Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office said Monday that Israel will go ahead and extract gas from the Karish gas field with or without a deal on the maritime border with Lebanon.
The comments came hours after Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that indirect talks with Israel to end a maritime border dispute are in their “final stages.”
In a tweet, Aoun said the talks are wrapping up “in a way that guarantees Lebanon’s rights to explore for gas and oil.”
In response, an unnamed senior Israeli official told the Ynet news site that “the feeling is that we are close to a deal.”
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement later Monday 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.”
“Such an agreement will be greatly beneficial and strengthen regional stability,” the spokesperson said, thanking US energy envoy and mediator Amos Hochstein ‘for his efforts to bring about an agreement.”
The apparent optimism comes despite threats by Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah to attack Israel’s offshore Karish gas field if Israel starts extracting gas.
Lapid’s spokesperson clarified that “the production of gas from the Karish rig is not connected to these negotiations. The production of gas from the rig will commence without delay, as soon as it is possible.”
Hochstein has been brokering talks for over a year trying to resolve the border dispute that centers on centers on maritime rights to an area where Israel is exploring via the Karish gas field.
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.
“The red line to us is that there should not be extraction from Karish,” he said, according to the Naharnet news site.
He said Hezbollah was “giving a real chance” to the US-brokered negotiations, which are aimed at demarcating a maritime border between the countries to allow for offshore drilling in disputed areas.
Lebanon claims part of Karish, which Israel says lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to ongoing negotiations. The two countries remain technically at war.
“We are following up on the negotiations and all our eyes are on Karish and our missiles are locked on Karish,” Nasrallah said. “As long as extraction has not started, there is a chance for solutions.”
“We will not allow that oil and gas be extracted from the disputed Karish field before Lebanon obtains its rightful demands,” he added.
Lebanon is eager to reach a deal, hoping the natural gas will help it emerge from a massive economic crisis.
Energean, a London-listed company that has the license to develop Karish, said September 8 that it was “on track to deliver [the] first gas from the Karish development project within weeks.”
Hezbollah has repeatedly threatened further attacks if the gas extraction goes ahead, after launching four unarmed drones toward Karish in July.
Top security Israeli officials have responded to Hezbollah’s threats, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz warning Thursday that Lebanon would suffer dire consequences if the Iran-backed terror organization torpedoes the maritime talks.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.