Updated Oct 11, 2022 - World

Israel and Lebanon reach "historic" deal on maritime border

 U.S. special energy envoy Amos Hochstein (L) and Lebanese President Michel Aoun during a  in Beirut on June 14.

U.S. special energy envoy Amos Hochstein (center) and Lebanese President Michel Aoun (right) during a June meeting in Beirut. Photo: Lebanese Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Officials in Israel and Lebanon announced Tuesday they have accepted a U.S.-mediated agreement on a maritime border between the countries. 

Why it matters: Once signed, the historic deal between the two traditional enemies will allow the beginning of natural gas exploration in the disputed area in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and reduce the threat of regional war. 

  • The dispute is over a potentially gas-rich, 330-square-mile disputed area of the Mediterranean Sea with an estimated value reaching billions of dollars.
  • The need for a deal has become especially urgent as the Karish rig, a major Israeli gas project that Israel's government says is south of the disputed area, prepares to come online. Hezbollah has called the beginning of production in the Karish rig a red line.

What they're saying: "This is an historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border," Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday in announcing that Israel had agreed to the final draft proposal.

  • "The draft agreement meets all the security and economic principles laid out by Israel," he added.
  • Lebanese President Michel Aoun officially announced that Lebanon accepted the final U.S. proposal and said he hopes an agreement can be announced as soon as possible.

President Biden spoke to Lapid and Aoun separately Tuesday to congratulate their governments on the agreement, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

  • Biden in a statement hailed the agreement as a "historic breakthrough," adding that it "will provide for the development of energy fields for the benefit of both countries, setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region, and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world."
  • "It is now critical that all parties uphold their commitments and work towards implementation," he added.

The big picture: U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein in the past year resumed efforts to reach a deal after efforts by previous officials over the last decade failed.

  • Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata said Tuesday that all of the Israeli government's demands in the maritime border negotiations with Lebanese officials were met. 
  • "The changes we asked for in the text were made. All of Isrsel's security interests were safeguarded. We are on a path towards a historic agreement," he added. 
  • Lebanese chief negotiator Elias Bou Saab told Reuters the proposed agreement "takes into consideration all of Lebanon's requirements" and "could imminently lead to a historic deal."

Between the lines: The agreement still faces several challenges on the Israeli side. The security cabinet, which is expected to meet on Wednesday, will likely approve the agreement, but it also needs to be approved by the full government plenary.

  • Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has veto power in the plenary, though at this time it appears he won't use it.
  • The agreement will be reviewed by the Knesset for 14 days and then go back to the government plenary for final approval.

Yes, but: A senior Biden administration told reporters that the U.S. has "every expectation that this agreement is going to be signed and put into force as quickly as possible."

  • "I think at the end of the day, that will happen because this agreement ... delivers such critical wins for both sides," the official added.

Flashback: A week ago, it appeared the two sides were headed toward a deal. But negotiations broke down after Israeli officials rejected comments by their Lebanese counterparts on the draft agreement, claiming they were a "material breach" of the text.

  • Israeli officials were concerned about their Lebanese counterparts' refusal to recognize the three-mile security line of buoys Israel placed in the sea between the countries, and the Lebanese reservations about the compensation Israel would get for its economic rights in the disputed area. 
  • But U.S. officials continued to mediate between the parties. And Israeli and U.S. officials said on Monday night that a solution was found to the remaining issues and a final text was sent to the parties.

What to watch: Several right-wing Israeli NGOs appealed to the supreme court against the agreement.

  • The supreme court process could halt the final approval of the agreement and potentially stop it completely until after the Nov. 1 Israeli election.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional details throughout.

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