Hulata: Deal 'doesn't support Iran's interests in Lebanon'

Senior Israeli official: Lebanon didn’t achieve key goals in maritime border deal

National security adviser Eyal Hulata acknowledges Beirut will receive most disputed waters under agreement, but says what Lebanese really sought was entirety of Qana gas field

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An Israeli Sa'ar Class 4.5 missile boat 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)
An Israeli Sa'ar Class 4.5 missile boat 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)

Though Lebanon received almost all of the waters under dispute with Israel, it did not receive what it was really after in the maritime border deal between the countries, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata said Wednesday as ministers moved to advance the US-brokered agreement.

“Lebanon did not receive 100 percent of what it wanted,” Hulata said in a briefing with reporters, “but Lebanon did get something.”

“What Lebanon really wanted, and they demanded it until the last minute, was 100% of the Qana gas field. They tried to create a balance in which we get Karish and they get Qana,” he said.

Instead, Israel will receive monetary compensation for a certain percentage of revenue from the Qana field, according to the text of the agreement.

Hulata said both sides knew that the real struggle was over the rights to gas in Qana, not the territorial waters.

He added that the Lebanese also failed to achieve what they wanted in terms of the border close to the shore, which was important to them because it could impact future negotiations over the land border.

Hulata also argued the deal was not a boon for Iran or the Tehran-backed terror group Hezbollah, as opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and other critics of the agreement have charged.

“This agreement does not support Iran’s interests in Lebanon. This agreement strengthens the Lebanese government independently, and reduces its dependence on Hezbollah,” he said.

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata (L) and Lior Schillat, director-general of the Energy Ministry, in a video briefing with reporters on October 12, 2022. (Screen capture)

Lior Schillat, the director-general of the Energy Minister, said during the briefing that the development of the Qana gas field — and the proceeds Israel will receive from French energy giant TotalEnergies — would occur in four phases, the first of which is expected to last 2-4 years.

During this exploratory stage, initial geological surveys and test drillings will be carried out, though to begin Israel and Total must first complete an agreement on compensation.

The next phase will see 1-2 years of further exploratory drilling and a final investment decision will be made. The two sides will agree on the amount of natural gas in the field and how much Israel will receive for the energy resources on its side of the maritime boundary, before signing a detailed agreement.

Israel will receive the first payment from Total before any drilling begins. Once the funds are transferred, the development will start and will likely last for 4-7 years. During this time, drilling to extract the gas will be carried out and pipes will be laid down.

The final phase, which will occurre over the next 25-50 years, is extraction, with Israel continuing to receive payments according to an agreed upon timetable.

Schillat and Hulata spoke after the government voted to advance the deal, sending it to the Knesset for a 14-day review period before a final vote of approval by ministers.

Members of the cabinet vote on the Lebanon maritime border deal in Jerusalem on October 12, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Before cabinet ministers convened, the agreement was deliberated by the smaller security cabinet, with Hulata and other top security officials taking part in that meeting voicing their support for the deal and arguing it did not benefit Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah didn’t want a deal with Israel but understood that in light of the domestic political crisis in Lebanon, it had an opportunity to gain points in public opinion,” Mossad chief David Barnea said, according to the Walla news site.

Military chief Aviv Kohavi echoed Barnea in saying the deal was not good for Hezbollah, the report said.

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.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the deal would “strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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