NEW YORK — Speaking to Israeli reporters in his New York City hotel Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Yair Lapid called accusations by Benjamin Netanyahu that he gave in to Hezbollah over contested gas fields “terribly irresponsible.”
“I saw what Netanyahu put out on this,” said the premier, referring to a minute-long video tweeted by the Likud leader on Tuesday. “It is terribly irresponsible on a national level. The prime minister is in New York at the UN General Assembly. Complex negotiations are underway in America. He doesn’t know the details because he didn’t receive a security update. This damages Israel’s negotiations, and damages our security, diplomatic and economic interests.”
In the video clip, Netanyahu tells the camera that “Lapid totally folded in the face of Nasrallah’s threats.” He accuses Lapid of delaying the extraction of gas from the Karish field, and of intending to transfer a field worth billions of dollars to Lebanon, which Hezbollah will use to buy more rockets to threaten Israeli cities. Netanyahu finishes with an appeal to vote for a right-wing government in the November elections.
“This isn’t something the head of the opposition should make videos about for a campaign,” Lapid said. “I was the head of the opposition, and in similar situations, I behaved entirely differently.”
Netanyahu’s video was released as tensions remain high between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group. The latter has threatened Israeli gas installations amid US-mediated talks over a maritime dispute.
The dispute, which involves competing claims over offshore gas fields, escalated in June after Israel moved a production vessel near the Karish offshore field, which is partly claimed by Lebanon.
The maritime dispute relates to some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon claims that the Karish gas field is in disputed territory, while Israel says it lies within its internationally recognized economic waters.
Last week, the Energy Ministry announced that it was set to conduct tests on the disputed maritime field, ahead of plans to connect it to Israel’s gas network.
In response, Nasrallah on Friday warned that Hezbollah missiles were “locked on” Karish.
אזרחי ישראל, יש לי הודעה מאוד מדאיגה עבורכם >> pic.twitter.com/EpXCF7hRk5
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) September 20, 2022
Earlier this week, Lapid’s office promised Israel would go ahead and extract gas from Karish with or without a deal on the maritime border with Lebanon. Those comments Monday came hours after Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that indirect talks with Israel to end a maritime border dispute are in their “final stages.”
A spokesperson for Lapid issued a statement later that day saying: “Israel believes that it is both possible and necessary to reach an agreement on a maritime line between Lebanon and Israel, in a manner that will serve the interests of the citizens of both countries.”
Lapid told reporters on Wednesday that he had met with American mediators a few hours earlier. “This morning, we sat with the US teams, they went to the Lebanese, it is being handled like every negotiation is handled.”
“We are in very complex, advanced negotiations,” Lapid continued. “I gave our negotiation teams very clear parameters where our security, diplomatic and economic needs are, in coordination with the defense minister. If we get this while protecting these parameters – good. If not, Israel is strong and knows how to defend itself. I continue to use the phrase ‘cautious optimism.’”
Other senior Israeli officials weighed in on the Hezbollah threat on Wednesday.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Iran was attempting to “buy” Lebanon by having it rely on the Hezbollah terror group for fuel and repairing the country’s failing power network.
“Iran, through Hezbollah, is trying to buy Lebanon by supplying fuel, repairing the electricity system and building power plants,” Gantz said at an event in the northern town of Katzrin.
For more than two years, Lebanon has been facing a crippling economic, political and energy crisis that has left citizens without basic necessities and created a vacuum for the Hezbollah terror group to take further hold in the nation.
Speaking on plans to begin extracting gas from the Karish field, Gantz said Israel won’t receive “impositions” by Iran or its terror proxies.
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, currently in France on an official visit, issued a warning to Iran, saying Israel would respond to attempts to attack Israel with a “harsh response or preemptive actions.”
“We are working extremely hard against Iran’s entrenchment in the Middle East. The attempts to harm Israel, in any theater, will be met with a harsh response or preemptive actions,” Kohavi said following a meeting with his French counterpart, Thierry Burkhard.
“We presented our French colleagues with intelligence that proves that the terrorist army Hezbollah has recently been increasing its negative activities, in a way that creates an ever-increasing risk of escalation, and tries to endanger Israel, but in practice also Lebanon and its citizens,” he said.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.