Aug 31, 2022 - World

Biden "emphasized importance" of resolving Lebanon-Israel maritime dispute in Lapid call

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (right) meets U.S. special energy envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut on June 14. Photo: Lebanese Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Lebanese President Michel Aoun (right) meets U.S. special energy envoy Amos Hochstein in Beirut on June 14. Photo: Lebanese Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden in his call with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday "emphasized the importance" of resolving the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon in the coming week, the White House said in a readout of the call.

The big picture: The U.S., Lebanon and Israel have expressed a sense of urgency to get a deal as soon as possible as Hezbollah intensifies its threats to go to war if Beirut's economic rights are not respected.

  • U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochsteinwho is mediating between the two countries, is expected to visit Beirut and Jerusalem next week in an effort to reach a deal in the dispute, Israeli officials said.
  • During his call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday, President Biden raised the maritime border dispute and said Hochstein will arrive in the region in the coming days, an Israeli official said.

Catch up quick: The dispute is over a potential gas-rich, 330-square-mile disputed area of the Mediterranean Sea with an estimated value reaching billions of dollars.

  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called the beginning of production in the Karish rig, a major Israeli gas project that Israel says is located south of the disputed area, a red line.
  • The rig won’t come online before the end of September, according to Israeli officials. That gives more time to reach an agreement.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials said that Hochstein visited Paris this week for talks with French officials about the maritime dispute.

  • France is one of the Western countries with the most influence on Lebanon and maintains a close relationship with Israel.
  • Israeli officials said Hochstein was expected to meet senior executives from French energy giant Total, which has the gas exploration rights in Lebanese waters and will have a stake in any future agreement between Israel and Lebanon.

State of play: Hochstein in recent weeks held several calls with Israeli and Lebanese negotiators, but Israeli officials said the process of drafting an agreement hasn’t started yet.

What they're saying: Resolving the dispute is a "key priority" for the Biden administration, a White House official said Wednesday.

  • "We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and believe a lasting compromise is possible," the official said, adding that Hochstein is in daily communication with Israeli and Lebanese officials.

Editor's note: This story and its headline has been updated with details from Biden's call with Lapid.

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