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.”

 


Second Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser dies after Israeli attack in Syria

Updated 6 sec ago

Second Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser dies after Israeli attack in Syria

Second Iranian Revolutionary Guard adviser dies after Israeli attack in Syria
DUBAI: A military adviser to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps died of his injuries after an Israeli air strike near Syria’s capital, Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Sunday.
Israel has for years carried out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in the civil war that began in 2011.
Iran says its officers serve in an advisory role in Syria at the invitation of Damascus. Dozens of Revolutionary Guards members including senior officers have been killed in Syria during the war.
“Meqdad Meqdani was wounded during the Zionist attack on Friday dawn and was martyred,” Mehr news said.
Friday’s air strike, the sixth attack by Israel in Syria in March according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also killed another Revolutionary Guards military adviser and officer, Milad Haydari.
The Revolutionary Guards vowed to respond to the Israeli attack on Friday.

Israeli strikes in Syria’s Homs province wound five soldiers

Israeli strikes in Syria’s Homs province wound five soldiers
Updated 02 April 2023

Israeli strikes in Syria’s Homs province wound five soldiers

Israeli strikes in Syria’s Homs province wound five soldiers
  • On Friday, Israeli airstrikes hit the suburbs of Syria’s capital city, Damascus, killing an Iranian adviser, the state media of Syria and Iran reported

BEIRUT: Israeli airstrikes hit several sites in Syria’s Homs province early Sunday, wounding five soldiers, Syrian state media reported.
It marked the ninth time Israel has struck targets in Syria since the beginning of the year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked war monitor.
State news agency SANA, citing military sources, said the strikes had targeted sites in the city of Homs and surrounding countryside. Syrian air defenses intercepted the missiles and shot down some of them, it said.
The observatory reported that the missiles targeted Syrian military sites and those of Iran-linked militias, including a research center.
There was no immediate statement from Israel on the strikes.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, including attacks on the Damascus and Aleppo airports, but it rarely acknowledges specific operations.
Israel says it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
On Friday, Israeli airstrikes hit the suburbs of Syria’s capital city, Damascus, killing an Iranian adviser, the state media of Syria and Iran reported.
Iran’s state television reported Friday that Milad Heidari, an Iranian military adviser, was killed during what it called a “criminal strike” by Israel.
An Israeli airstrike last month targeting the airport in Aleppo put it out of commission for two days. The airport has been a main conduit for aid shipments since the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Syria and Turkiye on Feb. 6.
Israel has also struck seaports in government-held areas of Syria, in an apparent attempt to prevent Iranian arms shipments to militant groups backed by Tehran, including Hezbollah.

 


Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al-Mansoori marks another milestone on Arab space mission

Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al-Mansoori marks another milestone on Arab space mission
Updated 01 April 2023

Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al-Mansoori marks another milestone on Arab space mission

Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al-Mansoori marks another milestone on Arab space mission
  • Ground-breaking mission also includes Sultan Al-Neyadi, the first Arab astronaut to embark on a long-duration spaceflight
  • Salem Humaid Al-Marri, MBRSC director-general said: ‘Expedition 69 represents the longest Arab space mission to date and marks the first time an Arab astronaut has been appointed as increment lead’

DUBAI: Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al-Mansoori has become the first Arab to be appointed to the key role of increment lead for an International Space Station expedition, reported Emirates News Agency on Saturday.
Since the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft undocked on March 28, the historic Expedition 69 has marked a milestone for the Arab region and the UAE.
In addition to Al-Mansoori, the ground-breaking mission includes Sultan Al-Neyadi, the first Arab astronaut to embark on a long-duration spaceflight.
As part of his duty as a lead, the Emirati astronaut will guide the ISS crew through every aspect of the mission, underscoring the UAE’s expanding contribution to the field of space exploration.
Expedition 69 crew members are set to conduct multiple experiments during their mission, including investigating the effects of microgravity on material combustion to enhance spacecraft safety, testing a novel tool for deep-space immune monitoring, and advancing research on 3D-cultured cardiac muscle tissue to evaluate human cardiac function in microgravity.
Al-Neyadi will also test samples for microorganisms from outside the space station.
Salem Humaid Al-Marri, director-general of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, said: “Expedition 69 represents the longest Arab space mission to date and marks the first time an Arab astronaut has been appointed as increment lead. Al-Mansoori’s appointment to this position is a testament to his exceptional skills and knowledge.”
It sets the stage for more Arab astronauts to participate in space exploration., according to Al-Marri, who added: “We are excited to witness Sultan and Hazzaa collaborate to conduct ground-breaking experiments that will broaden our knowledge of space and understanding of life in microgravity.”
Al-Mansoori shoulders a critical responsibility for the seamless integration and execution of ISS crew activities throughout Expedition 69.
This involves an array of duties, such as developing, managing, implementing, and communicating mission integration procedures.
Al-Mansoori will ensure the mission’s efficiency and effectiveness by serving as the primary point of contact between the ground team and the ISS crew during operations.
He said: “I am honored to facilitate seamless information exchange between the Astronauts Office and the ISS Expedition team. However, my role entails more than just transmitting data. It includes understanding and appreciating our crew’s challenges and triumphs in space. We aim to advance human space exploration through our collective efforts to support Expedition 69.”
Al-Neyadi has begun conducting experiments with the BioFabrication Facility, evaluating its capacity to produce knee cartilage tissue for treating injuries in space and remote locations on Earth.
He underwent neck, shoulder, and leg vein scans using the Ultrasound 2 medical device.
Expedition 69 crew aboard the ISS comprises astronauts Al-Neyadi, Stephen Bowen, Woody Hoburg, Frank Rubio, Dmitri Petelin, Sergey Prokopyev and Andrey Fedyaev.


Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book

Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book
Updated 01 April 2023

Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book

Turkish, Syrian children collaborate on bilingual book
  • The book — which has been published in Turkish and Arabic — is currently being distributed to libraries, schools and museums in the city
  • “These children are the heroes of a common story,” Asli Gokgoz, a teacher and the project coordinator, told Arab News

ANKARA: As part of a project jointly funded by the Goethe Institute, the Dutch Embassy, the Swedish Consulate, the French Cultural Center, the Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation, and the Anadolu Kultur Foundation, 40 Turkish and Syrian children living in Turkiye’s southeastern province of Gaziantep have collaborated to write and illustrate a book titled “Gokce” (sky in Turkish), alluding to the fact that people of all races, cultures and creeds live together under the same sky.
Gaziantep, whose population is nearly 2 million, is home to about half a million Syrian refugees. The city has the second-highest population of Syrians after Istanbul. Currently, there are 3.6 million Syrian refugees across Turkiye, including 1.6 million children.
The book — which has been published in Turkish and Arabic — is currently being distributed to libraries, schools and museums in the city, including mobile libraries for children that were set up following the earthquake in February that left more than 50,000 people dead in Turkiye and Syria. The book’s cover bears the fingerprints of all the children who helped to produce it.
“These children are the heroes of a common story,” Asli Gokgoz, a teacher and the project coordinator, told Arab News. “They grew up with different stories, but they showed that they could come together to produce a common narrative that symbolizes the cultural, ethnical and linguistic heterogeneity of Gaziantep province.”
The book opens with a well-known sentence: Once upon a time. Then, children began developing the story jointly by consensus. It is about the adventures of a girl named Gokce, who lives with her lambs and family on a green upland full of colorful flowers.
The children received creative-writing training and attended interactive reading and drawing workshops to enable them to better express their feelings through words and drawings.
“These workshops helped them listen to their own voices while at the same time paying attention to what their peers were saying. We tried to contribute to their own journey of self-discovery and help to reestablish their self-confidence,” Gokgoz said.
“They are aware of their differences but they also know that they enjoy the same child rights. Such a project helped them establish a common story by a collective effort to blend these disparities around a common dream,” Gokgoz continued.
Several Syrian children who took part in the project came to Gaziantep to escape the brutal war in their home country, and are still struggling to rebuild their lives, especially following February’s earthquake. One of them, 14-year-old Mariam Nasser, told Arab News: “In spite of differences in ages and cultural backgrounds, we can integrate our efforts to produce valuable results. Social cohesion is an important factor for healthy communities.”
Nasser, who was born in Syria and came to Gaziantep as a refugee several years ago, said the project’s workshops had helped her develop her imagination and writing abilities.
“I liked getting to know Turkish children and playing with them. I even felt my self-confidence growing. Our common project also helped our families, because Turkish and Syrian families also built bridges between themselves and left behind several prejudices,” she said. “This book is a clear sign that children can achieve anything when they come together under the same sky.”
Another Turkish participant shares the same feeling.
“After this project, I learned how to live together under the same sky,” 10-year-old Ege Mai, a resident of Gaziantep, told Arab News. “I understood that people can be different from each other, but that we are all basically the same.”
 


Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade

Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade
Updated 01 April 2023

Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade

Syria foreign minister makes first Egypt visit for more than a decade
  • An Egyptian security source said the visit was aimed at putting in place steps for Syria’s return to the Arab League

CAIRO: Egypt and Syria agreed to strengthen cooperation on Saturday during the first official visit by a Syrian foreign minister to Cairo in more than a decade, the latest sign of Arab states mending ties with President Bashar al Assad.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was embraced by Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry as he arrived at Egypt’s foreign ministry in the first official trip since before the uprising and conflict that began in Syria in 2011.
President Assad was shunned by many Western and Arab states due to the war in Syria, which splintered the country and left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
“The ministers agreed to intensify channels of communication between the two countries at different levels during the coming phase,” a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry said.
Egypt also reiterated its backing for a “comprehensive political settlement to the Syrian crisis as soon as possible.”
An Egyptian security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the visit was aimed at putting in place steps for Syria’s return to the Arab League through Egyptian and Saudi Arabian mediation.
The Cairo-based Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 and many Arab states pulled their envoys out of Damascus.
Some countries, including the United States and Qatar, have opposed the rehabilitation of ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution in Syria.
But key regional powers including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have recently signalled increasing openness toward Damascus.
Egypt’s Shoukry visited Syria and Turkiye in February after the devastating earthquakes there, and on Saturday reiterated a pledge of support for its victims.
Egypt’s foreign ministry published pictures of Shoukry warmly greeting Mekdad at the foreign ministry on the banks of the Nile, as well as in one-on-one talks and leading a wider discussion.