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Gantz: Deal could 'reduce Iran's influence on Lebanon'

Lebanon maritime deal ‘staves off’ war with Hezbollah, Lapid says

PM slams Netanyahu’s ‘toxic propaganda’ on border agreement; defense minister says opposition chief ‘harming Israel’s interests’ with talk of ‘historic surrender’ to terrorism

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L), alongside Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (C) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speak to the press in Jerusalem about the Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal, October 12, 2022 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid (L), alongside Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (C) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speak to the press in Jerusalem about the Israel-Lebanon maritime border deal, October 12, 2022 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid blasted political rival Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night for his criticism of the emerging maritime border deal between Israel and Lebanon, insisting that the agreement was a boon to Israel’s security and “staves off” war with Hezbollah.

In prepared remarks at the start of a press conference in his Jerusalem office, Lapid said that once the public sees the terms of the agreement, they will recognize that “the false and toxic propaganda spread about it is disconnected from reality, done for political purposes, primarily by people who had not seen the deal and had no clue what was and was not in it.”

The premier added that he had invited Netanyahu, currently leader of the opposition, to a briefing on the agreement.

In a recorded address Wednesday, Netanyahu doubled down on his opposition to the deal, calling it a “historic surrender” that sends money to Hezbollah and enables Iranian involvement in the Qana gas field.

Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz “gave Hezbollah our territorial waters, our sovereign territory, our gas, and in the end they succumbed to another Hezbollah demand to allow Iran to drill gas off the coast of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “They are bringing Iran close to our northern border.”

Gantz dismissed the criticism as “politicized,” and charged that Netanyahu was “harming Israel’s interests for political scraps.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Speaking alongside Lapid, Gantz said the agreement “has the potential to reduce Iran’s influence on Lebanon.” The deal also “establishes a new ‘security equation’ with regard to the sea,” he maintained, describing it “as positive for the citizens of Lebanon.”

On Tuesday morning, Israel announced that it had reached a “historic” agreement with Lebanon over the maritime border between the two countries in gas-rich Mediterranean waters.

At the press conference, echoing his top security adviser, Lapid said that Israel turned down demands raised by Lebanon over the past week.

He asserted that the deal enhances Israel’s security, preserves the Israel Defense Forces’ freedom of action, and “staves off the possibility of a military clash with Hezbollah.”

“If we went to battle, we would deal them a heavy blow. That being said, if it is possible to prevent war, it is the job of a responsible government to do so,” he said.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“This deal secures the energy security of the State of Israel and will bring in billions in revenue that every family in Israel will benefit from,” Lapid said.

He also went out of his way to thank US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

“The French, and Macron himself, were a decisive force in achieving the agreement,” said Lapid in response to a question from The Times of Israel. “More than once, at my request and on his own initiative, he saved the agreement when it was stuck.

“Again and again, there were times when the president himself came to pull the wagon out of the mud, and did exceptional work. We are full of gratitude for his contribution.”

An Israeli Sa’ar Class 5 Corvette guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier Wednesday, cabinet ministers voted to move to the final stage of the approval process for the maritime border agreement.

The full cabinet gave its blessing to the deal hours after the smaller security cabinet voted to back it. The US-brokered proposal will now go to the Knesset, where lawmakers will have 14 days to review it before the government can give its final approval.

The successful completion of the deal comes in the wake of intense efforts by US mediator Amos Hochstein in recent days to bridge the gaps between the two sides.

The deal puts to bed 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.

Lapid said that under the agreed terms, Israel “will receive approximately 17 percent of the revenues from the Lebanese gas field, the Qana-Sidon field, if and when they will open it.”

Carrie Keller-Lynn and AFP contributed to this report.

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