Lebanon and Israel reached a historic agreement last week settling a years-long maritime border dispute involving major energy fields in the Mediterranean Sea. The border demarcation paves the way for the two countries to cooperate on gas extraction in the Mediterranean and export it to global markets. But it stops short of a full Lebanese diplomatic recognition of Israel and is not a step toward normalization of relations between the two neighbors, which technically remain at war.
The agreement was a long time coming. Negotiations, which took place for more than a decade, had stalled for many years over a disagreement on where the maritime demarcation line between the two countries lies. Israel accepted “Line 23,” which lies further north, as the border a decade ago, but some political parties in Lebanon pushed for Beirut to adopt “Line 29,” further to the south, instead. That would have given Lebanon a larger maritime territory encompassing the entirety of the Qana offshore gas field and part of the smaller Karish field. Last week’s agreement defines Line 23 as the maritime border, placing Karish within Israeli borders while designating Qana as a shared field with Lebanon.
The United States brokered the agreement by holding separate talks with the neighboring countries. And unsurprisingly, the terms of the deal give Washington significant control over any subsequent gas extraction that takes place. Among other things, for instance, they state that companies exploring gas in Lebanon’s Block 9—where the Qana field is located—must not be “subject to international sanctions” and “would not hinder US continued facilitation.” In practice, this means that the U.S. can block companies from China, Russia, Syria or Iran from being involved in exploration projects in the gas fields.