respond to the catastrophe and the large number of collapsed buildings,” Al-Saleh said.
Syria’s Emergency Response Team, a non-governmental organization that operates in the rebel-held enclave, said snow storms had closed roads within makeshift camps that house tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.
“We have great difficulty in getting heavy equipment because of the large spread of places that were affected,” said Salamah Ibrahim, a senior rescuer operating in the city of Sarmada, where a whole neighborhood fell to the ground.
The rebel-held enclave in the northwest of Syria is a refuge for around four million people, many of whom have been uprooted by a Russian-backed Syrian government assault that turned the tide in favor of President Bashar Assad during the more than decade-long Syrian conflict.
“Most of the hospitals are full and the situation is catastrophic. We are in need of medicines urgently to cover the needs,” said Zuhair al Qarat, head of the health authority in Idlib city.
Damage was also widely seen in government-held Aleppo city’s eastern sector, whose buildings bore the brunt of intensive aerial bombing by Russia and the Syrian military to push out rebels in 2016, according to rescuers and aid workers.


WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people
Updated 07 February 2023

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

GENEVA: Up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake that has killed thousands in Turkiye and Syria, the WHO warned on Tuesday, promising long-term assistance.
“Event overview maps show that potentially 23 million people are exposed, including around five million vulnerable populations,” the World Health Organization’s senior emergencies officer Adelheid Marschang said.
“Civilian infrastructure and potentially health infrastructure have been damaged across the affected region, mainly in Turkiye and northwest Syria,” she said.
The WHO “considers that the main unmet needs may be in Syria in the immediate and mid-term,” Marschang told the WHO’s executive committee in Geneva.
She spoke as rescuers in Turkiye and Syria braved freezing cold, aftershocks and collapsing buildings, as they dug for survivors buried by a string of earthquakes that killed more than 5,000 people.
“It is now a race against time,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, explaining that the UN health agency was urgently sending aid to the area.
“We’re mobilizing emergency supplies and we have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable.”
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast Turkiye-Syria border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.
The situation is particularly dire in northern Syria, which has already been decimated by years of war.
“The movement of aid through the border into northwest Syria is likely to be or is already disrupted due to the damage caused by the earthquake,” Marschang said.
“This in itself would be a huge crisis already.”
She addressed a special meeting on the tragedy, which held a minute’s silence for the victims.
The WHO chief vowed that the agency would “work closely with all partners to support authorities in both countries in the critical hours and days ahead, and in the months and years to come as both countries recover and rebuild.”