Hezbollah terror chief welcomes border deal, claims ‘resistance’ prodded Israel

Hassan Nasrallah drops threats against Israel’s offshore drilling, says group’s drones achieved goal of deterrence

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, gives a televised speech for the Shiite commemoration of Arbaeen, September 17, 2022. (Twitter screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, gives a televised speech for the Shiite commemoration of Arbaeen, September 17, 2022. (Twitter screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The leader of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah on Tuesday cautiously welcomed the agreement between Israel and Lebanon to settle a maritime border dispute, claiming his group’s “resistance” helped prod Israel toward a deal.

Hezbollah had repeatedly threatened Israel during the negotiations and launched several drones at Israel’s offshore gas installations.

“Tonight we will not issue threats. Tonight there will only be joy and clapping,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address, adding that Hezbollah will “remain on alert” until the agreement is signed.

“We don’t need to send out drones or carry out maneuvers because the goal was for the enemy to understand that the resistance is serious,” he said.

The terror chief also said, “Israel is more afraid of war than the Lebanese.”

Earlier Tuesday both countries announced their acceptance of the latest US proposal for the first-ever mutually agreed upon boundary between Israel and Lebanon. The two countries have no direct diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war.

If ratified by both governments, the deal will put to bed a long-running dispute over some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea, covering the Karish and the Qana offshore gas fields.

Over the past several months, Hezbollah threatened to strike Israel if it began extracting gas from Karish. In July, the terror group launched several drones at the reservoir, which were shot down by the IDF.

A drone which the Israeli military says was launched by the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, is seen shortly before being intercpted by an Israeli fighter jet over the Mediterranean Sea, July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Nasrallah on Tuesday dismissed those in Israel who claimed Hezbollah sought to sabotage the deal, adding that he doesn’t have any issue with Lebanese officials who have said that the deal meets their demands.

“We only care about the extraction of oil and gas from Lebanese waters and our stance on demarcation is known,” Nasrallah said, specifying that he still does not recognize Israel’s border.

Lebanon is mired in a historic financial crisis and hopes extracting gas will buoy the economy, although the agreement’s benefits for the country are likely years away.

Israel’s opposition led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have decried the deal as a capitulation to Hezbollah. Netanyahu said Tuesday the agreement was a “historic surrender.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz dismissed the charges, saying Israel “had not and will not give up on one millimeter of security.”

A senior Israeli official familiar with the negotiations told reporters Tuesday that the agreement will see the buoy-marked borderline established by Israel in 2000 five kilometers (3.1 miles) off the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra recognized by the sides as an agreed-upon status quo. Lebanon will not be allowed to make counter-claims regarding that boundary unless a new maritime agreement is reached between the parties.

At the end of the buoys, Israel’s border will follow the southern edge of the disputed area known as Line 23, the senior Israeli official said.

Map showing Israel-Lebanon maritime border claims (AFP News Agency)

Lebanon will enjoy the economic benefits of the area north of Line 23, including the Qana gas field, though the senior Israeli official said Jerusalem will receive monetary compensation for a certain percentage of revenue from the Qana, part of which lies south of Line 23. The exact compensation will be decided in negotiations with the French drilling company TotalEnergies.

Israel will also receive a letter of guarantees from the US stressing Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security and economic rights in case Hezbollah or another party fails to respect the deal, according to the senior Israeli official, who said the agreement will contribute to border stability and reduce Lebanon’s dependence on Iranian funds.

In a subsequent phone briefing with reporters, the senior US official went on to affirm Israel’s control over the Karish gas field, which is located south of Line 23 and dismissed threats made by Hezbollah that the terror group would attack Israel if it began extracting natural gas at the site before a maritime deal was reached.

Earlier Tuesday, US President Joe Biden phoned Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Lebanese President Michel Aoun in separate calls to congratulate them on the deal between the two countries.

Biden said in a statement that the maritime deal announced by both governments earlier Tuesday “will provide for the development of energy fields for the benefit of both countries, setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region, and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid flies over the Karish gas field on July 19, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

He urged Jerusalem and Beirut to “uphold their commitments and work towards implementation,” as questions continued to arise about whether it would be possible to implement the deal, given that both countries are currently run by caretaker governments and that Israel is just weeks away from an election.

Still, Biden insisted that the agreement “protects Israel’s security and economic interests critical to promoting its regional integration” while providing Lebanon “the space to begin its own exploitation of energy resources.”

Asked by The Times of Israel during the phone briefing whether the maritime deal announced Tuesday factored in Hezbollah’s warnings, a senior US official said, “threats are not what drove these negotiations. What drove them was the need to secure the entire coast for Israel and to provide economic interests for Lebanon.”

“In that context. The United States has always supported Israel’s right to develop Karish, and we are satisfied and happy that Lebanon will now be able to develop the [Qana field] as well as others,” the official added.

While Lebanon in recent months agreed to negotiate a border based on Line 23, it had previously pushed a more aggressive Line 29 demand, which would have seen Israel’s Karish field fall under dispute as well.

“The Karish field was not in the disputed area,” the official said, dismissing claims to the contrary.

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