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Likud: Deal hands 'huge Israeli gas reserve to Hezbollah'

Lapid: Netanyahu aiding Hezbollah by criticizing Lebanon maritime deal

PM hits back at opposition, asserts emerging agreement over gas fields fully meets Israel’s needs; justice minister assures MKs pact will be brought to Knesset for approval

Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 02, 2022. (Amit Shabi/POOL)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 02, 2022. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid accused opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday of aiding Hezbollah terror group propaganda efforts with his criticism of an emerging agreement to demarcate the maritime border with Lebanon — a step that could allow both countries to explore offshore resources.

After the US presented is proposal for a deal to the Israeli and Lebanese governments over the weekend, former prime minister Netanyahu claimed Lapid had signed over Israel’s natural resources to Lebanon and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Though full details of the agreement have not been made public, it was greeted positively in both Jerusalem and Beirut, and even the terror group appeared to drop its former vehement opposition to a deal.

“I understand that it pains you that you didn’t succeed in achieving an agreement [when you were prime minister], but that is no reason to join [Hassan] Nasrallah’s propaganda campaign,” Lapid tweeted, referring to the Hezbollah leader.

Noting that Netanyahu “hasn’t seen the agreement,” Lapid wrote that it grants Israel “100% of its security needs, 100% of the Karish reserve, and even some of the profits from the Lebanon reserve.”

The Karish gas field, which Israel claims as its own, partially lies in territory also claimed by Lebanon.

“How about a little praise for a government that functions and brings results for the Israeli people?” Lapid added.

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

Netanyahu and his Likud party have kept up their attacks on Lapid over the emerging deal, with Likud tweeting Monday that Lapid was “handing a huge Israeli gas reserve to Hezbollah, something Netanyahu never agreed to.”

David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel under the Trump administration in 2017-2021, a period during which Netanyahu was prime minister in Israel, also appeared to criticize the deal, tweeting that the US “spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. Got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel.”

“No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel,” he wrote. “Would love to understand how we got here.”

Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, a former energy minister who led negotiations with Lebanon under the Netanyahu government, told Channel 12 that contrary to claims by people in Lapid’s orbit, he had not been consulted on the emerging deal.

“The agreement looks like surrender to Nasrallah. They are getting 100 [percent] and we 0. It is ridiculous, a lie, a deception of the public.”

Likud party leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu attends Kikar HaShabbat conference at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the debate over the agreement continued, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar responded Monday to Likud MK Yariv Levin and Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock, who had written to Lapid, the Knesset speaker and Sa’ar noting that any territorial changes by the State of Israel must be brought before the Knesset for approval.

Sa’ar wrote to Levin and Strock assuring them that the agreement will be brought to a Knesset vote.

Netanyahu’s right-religious opposition bloc has claimed that the government should not be allowed to pass such a crucial agreement in the lead-up to elections next month.

The security cabinet is reportedly set to convene Thursday to discuss the agreement.

A senior Israeli official told reporters Sunday that “the security interests of Israel are anchored in the agreement.” The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that under the agreement, Lebanese recognition of a line of buoys “will allow Israel to treat it as its northern territorial border.”

Israel deployed the floats after its May 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon. The boundary marked the limits of where Israel unilaterally operates with full freedom of action.

“The line of buoys is an important Israeli security line that was never approved by any outside actor,” the official said.

Lebanese protesters sail near an Israeli Navy vessel during a demonstration demanding Lebanon’s right to disputed maritime oil and gas fields, near Naqoura, Lebanon, September 4, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mohammed Zaatari)

Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and their land border is patrolled by the United Nations.

Lebanon mulls proposal

Lebanon leaders held a meeting Monday to discuss the US proposal, which came after years of negotiations and raised hopes in the cash-strapped country as it eyes potential gas resources in its maritime border area.

Lebanon said it had received on Saturday a written “offer” from US envoy Amos Hochstein, who is mediating talks between the two enemy states.

President Michel Aoun was set to meet Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati at 3 p.m. to discuss Lebanon’s “official response to the offer,” according to the National News Agency.

A technical team that includes army representatives was set to meet at 1 p.m. at the presidential palace.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) receives a proposal from US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea to resolve a maritime border dispute with Israel, October 1, 2022 (Lebanese Presidency)

Al-Akhbar, a newspaper close to Hezbollah, said Monday that the meeting will tackle Lebanon’s position on the proposal, and that Beirut will send an official response to the United States within 48 hours.

Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history, plunging three-quarters of its population into poverty.

A Lebanese official who attended the talks last month told The Associated Press that the proposal put forward by the US envoy gives Lebanon the right to the Qana field, located partially in Israel’s domain. A part of it stretches deep into a disputed area. The official added that the main point now is how to draw the demarcation line in a way that stretches south of Qana.

In his comments Sunday, the Israeli official said there will be compensation for Israel for giving up rights to to Qana under the deal.

Hezbollah leader Nasrallah had repeatedly threatened Israel with attacks if it proceeds with extraction in disputed areas before a deal is reached, but welcomed Saturday’s developments as “a very important step.”

Israel also praised the US proposal, with Lapid saying that it “strengthens Israel’s security and Israel’s economy.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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