Hezbollah terror group leader Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that he did not think incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will renege on the maritime border agreement signed between Israel and Lebanon last month.
“We do not believe that Israel will withdraw from this agreement or cancel it,” Nasrallah said while commenting on Netanyahu’s election victory during a televised address marking Hezbollah’s “Martyr Day.”
Netanyahu came out strongly against the maritime deal while campaigning for the November 1 election, accusing Prime Minister Yair Lapid of handing over sovereign Israeli territory to Hezbollah.
The Likud chief claimed Lapid had succumbed to threats from Nasrallah and warned that his government would not be beholden by the agreement if he won the election. Netanyahu later pledged to “neutralize” the deal as he claimed to have done to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.
The maritime agreement, which Lebanon hopes can help lift it out of its crippling economic crisis, is intended to end 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.
Under the deal, Israel receives recognition for a buoy-marked boundary it established in 2000, five kilometers (3.1 miles) off the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra. After that, Israel’s border will follow the southern edge of the disputed area known as Line 23.
Lebanon will enjoy the economic benefits of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana field, while Israel will move ahead with gas production at the Karish field and will receive revenues from Qana if and when it begins operations.
Nasrallah dismissed the impact Netanyahu could have on the fate of the maritime deal, saying, “What’s protecting Lebanon are God and the army-people-resistance equation of strength.”
“It makes no difference to us who wins the Israeli elections because all Zionist governments are occupier, brutal and criminal,” he said in remarks translated by the Hezbollah-linked Naharnet news site.
“Some consider their guarantee for the sea border deal to be US commitment but our real guarantee is the elements of strength that Lebanon possesses,” he added.
Nasrallah also said Hezbollah wants Lebanon’s next president to “reassure” the group and stand up to the United States, after Michel Aoun’s term expired last month without a successor.
The international community has warned that a prolonged presidential vacuum would compound Lebanon’s political and economic woes.
The country has already been ruled by a caretaker government with limited powers since May and is mired in three years of economic turmoil.
“We want a president who can reassure the resistance, who doesn’t stab it in the back,” said the head of the powerful Iran-backed group.
Lebanon’s next president “should not be scared if the US ambassador or the US administration yells at him… He must not begin to tremble and make concessions,” he added in a televised speech.
Lebanon’s divided parliament has held five rounds of voting since September, with no candidate garnering enough support to succeed Aoun, as Hezbollah and its allies cast blank votes.
Lawmaker Michel Moawad has gathered the most votes in parliament although he is far from securing enough support to clinch the presidency.
Moawad has good ties with Washington and has repeatedly asked for Hezbollah — the only faction to keep its weapons after the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war — to disarm.