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Report: IDF officials, government at odds over maritime talks with Lebanon

Military said to recommend halting negotiations after Hezbollah launches drones toward gas rig, but Israeli leaders see potential progress in talks

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)
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)

Israeli military officials are in favor of halting negotiations with Lebanon over a maritime border dispute, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.

The unsourced report said the Israel Defense Forces recommended freezing negotiations following attempts by the Hezbollah terror group to launch drones at the Karish gas field, which sits in a maritime area that both Lebanon and Israel claim as their own.

It said the government rejected the suggestion, as there appears to be some significant progress toward striking a deal with Lebanon.

The maritime border dispute between the two nations has been ongoing for several years. Despite US attempts to broker a deal, talks have repeatedly stalled over the issue, although US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein said last week that some progress had been made in recent negotiations.

Channel 12 said there “may” be some additional progress during US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region.

On Saturday, the IDF intercepted three Hezbollah drones heading for the Karish gas field. Hezbollah confirmed it launched the drones after previously threatening the field. In another incident last Wednesday, a drone launched by the terror group was downed over Lebanon’s waters.

After Saturday’s incident, parts of the drones were retrieved and taken for examination.

A sea-based Iron Dome air defense system is seen on a Navy ship, guarding 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)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday the drones were Iranian.

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel after a new drilling platform arrived at the gas field a month ago, saying that his organization was capable of preventing work there, including by force.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their exclusive economic zones.

The US has unsuccessfully sought to mediate between the sides for over a decade, with the last three administrations dispatching envoys to the region with the same task.

Both Israel and Lebanon have economic interests in the territory, which contains lucrative natural gas. Lebanon, which has been facing an economic crisis since late 2019, sees the resources offered as a potential road out of its current situation.

Talks saw a breakthrough in late 2020 before again stalling after Lebanon called for control over an additional 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles) of maritime territory currently under Israeli control.

Tensions surrounding the dispute have risen in recent weeks, after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the Karish offshore field, drawing condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of it. Israel says the field is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone.

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