Jul 20, 2022 - World

Hezbollah threatens war over Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute

Hezbollah flags on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images
Hezbollah flags on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

With the U.S., Israeli and Lebanese governments hoping to finally reach a deal on the disputed Israel-Lebanon maritime border, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah again threatened war if Lebanon's "rights" in the Mediterranean aren't respected.

Why it matters: The dispute is focused on a potentially gas-rich, 330-square-mile area of the Mediterranean Sea off of Israel and Lebanon. The revenues from future natural gas production there could reach billions of dollars.

  • One major gas project, the Karish oil field, is expected to come online this fall and is part of Israel's plans to become a major gas supplier to Europe.
  • Israel says Karish is south of the disputed area, but Nasrallah warned that if Lebanon's rights aren't respected, Hezbollah won't allow Israel to produce any gas there. Two weeks ago, the Israeli military shot down three Hezbollah drones that were on their way to the Karish field.
  • “We might be going to war and we might not. We don’t want to open a new front, we only want our rights. If someone in Lebanon thinks capitulation is the solution, we think it’s unacceptable," Nasrallah said yesterday.

State of play: U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein is mediating between the Israeli and Lebanese governments, which are technically in a state of war and have yet to make a breakthrough during years of stop-start diplomacy on this issue.

  • Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid told Hochstein during a brief conversation on the sidelines of his bilateral meeting with President Biden last week that he wants a deal to be agreed on as soon as possible, two Israeli officials tell me.
  • Hochstein told Lapid and the other Israeli officials he met while accompanying Biden on the trip that he's optimistic about the chances of a deal in the near future. The U.S. envoy has told Israeli and Lebanese officials that he wants a deal by September, but that appears unlikely.
  • Meanwhile, Nasrallah said Lebanon agreed to major concessions, but Hochstein hadn’t provided a clear answer from Israel. “I hope we don’t need to fire one bullet or one missile before the enemy retreats," Nasrallah said, speaking during a religious gathering.

What they're saying: Lapid said Tuesday that Lebanon could also benefit from developing the natural gas reservoirs in its economic waters, “but it will happen through negotiations which we need to finish as soon as possible."

  • Lebanese President Michel Aoun told a visiting U.S. delegation of think tank experts on Monday that he does want to get a deal on the maritime border while keeping the situation on the border with Israel stable.
  • After Biden left Israel last Friday, the State Department issued a statement committing to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to reach a deal on the maritime boundary.
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