A “historic agreement” has been signed by Lebanon and Israel that has the potential to ease security and economic concerns in both countries.
Neighbors have backed the final draft of a US-brokered maritime boundary deal that will resolve a territorial dispute in the eastern tip of the Mediterranean Sea.
The deal has the potential to enable additional natural gas production in the Mediterranean – at a time when European economies are eagerly seeking new suppliers.
Meanwhile, Lebanon hopes to pull itself out of its spiraling economic crisis if the gas can be found.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the deal was a “historic achievement that will strengthen IsraelIsrael’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy and ensure the stability of our northern border”.
Although limited in scope, the agreement has the potential to pave the way for new discussions between the countries, whose common history is full of conflict.
The deal aims to resolve a territorial dispute in an area where Lebanon wants to explore for natural gas, and near waters where Israel has already found commercially viable quantities of hydrocarbons.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militia backed by Iran, had threatened to use force against Israel if it searched for gas near the disputed area before Lebanon was allowed to do so in its own area maritime.
Hezbollah led the country’s coalition government until elections in May 2022, since then Lebanon has not had a fully functioning government, but officials said the party approved the deal after it was signed.
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Lebanon’s president said a deal would not mean “partnership” with Israel, a country he does not recognize and officially considers an enemy.
“We are avoiding an infallible war in the region,” Lebanese interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati said last week.
It is understood that the agreement must be ratified by both countries before being confirmed.
Israel is holding elections on November 1 and it is still unclear whether the deal would require parliamentary approval.
An official in the country said following the signing that he expected the deal to be approved in three weeks.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said French gas company TotalEnergies would begin the process of exploring for gas in Lebanese waters as soon as the deal is signed.
The deal comes at a time when gas prices have risen and European economies have been looking for new gas suppliers after Russia supply reduced following his invasion of Ukraine.