Scoop: U.S. hopes for Lebanon-Israel maritime dispute deal in 2 months
U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein told Israeli negotiators last week that he wanted to try to get a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border dispute in two months, two Israeli officials told Axios.
Why it matters: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasralla has threatened to use force to prevent the Karish rig, which is located south of the disputed area and seen by Israel as a "strategic asset," from producing natural gas, which is expected to start in 10 weeks.
- Hochstein is concerned about a potential escalation and thinks the time left can be used as a window of opportunity when both sides will have an incentive to get a deal and avoid a flare-up, according to Israeli officials.
Driving the news: Last Friday, Hochstein had a virtual meeting with the Israeli negotiations team and briefed them on the position he received from the Lebanese government during his trip to Beirut the week before.
- Israeli officials told Axios Hochstein sounded upbeat about his trip to Beirut. According to the officials, he said there was progress and all main political players in Lebanon managed to get a consensus regarding the way forward.
- The Israeli negotiators stressed the most important thing for them is ensuring Israel’s security interests are guaranteed, Israeli officials told me.
- An agreement could allow Lebanon to begin natural gas exploration, which may boost its imperiled economy.
What they're saying: The Israeli officials said they think two months is a possible timetable for getting a deal in principle.
- “We all understand the time window, and we all hope we can make progress," a senior Israeli official told me.
- The State Department didn’t comment on the details from Hochstein’s virtual meeting with the Israeli negotiation team.
- “The exchanges with the Lebanese and the Israelis were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
What’s next: Hochstein is expected to join President Biden for his visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia in July. Israeli officials say he will likely have meetings about the maritime border dispute on the sidelines of the visit.