Israel moves to get final approval on Lebanon maritime deal before end of October
The Israeli government on Wednesday approved the maritime border agreement with Lebanon, launching the process for final approval, which could come before the end of the month.
Why it matters: The process is especially complicated and sensitive as Israel prepares for the Nov. 1 elections. There's also a sense of urgency due to the political timeliness in Lebanon, where President Michel Aoun's term is set to end on Oct. 31.
- U.S., Israeli and Lebanese officials say they want the agreement to be approved before the end of Aoun's term because it isn't clear if a new president will be appointed anytime soon.
State of play: The Israeli attorney general determined that given the sensitive timing of the agreement, it must go to the Knesset for review. But the attorney general said the law allows the government to decide whether to bring it for a vote in the Knesset or just approve it after a review period.
- Prime Minister Yair Lapid decided not to bring it to a vote in the Knesset fearing he wouldn't get a majority and the agreement would collapse, his aides said. Instead, the government sent it to the Knesset for a 14-day review period.
- The approval by the government plenary on Wednesday came shortly after the Israeli security cabinet approved the agreement.
Between the lines: Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has in recent weeks argued that approving the deal shortly before an election would be illegal and threatened to cancel the agreement if he is elected. But on Tuesday, as the agreement was announced, he appeared to back off from that threat.
- There have also been several appeals to the Israeli supreme court about whether an interim government can approve the agreement shortly before an election. The supreme court is likely to make a decision on the legality of the agreement before the end of the 14-day review period.
What they're saying: "When the deal is brought before the public, everyone will be able to see for themselves what an historic achievement it is for Israel, and the extent to which the false and poisonous propaganda spread about it is disconnected from reality, done for political purposes," Lapid said in a press conference Wednesday.
The big picture: The agreement was announced on Tuesday following more than a year of mediation by the Biden administration.
- Once officially approved by both the Israeli and Lebanese governments, the deal will allow the beginning of natural gas exploration in the disputed area — a potentially gas-rich, 330-square-mile area with an estimated value reaching billions of dollars — in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and reduce the threat of regional war.
- Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who in recent months had threatened war if Lebanon's economic rights weren't respected, said on Tuesday that he supports the Lebanese government's decision but stressed that Hezbollah will stay on alert until the deal is signed.
Behind the scenes: Mossad director David Barnea in an Israeli security cabinet meeting on Wednesday defended the deal, saying that people who claim the maritime border agreement is a win for Hezbollah know nothing about the situation in Lebanon, according to two ministers.
- Barnea stressed that the agreement is a de facto recognition of Israel — something Hezbollah is opposed to.
What's next: The agreement will now be reviewed by the Knesset for 14 days, starting Wednesday, before being voted on by the Israeli government for final approval.
- The foreign relations and security committee will hold a hearing about it in the coming days.