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Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Amos Hochstein, State Department special envoy and coordinator for International Energy Affairs, in January 2015. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department's energy envoy, Amos Hochstein, will serve as the new mediator between Lebanon and Israel in a dispute over the maritime border and natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, Israeli and U.S. officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: Hochstein is one of President Biden’s closest confidants and has worked with him for many years. Appointing Hochstein as the mediator raises the profile of this ongoing conflict, and signals it is a higher priority for the Biden administration.

The big picture: Israeli and U.S. officials hope the new government in Lebanon and the energy and economic crisis in the country will create an incentive for the Lebanese to move on the issue.

  • The talks are an attempt to resolve a dispute over natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The revenues at stake could reach the tens of billions of dollars.

The backstory: There have been major natural gas discoveries off the coasts of both countries over the last decade, and the border dispute has halted gas exploration in an area that has attracted the interest of U.S. energy companies.

  • The U.S.-brokered talks that began in October 2020 were the first direct political negotiations between Israeli and Lebanese officials in 30 years, but they stalled after several rounds.

Driving the news: Hochstein is replacing career diplomat John Desrocher, who was appointed as the U.S. mediator during the Trump administration. Desrocher was appointed as the charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Qatar.

What they are saying: “We can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as U.S. mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks, which he held during the Obama Administration. He looks to build upon the strong work done by Ambassador John Desrocher over the last year,” a State Department spokesperson told Axios.

What’s next: Hochstein is expected to arrive on a first visit to Lebanon and Israel during October, Israeli officials told Axios.

Go deeper: Israel and Lebanon to resume U.S.-mediated talks on maritime border

Go deeper

Oct 13, 2021 - World

Biden's new Iran dilemma

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

The Biden administration is grappling with a new dilemma as nuclear negotiations with Iran remain frozen: whether more pressure on Iran would help push the Iranians back to the 2015 deal, or lead Iran to escalate its nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The Iranian nuclear program has made significant advances in recent months that will be difficult to roll back — and that could potentially undercut the benefits of salvaging the 2015 accord, particularly if a deal isn’t reached soon.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressman criminally charged with lying to feds

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has been indicted on charges he falsified records and lied to federal investigators probing an illegal foreign donation scheme, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Driving the news: DOJ says a Fortenberry associate, who later cooperated with investigators, informed him he'd likely received illegal donations from an intermediary for a foreign national, but that Fortenberry denied any knowledge of such a scheme when contacted by the FBI.

"Assassin's Creed," but for schools

"Viking Age: Discovery Tour." Image via Ubisoft

For the third time since 2018, Ubisoft is releasing a nonviolent version of its latest “Assassin’s Creed” game as part of a unique effort to turn one of the medium’s most popular series into an educational tool.

Driving the news:Viking Age: Discovery Tour” transforms last year’s “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” from a bloody 150-hour game about Viking conquest in 9th century England into a peaceful four-hour game about merchants and monks.