U.S. pressed Lebanon to criticize Hezbollah for launching drones
The Biden administration pressed the Lebanese government to criticize Hezbollah’s attempt to send drones to an Israeli natural gas rig in the Mediterranean and to commit to resolving the maritime border dispute with Israel only through negotiations, sources briefed on the issue told Axios.
Why it matters: The U.S. is concerned Hezbollah's actions will sabotage its efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime border by September.
- Lebanon and Israel each claim a potentially gas-rich, 330-square-mile area off their borders in the Mediterranean Sea.
Driving the news: The Israeli military on Saturday shot down three Hezbollah drones headed toward the Karish gas rig.
- Hezbollah said it launched the unarmed drones on a reconnaissance mission meant to send a “message” to Israel.
Behind the scenes: U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein and U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea spoke to senior political and military leaders in Lebanon over the weekend. They raised concerns about the drones incident and asked the Lebanese government to publicly speak against it, sources briefed on the issue said.
- According to the sources, Hochstein told several senior Lebanese officials that progress in the maritime border dispute with Israel will be achieved only through negotiations and not through provocations by Hezbollah.
What they're saying: After the U.S. pressure, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib on Monday issued a statement committing to the U.S.-led negotiations and criticizing Hezbollah without directly mentioning it by name.
- "Any act that falls outside the framework of the state's responsibility and the diplomatic track within which negotiations are taking place, is unacceptable and exposes [Lebanon] to unnecessary risks," Bou Habib and Mikati said.
A day later, Hezbollah’s television channel, Al-Manar, responded by criticizing Mikati and Bou Habib without mentioning them by name.
- “Hezbollah is surprised by the shortsightedness of some political leaders that are ready to give up on some of Lebanon’s leverage. Hezbollah made it clear to those politicians directly that this is a capitulation under U.S. pressure," Al-Manar said, quoting a source in Hezbollah.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid met Tuesday in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and asked him to use his influence on Lebanese leaders to not allow Hezbollah sabotage the talks and to move towards a deal on the maritime border.
- "The Lebanese government needs to rein in Hezbollah or we will be compelled to do it ourselves," Lapid.
- Macron has an interest in seeing a deal go through. The French energy company Total is likely to do the natural gas exploration on the Lebanese side if a deal is reached. Macron said on Tuesday he is ready to help.