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US envoy calls on Lebanon to end maritime border dispute with Israel

‘This is the last minute’: Amos Hochstein tells Beirut to make a deal for energy exploration at sea as it contends with economic collapse and energy shortages

An Israeli Navy Sa'ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel's coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli Navy Sa'ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel's coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

US envoy Amos Hochstein urged Lebanese authorities Wednesday to settle a maritime border dispute with Israel, saying it was the “last minute” for an agreement that could facilitate hydrocarbon exploration at sea.

Longtime foes 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.

“I think that we’re at the moment of narrowing those gaps towards a deal,” Hochstein told Lebanese broadcaster LBCI in an interview.

“There’s no later anymore. This is the later. This is the last minute,” he added.

Hochstein, the US State Department’s Senior Adviser for Global Energy Security, arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday to revive talks between Lebanon and Israel over a maritime border dispute that is holding up oil and gas explorations.

Israel and Lebanon had resumed negotiations over their disputed maritime border in 2020 but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.

Lebanese politicians hope that commercially viable hydrocarbon resources off Lebanon’s coast could help lift the debt-ridden country out of an unprecedented financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst in modern times.

“I am confident that there will be a unified position in Lebanon and that there’ll be a unified position in Israel, and that we’ll be able to move forward,” the Israel-born envoy said.

“My advice to people in Lebanon — focus on not what you’re missing, not what you may lose if you compromise. Think about what you gain,” the he said.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, meets with US envoy Amos Hochstein, left, in Beirut, Lebanon, February 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanon is currently grappling with its worst ever financial crisis, and fuel shortages have ground the country to a halt in recent months.

With a bankrupt state unable to deliver more than an hour or two of electricity a day, individuals, businesses and institutions have relied almost entirely on diesel-powered generators.

Both Israel and Lebanon announced last month their intentions to resume talks.

Hochstein met with Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Alharrar last month.

In October, the leader of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terror group, Hassan Nasrallah, warned Israel against unilaterally searching for natural gas in the disputed maritime region before any agreement is reached.

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