Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Start of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon to define their common borders

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Wednesday, October 14th 2020 à 12:46 | Read 607 times

Negotiations are held in Naqoura, the headquarters of UNIFIL (photo: NNA).
Negotiations are held in Naqoura, the headquarters of UNIFIL (photo: NNA).
LEBANON / ISRAEL. The first talks in thirty years between Lebanon and Israel begin on Wednesday 14 October 2020 in the town of Naqoura, in southern Lebanon (200 metres from Israel), where the headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) is located.

The two countries, still officially at war, had signed on 1 October 2020 a framework agreement to define their maritime and land borders under the aegis of the UN. At the time, Lebanon stated, through Nabih Berry, President of Parliament, that the issue of maritime borders "must go hand in hand with that of land borders". But the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, made another speech. "The negotiations are technical and specific to the demarcation of maritime borders," he said during his meeting on Tuesday 13 October 2020 with the Lebanese delegation and Jan Kubis, special coordinator of the United Nations for Lebanon, according to statements reported by the National Information Agency (NNA), the official site of the Ministry of Information.

In Israel, officials stress that the discussions will only concern the dispute over the maritime route. "We are not talking about peace talks or negotiations on normalisation, but rather about trying to resolve a technical-economic problem that for a decade has prevented us from developing the natural resources of the sea for the benefit of the people of the region," insists Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Energy Minister. The disputed area between the two countries (in red in the photo below) covers 330 square miles, or about 860 km².

Gas to give a balloon of oxygen to the Lebanese debt

Israel and Lebanon compete for an area rich in natural gas (map: DR)
Israel and Lebanon compete for an area rich in natural gas (map: DR)
Negotiations will take place indirectly between the Israelis and the Lebanese. The representatives of the UN and the United States - the latter as mediators, headed by David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East - will act as a link between the two delegations. They should not talk to each other. According to the Times of Israel newspaper, the Lebanese delegation will consist of four members and will be led by Brigadier General Bassam Yassin of the Air Force. The other three participants are a marine colonel (Mazen Basbous), the Lebanese oil official (Wissam Chbat) and border expert Najib Massihi.

The Israeli delegation will be led by Udi Adiri, Director General of the Ministry of Energy, accompanied by the chief of staff of Minister Yuval Steinitz (Mor Halutz), the international adviser of the same minister (Aviv Ayash), the Deputy National Security Advisor (Reuven Azar), the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the United Nations and International Organisations (Alon Bar), and Brigadier General Oren Setter, head of the Israeli army's strategic division.

They are all the more important since a route of the dividing line between their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) would clearly define the respective hydrocarbon prospecting zones in this Eastern Mediterranean with promising deposits of much coveted natural gas. And not only by Lebanon and Israel but also by the other countries of the region, as shown by the current conflict between the European Union and Turkey.

While Israel already sells gas to Jordan and Egypt and is seeking to increase its production, resolving this thorny issue would bring a balloon of oxygen to Lebanon. The Cedar country has been in default since March 2020 and faces a colossal debt (166% of its GDP in the first quarter of 2020), the third largest in the world behind Japan and Greece. The manna of hydrocarbons could come to relieve it and give the future Prime Minister room for manoeuvre.

A second session of negotiations between Lebanon and Israel is scheduled for 28th October 2020.

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