Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a signing ceremony for the Israel-Lebanon Maritime Border Argreement Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday signed the US-mediated maritime border agreement with Lebanon resolving a decades-long dispute over territorial rights and the exploitation of gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea.
“This agreement strengthens Israel’s security and our freedom of action against Hezbollah and the threats to our north,” Lapid remarked at the start of the special cabinet meeting for the approval of the maritime agreement. “There is rare consensus in the security establishment regarding the necessity of this agreement.”
Lapid noted that Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the IDF, the Mossad, and the security establishment backed the agreement and its necessity for Israel’s security and operational needs. The breakthrough of the landmark deal mediated by US envoy Amos Hochstein comes just days before Israel is headed to its fifth election within three and a half years on Nov. 1.
The signing ceremony was held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem after Israel’s cabinet convened to vote on the approval of the maritime boundary agreement between the two countries which don’t have diplomatic relations. Earlier Lebanese President Michel Aoun signed a letter approving the deal in Baada.
Lapid hailed the agreement as a “historic” and “tremendous achievement” by the government contributing to national “security, economically, diplomatically, and in energy.”
“It is not every day that an enemy country recognizes the State of Israel, in a written agreement, in view of the international community,” Lapid asserted. “It is not every day the United States and France stand behind us and provide security and economic guarantees for an agreement.”
During the ongoing indirect talks leading up to the formulation of the agreement, the head of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization Hassan Nasrallah escalated threats to attack Israeli targets in the Karish gas field, located south of the previously contested sea border area, if there is no understanding on the maritime border demarcation.
According to Orna Mizrahi, a senior analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, the agreement is a compromise but serves the interests and benefits of both countries in terms of regional stability and security that in turn may attract more investment to develop gas reserves.
A permanent demarcation of the maritime border between two countries can be viewed as Lebanese recognition of Israel, according to Mizrahi.
“Despite the indirect talks and the Lebanese effort to prevent any sign of normalization, due to Hezbollah’s determined opposition, the agreement reflects a fundamental change in the relations between the two states,” Mizrahi said. “It pulls the rug out from under Hezbollah’s claims that Israel is an illegitimate entity that should not be recognized; proves that Hezbollah is not omnipotent in Lebanon and is also forced to compromise; and may contribute to a positive change in the Lebanese public’s perception of Israel and create an opening for future progress in relations.”