Biden drafts letter guaranteeing Israel’s rights in Lebanon maritime deal

US president affirms commitment to Jerusalem’s right to self-defense as well as partial economic rights in Qana gas field

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US President Joe Biden (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid shake hands after signinig the Jerusalem Declaration before the start of a joint press conference in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid shake hands after signinig the Jerusalem Declaration before the start of a joint press conference in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

US President Joe Biden has drafted a letter to Prime Minister Yair Lapid guaranteeing America’s commitment to the full implementation of the new maritime boundary deal with Lebanon and to Israel’s security and economic rights contained in the agreement, a senior US official said on Saturday evening.

The text of the letter was concluded between Israel and the US on Friday and Biden is expected to sign it early this coming week, the official said.

In the letter, Biden stresses the US commitment to supporting Israel’s ability to defend itself, including its gas infrastructure and ships in the Mediterranean.

The US also recognizes the buoy line stretching 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) into the sea from Rosh Hanikra as the status quo line, and opposes any attempt to change the line without Israel’s agreement.

Washington commits in the letter to supporting Israel’s partial economic rights to the Qana gas field, which under the deal is held by Lebanon, and underscores that it will prevent Hezbollah from receiving any revenue from it.

In addition, Biden commits to standing with Israel against any attempts to violate the maritime agreement.

The convoy of the Lebanese delegation drive towards a UN post along the border known as Ras Naqoura, where Lebanese and Israeli delegations met, in the southern town of Naqoura, Lebanon, October 27, 2022. (Mohammed Zaatari/AP)

The American president praises Lapid’s role in bringing about the agreement, calling it “heroic.”

The final text of the letter will not be released, according to an Israeli official.

The letter comes days after Israel approved the US-brokered maritime deal with Lebanon, which Lapid hailed as an enemy state’s recognition of the State of Israel, though Beirut has rejected his assertion.

The cabinet vote on the deal Thursday came hours ahead of the signing of the agreement by both sides at a ceremony at a United Nations base in Lebanon, and shortly after Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun signed a letter confirming that Beirut accepted the deal.

Lapid signed the agreement shortly after the cabinet vote.

Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war and the deal does not touch on the land border. However, the agreement is seen as tacit recognition of Israel by Lebanon, with the consent of the powerful Hezbollah terror group.

Energean’s floating production system (FPSO) at the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. (Energean)

After the agreement was sealed on Thursday, Hezbollah said it would end its special mobilization against Israel, having threatened to attack if Jerusalem began extracting natural gas at the Karish drilling site before a deal was finalized. Gas extraction began at Karish on Wednesday.

The deal came as Lebanon hopes to extract itself from what the World Bank calls one of the worst economic crises in modern world history, and as Lapid sought to lock in a major achievement, days ahead of a general election on November 1.

The agreement ends a long-running dispute over some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea, covering Israel’s Karish and Lebanon’s Qana gas fields.

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